Early days of Olongapo

Posted 11 months ago

Before Olongapo became deeply involved in naval military activities, it was just a little village with no more than a few hundred inhabitants who engaged in their small-scale fishing and farming activities. The hardy residents were predominantly simple folks unconcerned with what is happening beyond their community.

Olongapo was almost completely isolated from the rest of the province by the mountains of Zambales and remained insignificant and unknown for a time. It had no any sort of major industry to speak of; there were no roads to connect it with the other towns. The only way to reach it was by boat – just like so many inaccessible locales at the time.

The pre-Spanish village of Olongapo

When Olongapo was occupied by the Spaniards and made it a settlement of the Spanish Navy, the once-small village was set on a path of development that would forever change it. King Alfonso II’s royal decree in 1884 proclaimed Subic Bay as a Spanish stronghold in the Far East, primarily due to the advantages of the bay’s “uniform depth, wide waters and the protection from strong winds provided by the mountains on three sides.”

In 1885, the acknowledged founder of Olongapo Don Juan Bautista de Antiquiera oversaw the construction of permanent structures of the Spanish Arsenal including walls similar to those of fortified old Manila, a watchtower, a gate, several buildings and a railway connecting the hills of Olongapo and the seawalls and causeways.

A railway for the transportation of lumber was built across the swampy tidal flats. The Spaniards also removed thousands of tons of rock and dirt from Kalalake Hill on the south bank of the drainage canal to use as fill for these projects. It was said that in later years, the hill was so extensively excavated that the hill totally disappeared.

With the construction of the Spanish Arsenal, the formerly small fishing village soon grew into a town. Construction in Olongapo was in accordance with the general Spanish pattern – a plaza formed the nucleus, around which were located schools and other civic buildings. The plaza of Olongapo at that time was located at what would later be called Tappan Park.

Within ten years, the Spaniards had erected walls and markers to fence off the arsenal from the civilian community. The Spanish Navy Yard occupied the entire area east of the Spanish Gate. Employing Filipino labor, they dredged the area and filled in low spots. They had shops and buildings erected. The Spanish government spent almost three decades developing the Naval Station.

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