FeaturesThe Luce Story, Part 1

The Luce Story, Part 1


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  By Ian Rosales Casocot

Last Oct. 6 was the 49th anniversary of the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium. To celebrate, I’m sharing here an essay written by Zara Marie Dy on the history of its construction for Handulantaw: 50 Years of Culture and the Arts, a coffeetable book I edited in 2013:

Silliman University’s affair with culture and the arts dates back to the first decade of the school’s existence when, in 1911, the tradition of a Commencement drama began.

The ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ scene from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was rendered, and in the next year, The Merchant of Venice was presented in its entirety for the first time, with an all-male cast, as was the case before the coming of girls to Silliman in 1912. This custom continued for over fourteen years and was much awaited by the people and the students.

A few decades later, the chance finally came to clear the old athletic field. This field was where the Silliman gymnasium would rise. The new gymnasium was a U.S. Army surplus airplane hangar, dismantled and transported all the way from Leyte, and rebuilt on the west end of the old ball field. Its beginnings were humble enough, but little did the University community realize that this airplane hangar would soon be the stage where budding local performers and culturati would thrive.

The rich history of Silliman’s cultural life traverses makeshift stages, the lust for performance making do with any available platform. Such was the insatiable thirst for the arts in the University. Mr. Rudy Juan, a notable authority on Silliman culture with an impressive and well-preserved collection of playbills and programmes, fondly compares the gym to the Auditorium in theological terms, like rising from “the pit to the pulpit.”

Imagine the Le Grand Ballet Classique de France pirouetting inside an old hangar, or violin virtuoso Gilopez Kabayao passionately bending his bow in a concert at the gymnasium, which was noisy when it rained and hot when it did not.

All this cultural sagacity does not come as a surprise. Apart from the theatrical performances birthed during the Commencement tradition, music had taken deep root in the University as well. In 1946, a School of Music was drawn out from the foundations of the pre-war music conservatory. Twenty years later, the School of Music was established as a separate academic unit, which thrived in the University and beyond.

Despite its perennially small student population, the School of Music found itself heralding many a school activity. It was responsible for all music programmes of the Church and the University at the time, shifting roles as university orchestra, ROTC band, Folk Arts Ensemble, Church choir, and all other imaginable musical designations. Its annual recitals and tours had become a well-established tradition, and before long the School of Music’s reach extended beyond the Gates of Opportunity, touching music lovers in various parts of the country.

Notably, the Folk Arts Ensemble, organized and trained by Priscilla Magdamo and Ruth Imperial, gave concerts in more than fifty cities and towns throughout the country. This contributed significantly toward developing greater public appreciation for traditional Philippine music, which further solidified Silliman’s place as the center of culture in the Visayas.

It did not stop there. There was ballet, too, first offered in 1961 by Lucy P. Jumawan, a Silliman High School alumna who studied at the Anita Kane Ballet School in Manila. Mrs. Jumawan eventually joined the Music School faculty and by 1966 she had organized a highly-rated dance group, which served as the forerunner of the Silliman University Dance Troupe.

It is no wonder then that by the time the Luce Auditorium was ready to open its doors, you could hardly get a seat despite its original 923 seating capacity. Mr. Juan recalls that by the time Gilopez Kabayao moved his concerts from the Gym to the Auditorium, he was received with “ceiling-breaking applause” as everyone had waited for so long to hear his violin sound suspended instead of dissipated.

But to put everything in historical context, we begin by acknowledging that cultural venues in the Philippines were such that, before the turn of the 20th century, artistic performances were primarily held in plazas and other public places all over the country.

In the capital, the primary venue for stage plays, operas, and zarzuelas was the Manila Grand Opera House, which was constructed in the mid-19th century.

In 1931, the Metropolitan Theater was built. Additionally, smaller but adequately equipped auditoriums in the Ateneo de Manila and Far Eastern University, as well as Meralco and PhilAm Life, improved conditions for the staging of culture and the arts in Manila. Manila and Dumaguete were equal in the struggle to host art and culture as priorities in developing communities.

At about the same time that Dr. Cicero Calderon began his campaign “to build a greater Silliman” (which subsequently gave birth to the plans for a Cultural Center in the University), the Philippine-American Cultural Foundation started to raise funds for a new theater in Manila to be designed by Leandro Locsin.

There was muted unrest as the need to erect a structure dedicated to staging performances lingered over the visionaries of the time.

One such prominent personality was Imelda Marcos who, in 1965, expressed her desire to build a national theater at a rally for her husband. Marcos soon won the Presidency and the journey towards the theater’s fruition began. Imelda, as First Lady, persuaded the Philippine-American Cultural Foundation to relocate and expand their plans.

Soon after, an Executive Order established the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which was equally plagued with problems parallel to its Dumaguete counterpart. The project, hugely criticized, forged on, and the CCP was finally inaugurated months after Silliman received news of the Henry Luce Foundation’s pledge to help build Silliman’s Cultural Center in 1969.

