Hidden behind the tall trees and hawkers stalls at the very northern end of Katipunan Avenue is the 60 hectare Balara Filtration Park. First developed in 1938 by the Metropolitan Water District, the Balara Filtration Complex was designated as the main treatment facility of water from the La Mesa Dam. Amenities that would become the park were later added between 1949 and 1959. With the development of the park, the area soon became a hub for fun and relaxation for all walks of life. With many swimming pools and events spaces, the elite of the newly established Quezon City would come in droves to attend cultural events or relax in one of the many pools.
However, the park was closed in the 1970s during the regime of President Ferdinand E. Marcos (1965-1986), and left to the elements. With the privatization of the water services, the park was once more opened in 2003. However, the lousy promotions campaign and management led to the park’s closure once again. Now visitors can on take catching glimpses of the park, as security guards discourage any touring or photography.
Upon entering the Balara Filtration Complex, one is greeted by Fermin Gomez‘s 1954 fountain now entitled “Bernardine”. The statue in the center is a nude water bearer, which the locals ponder whom she was named after. Some say she was christened after the wife or daughter of one of the park’s top administrators, while I think she was named after the 1957 song “Bernardine”, by Johnny Mercer and popularized by Pat Boone. The song was all the rage during the time the sculpture was erected, and movie was made around the song (also starring Pat Boone). Around the water bearer are four sculptures of children “at play” with the theme of water:
A child about to dive into the fountain, as his friend looks on
A child playing with a swan
Two children bathing each other
A child playing with a tortoise
Fermin Yadao Gomez (1918-1984) is a classical sculptor, from Tarlac. Gomez graduated from the University of the Philippines (U.P.) School of Fine Arts, under the tutelage of Guillermo Tolentino. At the outbreak of World War II, Gomez returned to Tarlac, where he put up a bakya (wooden sandal) shop, where he carved the soles into intricate designs. In the town of Camiling, he created a 10 ft tall image of San Miguel de Arcangel for the 100 year old parish of the same name. This caught the attention of Enginer Manuel Mañosa of the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA), who commissioned Gomez to create a piece that would embody the company’s service to the public. What Gomez created was a monument of the god Neptune with the goddess Venus astride on top of a giant turtle. This impressed Mañosa, who hired Fermin to create more sculptures for the company. With that, Gomez moved to the Balara area, in Quezon City. Shortly after his move, Guillermo Tolentino invites Gomez to teach at the UP School of Fine Arts, which was now at the Diliman campus, in Quezon City. After his retirement in 1973, Gomez and his family moved to Parang, Marikina; where he continued to create small scaled sculptures, until his death.
Driving further into the park, one is greeted by an old abandoned water tank building called the Cerro de Carriedo (Carriedo Hill), which was named after Francisco Carriedo y Peredo (1690-1743), a Spaniard who raised the funds to developed the water system of Manila. In the Santa Cruz district of Manila, there stands a fountain that is dedicated to him.
Behind the Carriedo Hill is Windmill Park, where stands a water tank fitted to look like a windmill, which alludes to the water pumping function of the windmills of Europe. According to the historian Paolo Alcazaren, there were once topiary shaped as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza facing the windmill.
Right behind the windmill is a a promenade area with a bust of Don Francisco Carriedo y Peredo. Sadly the sculpture is in bad shape, and the plaque that is dedicated to him is almost erased.
At the end of the Windmill Park is a bust of Francisco Carriedo y Peredo, however it was already overgrown with plants by the time I tried to document it. However, there are several Grecian inspired plant vases/urns located around the area, with Art Deco styles images of people carrying water and plants, with what seems to be the Mayon Volcano in the background.
Beside the Windmill Park, there stands another 1950s sculpture by Fermin Gomez, which is entitled “La Intrepida” (Fearless). Dedicated to Mother Philippines as she rides a chariot pulled by two carabao (water buffalo). Gomez was a noted classicist sculptor from the 1940s and 1950s, but there is little information of what has happened to him after those decades.
Another sight beside the Windmill Park is the A. Gideon Playground, which was named after Abraham Gideon who was the first director of the Metropolitan Water District, from 1912-1930. The playground is partially closed, and is now used by the locals residing nearby.
