Plaza De Espana, Guam
One of the remnants of Spanish colonial rule on Guam is located in the center of the capital city, Hagatna, near the Catholic Basilica called the Plaza de Espana. These restful looking ruins that are typically landscape are the remains of what used to be the seat and home of the Spanish Governor of Guam.
As a young boy, this was a park that I would go play in and enjoy, especially when the flame trees were in bloom. I remember the quietness of the place and the little museum that housed some interesting artifacts from Guam’s history. I remember attending special events in the area, it certainly was a gathering place and from what I learned has function that way for centuries.
The Chocolate House
It is a certainly a must see tourist stop on Guam. There is nothing overwhelmingly spectacular about the ruins but there is a charm to the place that echoes back to a past where colonial rule reached out far from the Spanish throne to these remote areas of the Pacific.
Apparently, the palace in the plaza was maintained from 1669 until World War II where it was virtually destroyed. All that was left standing in some form were the Azotea, Chocolate House, Tool Shed, Siesta Shed and Spanish Walls.
Although the Plaza itself has gone through various changes, its basic structure has remained the same. It continues to be used as a social and event center by the people of Guam. It continues to be a place where little boys and girls can run around on a lazy sunny island day afternoon and day dream.
My mother wrote an interesting article in her column about the Plaza. Please read the copy below:
What are those ruins close to the big Church in Agana?
Ask Joyce- The Pacific Edge- January 9, 2009
Your question certainly brings back memories of my youth when life on Guam was simple and when walking to Agana was quite enjoyable.
My cousin and I walked from Mongmong Village to Agana to take piano lessons and to visit the library. I made it a point to go next to the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica to visit the ruins at Plaza de España. I remembered the three structures – the three-arch gate to Almacen (Arsena), the Azotea or back porch, and the Chocolate House.
I used to sit under the shade of a tree and tried to visualize what it must have been like before Agana was destroyed by World War II. My parents shared stories of what happened before the war – the concerts, the pageants and the activities that went on right on those historic grounds.
Looking around the silent remnants of Spanish structured architecture during one of my ventures, I felt goose bumps. I knew that the spirits of those people – Chamorros, Spanish and others – will forever be felt and remembered in history – their joys, tragedies, pains and triumphs.
According to historical writings of the Spanish rule, the principal structure – the Governor’s Palace – was built in 1736, surrounded by other buildings and a garden. The palace was called Casa Gobierno and the compound was named Plaza de Magalhaes.
In 1885, the buildings within the compound, including the palace were replaced. The Spanish governor at that time was Don Enrique Solano. All the buildings were reconstructed with traditional Spanish style using manposteria, rough coral stones set in place and covered with smooth lime mortar. My grandmother used to tell stories handed down to her from her mother of the grand events that took place within the Plaza.
Guam was ceded to the United States in 1898 under the Treaty of Parish after the Spanish-American War. The plaza compound was buzzing with activities. The U.S. used the palace and the plaza as the site for government. There were concerts, ceremonies, and marching demonstrations and many more to bring people together.
There was an American school for those who were not from the island and spoke perfect English. None of the Chamorro children were allowed to attend the American school.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, Guam was bombed a few hours later. About 5,000 Japanese soldiers came on shore in Agana and took over the plaza and the palace in spite of the efforts made to fight back by the remaining Americans and the Guam Militia.
The Americans and the Guam Militia were courageous in their effort. They, however, were outnumbered by the Japanese soldiers. The American Governor, U.S. Navy Captain George J. McMillin, surrendered.
The Plaza continued to be used during World War II. Many Chamorro men were shot or brutally beaten when the Japanese suspected them of protecting George Tweed, a Navy sailor, who escaped from the Japanese.
After Guam was liberated and Guam was on the road to recovery, the Plaza de España, as it is now called, became a place for concerts, inaugural ceremonies and elaborate Christmas pageants put on by the schools.
In recent years, wedding receptions were held there. On days when the bougainvilleas, flame trees and Flores Cadena de Amor are in bloom, the Plaza de España Park shows off its quiet beauty and a place where one can take photographs or just sit quietly and feel the eerie presence of the past.
si Joyce I. Martratt
The Flame Tree