The shophouse that was so common all-over South-East Asia and the Philippines’ leading urban centers will soon be having a revival in Uptown Cagayan de Oro.

The shophouse which did double duty as a residence and business was once ubiquitous in Southeast Asia and also found in Southern China, Hong Kong, Macau,  Singapore, and as far as Sri Lanka. 

Two shophouses on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Old Thalang Road, Phuket, Thailand (RMB).

Shophouses were a convenient design for urban settlers, providing both a residence and small business venue, often designed to be narrow and deep so that many businesses can be accommodated along a street.  Each building’s footprint was narrow in width and long in depth, not unlike those found in modern townhouses.

Traditional Shophouses

Traditional shophouses usually have one to three floors. The front of the shop on the ground floor along the street in most cases is used for commercial purposes as a formal space for customers, with the upper floors intended for residential use.

Key Elements of a Typical Shophouse (conservation08,

The ground floor usually serves as food and drink shops, offices, shops, or workshops. Merchandise was usually displayed in front of the house, and was protected by a veranda from rain and sunshine, and also served as a reception for customers.

Reception area of a typical shophouse in Old Thalang Road, Phuket, Thailand (RMB).

If the ground floor included living spaces, these were usually located in the rear with reception, guestrooms, informal spaces for family members, toilets, bathrooms, kitchens, and infrastructure.

The upper part of the house was used as living quarters, usually with an inner courtyard (air-well) midway between the front and rear of the house for ventilation.

The inner courtyard of a shophouse now used as a tourist inn in Old Thalang Road, Phuket, Thailand (RMB)

“The shophouses in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia tried as much as possible to have the residences up on the third floor. Big wholesalers such as  rice and such commodities used the second floor as bodegas,”  noted Charles Lim, a Singaporean tourism and marketing consultant now based in Cebu. “They lived a very principled life – they prioritized their jobs/businesses to be able to feed their families.”

The NUS Baba House on 157 Neil Road – Singapore’s most famous Peranakan dwelling (

As the town prospered and population rose, some front shops were put to professional uses such as clinics, drugstores, law offices, pawnshops, or travel agencies.

 Street corners were prized as the best location for food and drink shops. Food and drink shops usually served snacks or ready cooked viands in the turo-turo or carenderia traditions. Such stalls have now been replaced by food courts.

Manila Shophouses

In the Philippines, shophouses were especially prevalent in the Rosario area of Binondo, mainly due to the limitations imposed by our Spanish colonizers on where the Christianized Chinese were allowed to settle,” said Kenneth Irving Ong, a lifestyle writer and blogger from Davao currently doing research on the history of Chinese immigrants in the Philippines.

“Chinese who did not convert to Catholicism were not allowed to venture outside of the Parian around Intramuros as well as ply their wares outside it as well. But once they were baptized Catholics, they were then allowed to practice their professions and businesses in Binondo, Tondo and Sta. Cruz. Of course being pragmatic, these individuals would choose to live where they work since it was cheaper and more efficient. This is the case for Manila’s Chinatown,” he added.

Early photo of Chinatown in Binondo courtesy of Alden March Wikipedia Commons

Parián (or Pantin, also Parián de Arroceros) was an area adjacent to Intramuros built to house Chinese merchants in Manila in the 16th and 17th centuries during the Spanish colonial period.

According to a blog post from ParianSugbu, shophouses also flourished in Cebu, the country’s oldest city where the Chinese Mestizo-dominated Parian district had become the most dynamic commercial area in the city by the middle of the nineteenth century.

The shophouse tradition is evident in the Parian of the Colon district in Cebu City. (

At the same time, it became more of a suburban residential district rather than a trading ghetto. Parian began to evolve from a commercial to a semi-residential district, evident in the old pictures of the Parian shop houses. 
Some of the residents of Parian created various businesses and establishments, such as bakeries, specialty shops, theatres and movie houses, printing presses, and hardware stores. These establishments lined the street of Colon, making it one of the most progressive commercial areas of the country.

An old photograph of Colon, taken between 1917 and the late 1920s. Note the long stretches of sidewalk covered by its distinctive tile-roofed and hardwood post awnings, the result of numerous two-storey shophouses with uniform shaped entrances forming a continuous arcade parallel to the street. Old sidewalk paving was made of either piedra china (granite) blocks, or more commonly coral stone faced with lime plaster. The street was still unpaved, and the occasional electricity pole has already begun to snarl its visual frontage.
(Photo courtesy of Lucy Urgello Miller from Glimpses of Old Cebu, USC Press)

The Bahay na bato

But in the more progressive and urban centers outside Manila and Cebu, esteemed Kagay-anon Architect Edwin Uy said shophouses were often found in the ground floor of the ubiquitous Bahay na bato (or Balay nga bato hereabouts) that was the status symbol of  the elite or prosperous merchant middle-class, which integrated the characteristics of the nipa hut with the style, culture and technology of Chinese and Spanish architecture.  The 19th century was the golden age of these houses, when wealthy Filipinos built fine houses all over the archipelago.

These were mostly characterized by an elevated, overhanging wooden upper-story nipa hut  (with balustrades, ventanillas, and capiz shell  sliding windows) and grounded on Spanish-style solid stone blocks or bricks  and posts as foundation instead of just wood, bamboo stilts,  or timber posts.

They are usually roofed either by Chinese roof tiles, nipa or cogon  thatch, and had the bahay kubo’s icon features such as open ventilation and elevated apartments used as living spaces, with the ground floor used for storerooms, cellars, and other business purposes in the traditional shophouse layout. This type of construction was soon known as the bahay na bato, or as Jesuit Ignacio Alzina calls it, arquitectura mestiza (mixed architecture).