Both the CCP and the Luce Auditorium remain as testaments to an era where tenacious patronage of culture and the arts bore tangible results that remain deeply felt still.

The idea of the Cultural Center in Silliman took root when President Calderon, in his 1961 Founders Day Inaugural Address, spelled out his vision to build a greater Silliman. This soon became known as the “Building a Greater Silliman” (BAGS campaign) which included the construction of buildings and the procurement of equipment.

Dr. Calderon threw his full weight behind the idea. He had a vision, and this was reflected in his program of development and growth for the University. His presidential advocacy was to inform people that “higher education is everybody’s business and that they are entitled to know everything about it.” This, naturally, included the enrichment of cultural life.

In the next few years after his assumption of office, the Luce Auditorium remained a pipe dream. It was, however, the persistent dream of a man who passionately believed that the buildings he envisioned would one day materialize and give full meaning to “quality education.” He gave priority to soliciting funds for the capital development program of the University.

This included the counterpart fund of P400,000 for the Cultural Center, of which the Auditorium was a part. Silliman University looked into ways to improve its financial base to fund these projects. The University discovered and tested the strength of its alumni, putting to practice the principle that generosity should begin at home.

And begin it did.

Up until 12 June 1971, when President Calderon stepped down, even alumni like Gilopez Kabayao, violin virtuoso and Sillimanian of international fame, had pledged support for the envisioned cultural center/auditorium.

President Calderon recommended that a caretaker president be appointed for Silliman when he stepped down from the presidency. This president ad interim came in the person of Dr. Proceso U. Udarbe, whose term officially started on 1 June 1971.

Acting President Udarbe was kept busy inaugurating and implementing the unfinished projects Dr. Calderon left behind. He raced to see the projects push through quickly in view of the inflationary trend of the times.

One of his very first worries in 1971 was the delay in the construction of the Cultural Center. The funds had been promised back in 1968 by the Henry Luce Foundation of New York but the Cultural Center Planning Committee, composed mainly of the units which had their own interests in the Cultural Center, could not easily agree on space allocations, design and location of the Center, much less on the architect.

The School of Music & Fine Arts, the Speech & Theatre Arts Department, the English Department, and the Audio-Visual Department comprised the Committee, together with the Campus Planning Committee, chaired by Dean Cesar Gangoso of the College of Engineering. This mix made for long meetings and stalemates.

With financial exigencies weighing heavily against time, Dr. Udarbe decided to come to the helm and reorganize the Cultural Center Planning Committee. He became its chairman and steered it into agreement and action. The tipping point of this phase in the history of the Auditorium was the Committee’s decision to commission a young and up-and-coming architect from Negros Occidental. There was finally a consensus, and Augusto Ang Barcelona was chosen to design the Cultural Center. Amiel Leonardia, who would serve as the Luce’s first director, was the technical consultant.

By 28 August 1972, the groundbreaking ceremony for the Auditorium was held.

It would seem that things would be well underway after ground on the site was broken. But the country suddenly faced Martial Law, and the critical times plagued the University. The time had come to install a more permanent university president. A familiar name was once again broached.

Dr. Quintin Salas Doromal started off reluctantly, having been offered the presidency thrice before when he finally accepted the position and moved to Dumaguete. On 22 January 1973, he wrote to the Board of Trustees, finally accepting the challenge to serve Silliman during a period that would prove to be crucial years.

The University was still reeling from the clampdown imposed by the government and morale in the University was at an all-time low as students and faculty lived in uncertainty. When the president-elect and his wife Pearl were introduced, Sillimanians eagerly welcomed the new captain, trusting a skillful sailor to navigate them through the rough seas of those years.

The new President, fastidious in his ways, believed that money spent on proper appearances was money well-spent. He considered this an investment; the building projects he inherited from Dr. Caldero and Dr. Udarbe soon caught his attention and were soon prioritized, with President Doromal borrowing money for their completion even in the midst of inflation.

Particularly challenging was the Luce Auditorium. Construction started slowly. The project was less than halfway done when it had already overshot it original budget of P1.9 million for the entire Cultural Center. It was a financial headache that had cost a total of P4.75 million in the end. It took a “financial wizard, a die-hard optimist, and a hard-headed administrator to produce such an amount on such short notice,” said one commentator at the time.

Luckily, Silliman had all three in Dr. Doromal. He made it happen. He was not going to let the folks at the Henry Luce Foundation regret their pledge to erect an auditorium in Silliman.

The Henry Luce Foundation was no stranger to the University. In 1953, the Foundation had given Silliman P50,000 for the University’s extension service projects, followed by a grant of a few thousand pesos for books on English and American literature. After a long deliberation on who could most prospectively be the source of funding for the proposed Cultural Center, it became clear that the most likely benefactor would be the Foundation.

