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Back in the day | The cool and fabulous 50s, Part 9

A sudden, rapid exchange of fist blows from two silhouettes lunging at each other inside the dark hall of Gem’s theatre while the film was showing, stunned me and drove me out of my seat. Cigarette embers flew fast and furious, like fireflies glittering in the dark. Body blows could be heard until an unofficial referee jumped in, grabbed one of the aggressors and broke off the non- title bout.

A guy slouching on his seat behind, who rested his foot at the back of the headrest of the person in the front seat was what sparked the brawl. I was 13 years old with my brother at that time. On our way home, we were raring to break the story of the melee to my parents and siblings.

Gem’s theatre was the last building consumed by the big San Pedro fire of 1964, located just across the ICC ( Immaculate Conception College, now UIC) along San Pedro St, corner Bolton St. The fire’s origin struck somewhere near Lyric theatre along Anda St and the huge flames just continued to wrap around San Pedro and Magallanes blocks, gutting down all commercial establishments toward City Hall.

The iconic Brokenshire Hospital, known for its spacious hedged lawn along Magallanes (now Pichon St) had to evacuate their patients by crossing the Davao River, at the back of the hospital which fortunately was ebbing towards low tide at the time. But the hospital just couldn’t be saved by the raging firestorm.

In the late 50s, there was a store named Malacanang Bazar, not far from the main entrance of the Bankerohan Public Market. In front was a scrawny man who paced up and down the store’s sidewalk, waving and barking at high decibels, luring customers to get in the store and rummage the merchandise. It was fun watching him egging customers to patronize the store.

Two public vehicles, marked Maa Cruiser 1 and 2 used to park by a house near the Bankerohan bridge approach to transport Maa passengers from downtown area. During heavy downpours, vehicles would get stuck along the narrow dirt road of Maa churning the deep mud while the engine is groaning helplessly. Today there must be around 50 public vehicles servicing the Maa area.

A popular track and field oval located along Bonifacio and Ponciano Reyes Sts was known as the Embassy grounds. (No Embassy building). Its now UM property where various offices, a covered basketball court and the Mindanao Times office are located.

In the 50s and early 60s, it was an open roofless space with a track oval used by athletes in training, military drills, band practice, and mass assemblies. Every day, an ensemble of food peddlers, hawkers, loafers, and bums converge on this vast playground. At night, goons prowled the territory. Along Ponciano Reyes side of the oval was a wooden rickety stage which was in its advanced stage of deterioration.

Rival gang rumbles and fist fights frequent this vast open space prime land. In those days the famed and feared gang was known as the Hijackers, most of whom were MC (now UM) basketball players and their loyal allies. They always got the better of these hostilities due to home court advantage.

A favorite snack station beside the track oval catering mostly to students for afternoon meriendas served food at reasonable prices. It was known to serve the best halo-halo that side of town. The owner also managed and operated Ideal, Tagumpay and Life theatres.

Bug-infested Clifford theatre showing low rated films was located across the old Ginoo Hotel along Bonifacio St. The hotel had closed many decades ago but In the early 70s, Queens Cinema twas the brand new movie house in the city.

About a hundred meters from Clifford Theatre along Bonifacio St toward Apo View Hotel was the Davao Lanes, a bowling alley which was truly a healthy recreational facility for visitors as well as the neighborhood residents.

At the corner of Bonifacio St and Legaspi St ( now Pelayo St.) was the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), one of the oldest religious institutions in the Philippines. It has renovated its building recently with its glorious architectural design brimming with high aesthetic value to the city’s skyline. To be continued.

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