Bits & Pieces

December 30, 2010

More on the City of Panama

Looking north, Balboa on the left (west), Ancon Hill and El Chorrillo about 1915.
Notice that Albrook Field does not exist yet.

Panama City about 1930. This photo includes the whole urban area of the city
in those days.  Note Union Club with swimming pool.

By 1903, when Panama gained its independence from Colombia, it declared, "in separating from our brothers in Colombia, we do it without a grudge nor with joy . . . We enter the fraternity of free nations of the world, considering Colombia a sister nation. . . wishing them prosperity in the future."  At that time, the City of Panama was about the size shown on the lower photo above.  On the last issue of Bits & Piecesyou saw the size of the city as laid out in 1673.  By 1856, the wall on land, across the little peninsula in which the city was laid out, had been removed and, in 1904, an architect named Bertoncini, had laid out the plans for the future development of the city, which ended up as shown above.

A main thoroughfare (now Avenida Central) was laid out leading north from the original city to the train station station, so distant then and so much in the center at the time of the photo above.  The avenue then extended over La Quebrada (the Creek), which ran through near the present location of the National Bank, a place known as La Balizada (The Beacon) and another known as La Trinchera (The Trench) and on to the bridge over the railroad at Calidonia.  This Calidonia Bridge would be remembered for the bloody fighting that took place there during the War of a Thousand Days covered in a previous issue.

The city was planned to extend west also.  A second main artery was laid out from the original city (now Casco Viejo) heading west along the old seawall.  This is now Avenida de los Poetas (Avenue of the Poets) and runs through the area known as El Chorrillo.  The third main artery also ran west and became 8th Avenue. It cut through the Santa Ana area heading to the vicinity of Ancon Hill.  Around this area one finds still the Catholic Cemetery and the Chinese Cemetery.  It was also around this area that the water spring known as El Chorrillo was located.  This spring, since 1673, provided drinking water for most of the city before the installation of water system by the Americans working on the Canal in the early 1900s.  Prior to that, water peddlers would collect water in tin cans and, in three wheeled push carts (carretillas), would roam the city selling water.

On the north east side of the Ancon Hill slope stood the old French Hospital (later Gorgas Hospital), along with several houses built by the French Canal Company.  In those early days, there were also many small farms on these slopes.  As one headed east from the hill, one would come to the swampy marshes of the Bay of Panama, while heading north would take one to the open fields of the Sabanas.  This, then, was the City of Panama when it declared its independence from Colombia.

Early views of city streets in Panama.  Note street car rails.  Can anyone identify the locations?
I have no idea where this can be.  It may be in the area of Avenida Norte.  Unfortunately,
La Prensa did not identify them.  I cannot tell what that stuff is on the street shown on the left.
Maybe the street was still in process of being paved.

Information and photos from "La Prensa" , March 23, 2003

- Luis R. Celerier
Longview, Texas