Henry R. Luce II, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Magazine, established the Foundation in 1936 to honor his parents who were missionary educators in China. He pursued to build upon the vision and values of four generations of the Luce family. By 1968, the Foundation was headed by Henry Luce III, publisher of Fortune magazine and elder son of the late Henry R. Luce II.

About this time, it also happened that Mrs. Maurice T. Moore, sister of Henry R. Luce II, was also then president of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, which had been supporting Silliman since 1957.

In 1965, Mrs. Moore, with her family and Dr. William P. Fenn, then General Secretary of the United Board, came to Silliman for a three-day visit to look into the programs and development plans of the University. This soon led to the Foundation’s deep involvement with Silliman and its future plans.

Three years later, on board the presidential plane graciously lent by then President Marcos, Henry Luce III, his wife Claire Isabel McGill Luce, and their teenaged daughter Lila, came all the way from New York to visit Silliman University for the first time. The Luces were regaled with an elaborate program of music and dance numbers by the School of Music & Fine Arts.

The following morning, President Calderon wasted no time in presenting the Cultural Center plan to them. Henry Luce III, during this 24-hour visit, had asked what project they could support, and he got his answer. This was in September 1968.

By March 1969, the University was informed that the Foundation would match every peso raised by the University for the Cultural Center by three pesos, up to P1.2 million.

This was news but it was almost expected as it was already earlier intimated by the Luces to Mrs. Miriam Palmore, then director of the School of Music & Fine Arts, that their performance during the September visit had clinched the deal.

The United Presbyterian Church in the United States also gave an outright gift of P300,000 for the same project, which fueled hopes that the Cultural Center would rise by 1970, only a year after the CCP in Manila, at an estimated cost of P2 million.

In the beginning, the would-be auditorium was merely part of the campus plan prepared by Cesar Concio, the architect hired by the University in 1949.

Several years later, a Cultural Center Planning Committee was formed under the leadership of Dr. Edith L. Tiempo, which had a plan that included five buildings located on the athletic field. However, all these plans simmered in the back burner until 1962, when it became a major item in the “Build a Greater Silliman” campaign of President Calderon.

It immediately hit a snag as the million-peso fund drive for capital development was not enough to include the Cultural Center. A separate campaign had to be mounted if the Cultural Center was to materialize.

However, this meant a second round of giving from the Silliman family as support had been enlisted for the capital development program. After the official announcement of the Foundation in March 1969 to match Silliman’s one peso with three, the Cultural Center Fund Campaign began.

Sen. Lorenzo G. Teves was appointed campaign manager, and he put his heart into the task of raising the P400,000 counterpart to the Foundation’s P1.2 million. The Foundation set the deadline for 31 December 1970.

“Enrich Your Life—Enjoy the Arts/Help Build Our Cultural Center” was the slogan used for the campaign. Those were, imaginably, frenetic times in the University.

Six months into the campaign, the funds stood at a fifth of the target amount. In a show of generosity and love for the University, nearly 500 of the faculty and staff of the University contributed, where a fourth of that number belonged to the various utility and service units. Most had large families and earned the equivalent of about 75 centavos an hour at the time, but each had pledged P5 to P30. The University’s Food Services Department even contributed a whole day’s pay to the fund and a number of them gave a second and even a third time towards the end of the drive.

According to authors Edilberto K. Tiempo, Crispin C. Maslog, and T. Valentino Sitoy in their book Silliman University 1901-1976, when a janitor was asked why he was contributing to the fund, he answered, “I want to be a part of it.” That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment of the time.

When the deadline finally came, funds still came up short. The Luce Foundation, however, granted a three-month extension so that Silliman could make up the difference.

By 31 March 1971, the fund drive had overshot the goal and Silliman’s Luce Auditorium was finally about to turn into a tangible reality.

To memorialize the rich spirit of solidarity that produced the Auditorium, a sealed list of contributors was embedded in the cornerstone—a testimony of the lengths taken to establish the building, which now stands as a landmark in the campus and, according to Tiempo, Maslog, and Sitoy, has become “symbolic of the University’s concern for culture and education for the whole man.” [To be continued…]



Photo Caption: From the top, clockwise: [1] University President Cicero Calderon welcomes Henry Luce III and wife Claire Isabel McGill Luce to Dumaguete in 1968. The visit would prove fateful. The Henry Luce Foundation promised to match the funds raised by the Silliman community for the construction of a cultural center. [2] The groundbreaking for the Cultural Center on 28 August 1972. [3] The Cultural Center rises from the lot once occupied by the residence of Henry W. Mack. [4] The Luce now nearing completion in 1974. [5] The Luce, two years later, serving Silliman University and the Dumaguete community with its regular fare of cultural performances. [6] The Luce undergoes renovations and refurbishing in 2006, with additional funding from the Henry Luce Foundation.



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