The Spaniards came in 1521 and stayed until the Americans shooed them away in 1898. That was a very long time, 300 years, and that was sure to leave an indelible mark in the history of Guam and the hearts of its people. One of the staunch reminders of the Spanish Crown is the Plaza de Espana, a remnant of the old Governor’s Palace that used to stand boldly in central Agana (now, Hagatña, the capital city).
The old Spanish compound where the Plaza now stands has stood there since 1669. Within it was the magnificent Casa Gavierno or Governor’s Palace, which was constructed in 1736 in the middle of a garden and a park. The palace was then reconstructed and enlarged in 1885. The two-storey building housed a living quarter, weapon storerooms, clerical offices and the office of the Sargento Mayor de la Plaza. Since the island was then completely controlled by the Spanish Governor, the Governor’s Palace, therefore, was clearly the seat of power and authority over the entire island-nation of Guam. It was in this compound where important government and civic activities took place.
In 1898, after the United States won the Spanish-American War and took over the island, the Plaza was turned over to the Americans, who in turn designated it as the official residence of the Naval Governor and American Administration headquarters. In other words, the compound remained to be Guam’s seat of power: the island’s version of the White House, if you will. It was also the center of city activities that included concerts, pageants, ceremonies and festivals.
The Americans reconstructed the Palace and built administrative office spaces, a reception area, dining room, galleries, kitchen facilities, servant’s quarters, and special rooms for the governor and his family.
It was only in the 1940′s that the Plaza would lose its proud splendor. In 1941, the Japanese came and controlled the island. The American governor tried to put up a fight, but eventually surrendered after two days. He officially made the surrender and turned over the island from the Plaza. In 1944, the American military came back with a vengeance. They successfully reclaimed the island but not without inflicting major damages to the city, including Plaza de Espana. Hagatña was heavily bombarded and what remained of the plaza was a 3-arched gate that led to Arcena, the Azotea (back porch) and the Chocolate House.
In 1980, the existing structures inside the compound underwent major reconstructions. The government did a good job, and now what stands inside the plaza are the Azotea, Chocolate House, Tool Shed, Siesta Shed and Spanish Walls. The compound is not majestic to behold but these structures serve as silent monuments and reminders of the island’s colorful past.
Today, Plaza de Espana is an important national landmark and tourist attraction. It is also a well-known venue for concerts, inaugural ceremonies and several school events. This was also where the Governor of Guam was inaugurated. When the plaza is not busy with national events and gatherings, people visit the place to simply be still and remember the glory days of Guam.