Save the Yap Anton warehouse

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has given notice to the current owners of a large American colonial-era warehouse that a portion of it will be destroyed to give way to a road widening.

I am referring to the Yap Anton Warehouse, whose columns are embellished on top with neoclassical elements and the date 1929. There can be no question as to the heritage character of this building, one of the few remaining warehouses that still carry their construction date.

Built by one of the richest Chinese traders of the American period, it also carries the monogram, YA, in reference to its original owner, Yap Anton. Its current owners are the heirs of Ong Kin King, who during the heyday of this building were just simple soap and candle makers in Plaridel. Today of course no one in downtown Cebu or the Chinese community does not know who the Ong’s are.

Why is this warehouse worth preserving? Well for one, as I mentioned above, the building’s entablatures carry distinct garlands and floral elements and moldings reminiscent of the Cebu Capitol or of a building opposite this, the equally dated Cebu Trade School, now hidden somewhat by a high wall of the Cebu Technological Center. While the latter is more richly decorated, complete with statues representing the vocation arts, the Yap Anton Warehouse, owing to its nature as a storage area for cargoes from Pier 2 or 3 — which used to be adjacent to it before further reclamations — is nevertheless unique in that it is the last of its kind in Cebu that is richly embellished.

Yap Anton (1868-1933) made sure that this warehouse would stand out from among many more that used to line the port are which, alas, did not survive the war or the wrecking ball of post-war development. He even made sure his name would be etched forever on its façade.

I believe the SRP Subway Tunnel was so designed as to avoid hitting this gem of a heritage edifice. But now comes this threat as it stands quite close to the north entrance of this same tunnel.

Made of ferroconcrete, there is no question of moving this heritage building. Is it protected? Yes, it is automatically protected under Republic Act 10066 since it is older than 50 years and had been an integral part in the commercial history of Cebu. And it is still continuously used for the same purpose. Can the DPWH proceed to destroy this heritage structure or a portion of it? Well it can, at pain of being summoned to the courts to explain why the have circumvented their own circular from the DPWH Sec. Mark Villar requiring all offices of the DPWH to recognize and protect heritage assets.

Do the present owners the Ong Kin King heirs need to show how old the building is to prove its vintage and heritage character to the DPWH? No need. It is obvious. One just needs to look up to the columns to see the numbers 1929 embossed and painted in red for all to see.

That is definitely not the birth year of Yap Anton (1868) nor is this the date he died (1933). There is only once reason why people put dates on top of buildings: it is to mark their year of completion.

There is another building being threatened with destruction in Perrelos, Carcar: the old train station. Let’s talk about that next.

For now, please respect the Yap Anton Warehouse and help preserve it. It’s a great venue for a museum of the commercial success of Chinese sojourners and
settlers in Cebu.