By Lex Librero
UPLB alumni who left Los Baños before the mid-sixties and have not been back to campus until now would find certain places to have completely changed “beyond recognition.” Let’s have a quick tour of what would easily be classified as the most popular place in College…Grove.
Today as we walk through the UPLB Gate out to Grove, just to our right is the Vega Centre, which houses various eateries like McDo and Chowking, and other shops catering to the needs of students. The Vega Centre is a three-level building owned by the Vegas (the family of the late Dr. Marcos Vega, who used to be the Director of Research of UPCA and later Research Director of IRRI). Before the Vega Centre was constructed, the place used to be the site of a number of wooden buildings, the first and closest to the Gate of which was a large two-level wooden house which was occupied by the Lafortezas. This was where the Star Studio, the official photographer of UPCA, held office (its studio was located at Crossing). The place also served breakfast daily.
Next to this building, actually adjoining, was the Carangal Store. You were not allowed to enter in this store where there are shelves full of items for sale; you only had to tell Mrs. Carangal what you wanted to buy and just wait at the counter. No window shopping allowed inside. The interior was completely stacked with various items only Mrs. Carangal could have memorized. There was no space to move back and forth and it was very dark as there was only one incandescent light inside. We had always wondered how Mrs. Carangal could have known where to pick the items being bought. It was a dark, cramped store but many students bought many things from there.
Moving along away from the Gate, there was this store called Quality Store, where you could also buy all sorts of things, too, such as swimming trunks and bathing suits for PE students, dissecting sets for students of zoology, insect nets for entomology students, school supplies, and other goodies, and ice cream and popsicle, too. It’s here where you would also order your College ring months before graduation, for which many graduating students had mixed feelings. UP graduation then was held only in Diliman. UP was not a System then. I joined the graduation ceremonies in 1969 and our class was the last from Los Baños that joined the graduation ceremonies in Diliman.
From the Gate, past Quality Store, you would find the original Bamboo Grove (later it opened a branch in Makati). The place is now open space. This was a popular watering hole for faculty and students, and their guests. Many discussions about Western and Eastern Thought courses continued here. Discussions about the classic philosophers were usually intense but interspersed with laughter.
Next to Bamboo Grove were small houses, then there was the Kitchennette (owned by the family of Melencio Evangelista, who also operated the Evangelista Billard Hall across from the original Carangal Store. The six-table Billard Hall is now Vega Arcade). At Kitchennette we were introduced to what was known then as “flying saucer” or simply egg sandwich. To prepare “flying saucer sandwich, just place fried egg – sunny side up – in a sliced pan de monay, put it in a contraption where the bread fits snuggly. It had a long handle. Put the contraption right into the flame or embers on the stove for about 20 seconds, flip it over once, let stand for another 20 seconds, and that’s it. You have a very good-eating quality “flying saucer´ sandwich. You didn’t even need ketchup.
Many students used to hang out at the Evangelista Billard Hall. My billard skills were very bad and never improved in spite of hanging around there daily when there were time slacks. I happened to be staying close by at Balthazar’s Dorm, which was just a few steps away from the Gate. Balthazar’s Dorm was located behind the old Saguiguit residence (where Toto’s Chicken now stands). Anyway, this Billiard Hall is now the Vega Arcade.
Later on, perhaps in the early 70s, the original Ellen’s Chicken started operating where a current store for gift items, 101, is now located. Ellen’s Chicken put up branches at Demarses, Crossing, and Ruby Street (Umali Subdivision, which is now called Los Baños Subdivision), near the Raymundo Gate (this branch has become the “main student branch” of the chain today). Ellen’s Chicken is very popular with the UPLB students today. Yes, the fried chicken is still very delicious as it used to be in the 70s, and it goes well with a ”home-prepared” balatong for veggie. There are additional couple or three dishes now. The founder of Ellen’s Chicken, the late Dr. Eli Cadapan, an entomology professor, used to say, “as long as we can offer affordable student meals we will do it.” He was probably the best example of one with excellent entrepreneurship skills among the faculty members of UPCA then (perhaps even until today).
Where the LB Square is currently located used to stand the
Hongkong Restaurant. Every time we were asked, “where are you going to take your lunch?” we would casually respond, “Hongkong.” It was an affordable Chinese Resto. I think when Ding Hao was established in Calamba, many friends of Hongkong started shifting to Ding Hao later on. I began frequenting this place after I have graduated and was already working with Radio DZLB in the late 60s.
There used to be only two bowling lanes at Grove: the Eva Lanes (in the adjoining space near the Hongkong Restaurant), and Silver Lanes which was located at the Demarses Village. It was at Eva Lanes that I learned the game. When both lanes ceased operations years ago, another bowling lane was established at Agrix Supermarket. Agrix Supermarket was closed down later and became site for various fashion houses, a watering hole, restaurant, a bank, and a bowling lane. Years later it became the site for LB Centtro. So at UPLB and the entire town of Los Baños today, there are two bowling lanes, that which is located at the Student Union basement inside the campus, and that which is found at Olivares Shopping Center along the National Highway past crossing.
In between these landmarks were residential houses, then and now. When the Carangal Store, Bamboo Grove, Kitchennette, Quality Store, and many residential houses were burned to the ground about 1964, the place changed forever, After so many years, we now have the Vega Mall, Vega Arcade, KFC, MACES, Goldilocks, and other new establishments and small stores selling all sorts of things to students, etc. Grove is now a busy business area day and night, where street food is always available even until the wee hours, unlike in the 60s when the place was practically deserted by 7:00 p.m.
Do you have any recollection of these places? Send us a note. If possible send us, too, a soft copy of the pictures of places you have been to in Los Baños and we’ll try our level best to show you what they look like now.