The return of the Canal to Panama in December 1999, meant that for the first time the capital city was able to grow without the hindrance that was the former Canal Zone and its 14 military bases. The U.S. Armed Forces (USAF) left behind buildings, infrastructure and land ready to be developed. Over the last 17 years all those areas have been transformed beyond recognition. Albrook and Clayton are now vibrant neighborhoods full of businesses, private homes, technological hubs, learning centers and much more.
Albrook, from military base to shopping mecca
Albrook was known as the Albrook Air Force Base and housed the Sixth Air Force that later became known as the United States Southern Command. Its main mission was the defense of the Panama Canal and for USAF relations, including foreign military sales (FMS) and disaster-relief assistance, with Latin American nations.
It was located on the east side of the Panama Canal just south of Fort Clayton and north of the township of Balboa, Panama.
The command supported disaster relief to countries such as Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Colombia. It also assisted nations in Central and South America in purchases of United States military aircraft and trained their technicians in logistics and maintenance for the aircraft.
During World War ll the Sixth Air Force had the responsibility of tracking down German submarines, which consisted of groups of three or more subs attacking Allied shipping in the Caribbean, using a strategy now known as “Search and Destroy”
The United States Air Forces Southern Command was inactivated in 1976 for budgetary reasons and the base became the home of the Twelfth Air Force. In February 1991, the division became Air Forces Panama.
Albrook base was closed on September 30, 1997 as a result of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties which specified that United States military facilities in the former Panama Canal Zone be closed and the facilities be turned over to the Panamanian government.
Albrook Mall is a large shopping mall and leisure complex located in Albrook. As of August 2015 it was the fourteenth largest mall in the world, the largest in the Americas and the largest shopping mall outside Asia.
The mall was opened in 2002 on the site of Albrook, which had been a United States Air Force base in the former Panama Canal Zone. It is located beside the city’s main bus station and the Marcos A. Gelabert International Airport.
In March 2013, the mall contained 700 businesses, which received between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors per day. As of March 2016, approximately 25% of the visitors have been foreigners. The mall provides employment for around 10,000 people. Businesses included cinemas, restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacies, travel agents, hairdressers, fitness centers, and children’s play areas.
Marcos Gelabert International Airport
This terminal is located on the site of the former Albrook Air Force Station. Previously, the airport was located in the area of Paitilla, operating approximately 70 years until January 1999, the year when the airport started operations in Albrook. The name was changed to honor the Panamanian aviator Marcos A. Gelabert, whose contributions to Panamanian aviation included founding Panama’s first airline and first school for training pilots.
Air Panama offers daily flights to many cities in Panama from Albrook Airport. Its corporate headquarters are located on the airport property.
Clayton, a hub of knowledge and technology
The former Fort Clayton and its surroundings have been transformed to the point that any vestige of the old army base has disappeared, leaving behind some living quarters which have been tastefully renovated and transformed into mansions. There are shopping plazas, parks, sports facilities and, of cours, the City of Knowledge, a place full high tech companies, universities, non-profit organizations and popular with art lovers who come here to enjoy music, dance and theater, plus other cultural events.
This was a United States Army base in the former Panama Canal Zone. The Southern Command Network and 193rd Infantry Brigade were both headquartered there, as was the headquarters of the United States Army South, prior to its relocation to Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. The fort was vacated in 1999.
Clayton is located on 2,180 acres on the east bank of the Canal in the Pacific Sector, near Miraflores Locks and is just 20 minutes from the center of Panama City. The military base was named after the former Quartermaster General of the Canal Zone department, Colonel Bertram T. Clayton who died serving his country during World War l
The construction of Fort Clayton began in 1919 following the architectural designs of Samuel Hitt who also is responsible for the Gorgas Hospital (Oncological Hospital) and was part of the Canal Zone team. It followed the neoclassical Greek lines which was the style of the federal buildings in the United States. Examples of them can be seen in the City of Knowledge.
Technology and learning
The City of Knowledge occupies 120 hectares and more than 200 buildings of what was once the Clayton military base are now home to a booming international community established for the purpose of business, academic, scientific, and humanistic collaboration. The objective is human and sustainable development based on knowledge.
In effect it is a management platform that focuses on boosting the innovative and competitive capacities of users who share the campus. That is the reason why there is an unusual concentration of innovative organizations focused on development, as well as academic and research institutions.
The City of Knowledge has a convention center, training center, theater, teachers’ villas and dormitories. The Plaza is a small shopping center with restaurants, bakery, pharmacy, clinic, art gallery and even a beauty parlor. Frequently it is used as a farm market, selling organic products and other events.
Panama Canal Miraflores Visitor Center
The Miraflores Visitors’ Center, on the Pacific side of the Canal, offers a variety of options for tourists to enjoy. A new addition to the experience includes a 3D theatre where visitors can take a virtual tour through the Canal.
The ample observation decks permit easy observation of the Canal in action with its 13,056 boats that transit annually. A gourmet restaurant, museum with interactive displays and gift shop help to bring in more visitors to Miraflores than any other tourist destination in the country. Bilingual guides explain in great detail the most interesting aspects of its history.
For information as to when there will be ships in the locks each day call the Orientation Service at Miraflores at Tel. 276-8617
Clayton neighborhood is considered by many locals and expats as one of the best places to live in the city. Properties are large, single-family and duplex homes located in gated communities, many of which were officers’ quarters during the US presence in Panama. There are also small apartments in the City of Knowledge area which is considered to be a part of Clayton as well.
The U.S.A. Embassy in Panama is located there as well as a number of private schools such as Las Esclavas, Javier and the Met School, Balboa Academy and Florida State University.
Albrook and Clayton have a lot to offer and if you live and work there you do not have to go anywhere else. You have everything there.