If these walls could talk
PANAMA. It never fails to happen. Upon every visit to the Old Quarter I find myself lured to the crumbling remains of the Old Union Cl...
PANAMA. It never fails to happen. Upon every visit to the Old Quarter I find myself lured to the crumbling remains of the Old Union Club with its soiled white skeletal frame standing nobly against the modern skyline of Panama City.
Its roof is long gone, only stark rectangular voids remain where large windows were once framed and even small trees have managed to root themselves onto the decaying structure, but the former glory of its statuesque edifice is still there.
“Oh, if these walls could talk,” as the famous novel relates? the stories they would tell. That thought goes through my mind every time I peer at this once revered social club destroyed in 1989 during the US invasion of Panama.
I imagine its earlier days of grandeur when its spacious rooms were graced by Panama’s elite and how life must have been in that golden era of high society.
Enthralled even more, I always walk its perimeter and look into its austere interior spaces; viewing walls adorned with brashly created graffiti and vacant rooms shabbily decorated with fallen debris.
The Neoclassical building was erected in 1917 by Panama’s rabi blancos, literally translated as “white tails” – a term referring to the descendents of the old Spanish upper class. I imagine their voices still echoing throughout its expansive voids like so many footnotes in Panama’s illustrious history; intriguing conversations about friendships formed, business dealings consummated and societal events planned.
Undoubtedly many of those exchanges decided much of Panama’s history, sealed much of its fate and set the course for much of its future. Imagine for a moment the days of Manuel Noriega and the grandiose evening parties he would stage on the spacious veranda for his trusted generals and close allies.
Consider the probable conversations that took place as they stood near the balustrade railing with drink in hand and viewed the city landscape beyond. Today, that same grand loggia is now a favorite obstacle course for local skateboarders to test their riding skills and a superb vantage point for creative photographers.
Even though it’s a shadow of its former self, its sturdy walls still capture the romance and allure of other gracious Casco Antigua buildings found in charming places as Old Havana, Old San Juan and Cartagena in Columbia.
While standing at its dilapidated entrance one can easily see across the adjacent plaza and view the beautifully restored El Teatro Nacional designed by the Italian architect G.N. Ruggieri in 1905 and in the opposite direction the narrow cobblestone lane that leads to a quaint enclave of residences and the Esteban Huertas Promenade with its wrought iron canopy entwined with flowering vines? perfect for dreamy strolls.
Happily the Old Union Club structure will be soon be rescued from its current state of continued decay and brought back to a promised new life of period grandeur and importance by renowned developer Paul Stallings, a visionary who is planning on turning the old landmark into a luxury 140-room hotel scheduled to debut late this year.
Meanwhile, as another new chapter unveils at the celebrated Casco Viejo site, it is certainly plausible that history continues to be made at the new Union Club located on a scenic bluff overlooking Panama Bay in Punta Paitilla.
With its membership still composing the Who’s Who among Panama’s elite and its renowned club benefits and privileges remaining a highly prized advantage, it is a safe bet that intriguing conversations regarding friendships formed, business dealings consummated and societal events planned continue to take place within its newer but equally revered walls.
Rob Kircher is an International marketing and advertising specialist, writer and filmmaker and welcomes comments at Rob@RobKircher.com