Right across the Windmill Park is one of the latest developments in the Balara Filters Park is the LWUA Residences, which was constructed in 2013. In front of the LWUA Residences is a stagnant pond, with a sculpture of a cherub urinating into the pool.
Moving away from Carriedo Hill there are several Art Deco buildings such as the Escoda and Orosa Halls, which I was once again prevented from documenting. However, as I drive passed the buildings into the more vegetated areas, there is still much to explore without anyone turning me away. Once such place is the Anonas Ampitheater, which was named after Gregorio Anonas, Sr., who was the first Filipino general manager of the Metropolitan Water District in 1934. I initially assumed that it was named after the lush Anonas trees (Anona reticulata Linn or Custard Apple) that grew abundantly in the area. The amphitheater entrance has a large concrete clam shell, which alludes to the prehistoric times when the Balara-Diliman locale was once part of the ocean floor. The amphitheater was the cultural hub of the Quezon City, where noted personalities such as the National Artist for Music, Atang de la Rama(Honorata de la Rama-Hernandez, 1905 – 1991) performed. I have yet to determine who was the artist behind the comical gates of the amphitheater.
Further down the road is a replica of the 1882 Carriedo Fountain in Santa Cruz. This diminutive version was constructed in the 1950s by the National Artist for Sculpture and Godfather of Modern Sculpture, Napoleon V. Abueva.
Beside Abueva’s fountain is the MWSS Administration Building, which was designed and completed by Arch. Gabriel Formoso in the 1970s. This building was done in the Art Deco style, as a tribute to the history of the Balara Filtration Complex.
Just a stones’ throw from the MWSS Administration Building is the San Antonio de Padua Parish Church, which is tucked in the corner of a side street. This small chapel serves the nearby communities, and I assume that it was built in the late 1960s to early 1970s based on its architectural style.
Further down the road is the Josefa Llanes Escoda Memorial Hall (1898-1945), which was designed by National Artist for Architecture nominee Arch. Francisco Mañosa (1931) in the 1970s. Named after the noted World War II (1938-1945) heroine, women’s rights activist and found of the Girls Scouts of the Philippines, this building was inspired by the architecture of Bali and Thailand as a homage to our Asian neighbors. The area was the public pools, which are now closed.
Close to the end of the park is the Second Balara-San Juan Aqueduct, which is situated in a “valley” near the Anonas Amphitheater. And at the end of the aqueduct lot is Fermin Garcia’s 1950s “Workers’ Monument”. The egg-shaped sculpture rests upon the shoulders of three men, and around it is the phrase “Unknown I unto all but not unto my God and co-workers” as well as the names of several workers who died during the construction of the filters.
There are many other sculptures and buildings situated in the Balara Filtration Park, but the years of neglect and the security’s strict policing of visitors have prevented me for documenting these. I had chanced upon a sculpture of a cherub holding back a child who has dropped a heart. The statue is entitled “Batbig at Batdiwa” (Batbig and Batdiwa), but its story is obscured by time and the large fence surrounding it. I would assume that the names are combinations of words, such as the case of the name “Batbig” where “Bat” is short for “Bata” or “Child”, and “Big” could mean “Tubig” (water) or “Ibig” (love). The name “Batdiwa” uses the word “Bata” once more, and the word “Diwa” (spirit).
Aside from the “Batbig at Batdiwa”, there is a nearby statue of a nymph located at what was once a flowing stream by the roadside. Now with the drying vegetation and the waters silent, the nymph is out of her element. I assume that these two sculptures were also created by Fermin Gomez, but there is no available documentation to prove my hunch.
Across the street from the Second Balara-San Juan Aqueduct is the Grotto, which is a prayer park dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. From the road, visitors climb the stairs through the trees to get to the grotto, which placed among the local rock formations.
The last site at the end of the road is the Pedro Tobias Park, with its empty aviary and gigantic Lion’s Head, where the waters of the park flow out. There are promenade areas and playgrounds, but these too are closed to the public.
Like many of the visitors to the Balara Filtration Park, I am saddened by the state the whole compound has befallen. I can only hope and pray that the present Manila Water Company invest in revitalizing this historical park, and open it to the public.