Memories of Casco Antiguo

Iglesia San Francisco de Asís.

This post is also available in: Spanish

By Marijulia Pujol Lloyd

Many years ago, before Casco Antiguo, formerly known as Casco Viejo, became a trendy place full of bars, restaurants, expats and tourists, it was a tight knit community full of old wooden buildings, decaying mansions and government buildings. Children used to play on the streets, because the traffic was minimum and the wide walls of Las Bovedas were the best roller-skating rink in Panama. It was a miracle that nobody got killed.

My grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Heriberto Rodriguez Polo, was an “Independence Soldier”. He lived in the house that is now “La Casa del Soldado”. His job was to preserve the archives and arrange the meetings with the other survivors of the war.

The General Tomas Herrera monument, Plaza Herrera, Casco Antiguo.

The General Tomas Herrera monument, Plaza Herrera, Casco Antiguo.

Incidentally, Joaquin Beleño, an illustrious Panamanian writer, wrote his novels “Luna Verde” and “Gamboa Road Gang” on the first floor of that house with the help of my aunt Rosita, who typed the manuscripts. The Supreme Court was next door and anybody could go and see trials. The galleries today are full of plays and music, courtesy of the Anita Villalaz Theater.

I spent a good part of my childhood there. My parents and my brother, Jorge Luis, and I lived for a few months in the attic and from that high point we observed the elegant parties that frequently took place at the Union Club, which is now soon to become a hotel. Perhaps the most amusing part was to see the sharks feeding frenzy, after leftover food was thrown into the bay.

San Francisco de Asis church.

San Francisco de Asis church.

The dungeons that surround “La Plaza de Francia”, which have been converted into galleries, were the perfect place to play policemen and bandits. Unfortunately for me, being the smallest, I spent an awful lot of time in jail, until my grandfather rescued me and took me to the local shop, which made the best milkshakes I have ever tasted. Arquimedes, the owner, ran a combination of coffee shop, come mini market. Sadly he is not there anymore, just a fancy Italian restaurant.

The Music Conservatory was located close to “Plaza Herrera”. Nowadays, it houses the Danilo Perez Foundation. Casco Antiguo has changed for the better, the place has been gentrified and is full of expats restoring the abandoned mansions. The streets are full of revellers looking for a good time, but I feel a bit nostalgic every time I visit the place.

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