Casa Vizantina (corner Madrid and Peñarubia Street), a three-storey Floral style bahay na bato (brick made house) which was built in 1890. Note the sari-sari stores still doing business on its ground floor.

Like bahay kubo, much of this ground level was reserved for storage, or in business districts, were rented out to shops. Horses for carriages were housed in stables called caballerizas

Bahay na bato had a rectangular plan that reflected vernacular Austronesian  Filipino traditional houses integrated with Spanish style. These quaint mixes give the Bahay na bato an architectural style that evolved from both East and West, and thus makes it truly Filipino, as it corresponds to Philippine history of being born through a melting pot of east and west. Although retaining the basic form, the 19th-century bahay na bato reflected changing tastes through the incorporation of motifs from the prevalent styles such as Victorian.  

The Bahay na bato also has several variations along ethnic lines. The Bahay na bato in Cebu, for example, differs from the one in Ilocos, and so on. Today, these houses are more commonly called ancestral houses , due to most ancestral houses in the Philippines being of bahay na bato architecture.

The Cagayan de Oro/Misamis Oriental Tradition

Indeed, there is one major difference between the bahay-na-bato and the traditional shophouses found elsewhere in South East Asia, Manila and Cebu. The upper residential spaces of the bahay na bato was mostly contiguous and occupied by the extended family landlord/owners, while those in other countries were usually laid out as self-contained units with the merchant/resident occupying all floors, similar to how present-day townhouses are designed.

Casa del Chino Ygua one of the oldest bahay na bato in Cagayan de Oro (from a reproduction courtesy of XU Museo de Oro)

In Cagayan de Oro, one of the best examples of the bahay-na-bato is the  Casa del Chino Ygua at the corner of Hayes and Velez streets, often acknowledged as one of the oldest residences in the city. Constructed in 1882 as a “Bahay na Bato” by the Chinese merchant Sia Ygua who originally came from Xiamen, China,  the original structure was built from bricks transported from China aboard Chinese junks. The house has been renovated twice, once after World War II when it was badly damaged, and again more recently, but still retains the shophouse tradition of renting its ground floor to various merchants.

The Canoy Ancestral House along A. Velez St. was built during the 1930s by Mariano Canoy. (Canoy Family Collection)

Another, is the Mariano Canoy residence along Velez street constructed during the 1930s for his wife Laureana Rabe, which still stands to this day. According to their apo Rhona Canoy, the leftmost stall in the ground floor use to be rented by her Lola Aning for her sari-sari store. Later, the Canoy Furniture Shop of Mariano took over the entire ground floor. Still later, the  leftmost stall was rented by Mindanao Motors before they moved to the lot along CM Recto Avenue now occupied by Centrio Mall. Eventually, the ground floor was used by Radio Mindanao Network’s flagship radio station dxCC before network founder Henry Canoy and family resided in the rear area.

The Velez Residence at the corner of Capistrano and RN Abejuela Sts housed the iconic Ah Fat Bakery. (TItus Velez)

Still another is the residence of Mariano Itoy Velez and Patricia Cocay Velez which housed the iconic Ah Fat Bakery at the corner of Capistrano and RN Abejuela streets.

Shoppe Houses Uptown

Now, a real estate developer is seeking to revive the shophouse tradition with the first commercial-home development in the region.

Dubbed The Shoppe Houses, the development will be located in its Uptown Metropolis and is envisioned to be a commercial space and a home at the same time.

The Uptown Metropolis in Upper Balulang, Cagayan de Oro City is a master planned development located at the premium view of Xavier Estates.

“This is a two-area metropolis,” said  developer A Brown Co., Inc. (ABCI) “Area A shall house the central business district with an Information Technology Block for offices, shopping center or mall, commercial spaces, and institutional facilities such as a hospital and a school, while Area B complements the opposite side with The Shoppe Houses, townhouses, and the twin-tower condominium at its highest point.”

 “This 3-storey building responds to the present needs of the contemporary businessman and will initially feature 25 units structured in clusters of 2, 3 or 4 units,” said Robertino E. Pizarro, ABCI President and CEO.

Each Shoppe House will have a total floor area of 231 square meters (70sqm ground floor, 80.5sqm  2nd floor, and  80.5 sqm 3rd floor with veranda), and a 32sqm Promenade Space and a parking area opposite the location.

Like traditional shophouses the ground floor shall be exclusively used for business with the 2nd and 3rd floors usable as either commercial or residential use at the owner’s discretion.

ABCI recommends best uses for the ground floor commercial spaces for offices, spas, banks, pharmacies, doctor’s clinics, grocery stores, coffee shops and restaurants.

“The Shoppe Houses will complement existing schools, churches, tertiary hospital, accommodation and recreation facilities, and other commercial establishments located within its 5-kilometer radius,” Pizarro noted. “It also complements the growing number of residents in Xavier Estates and Ignatius Enclave, Adelaida Park Residences and other neighboring subdivisions.”

ABCI touts The Shoppe Houses accessibility which is a mere  7 kms from downtown Cagayan de Oro via Fr. Wm. Masterson SJ Avenue, or  9 kms from downtown  via the South Diversion Road.

It is likewise only 2 kms from the proposed Balulang-Macasandig Bridge leading to downtown, and the same distance from the proposed PN Roa Avenue-Upper Carmen Diversion Road leading to the Laguindingan International Airport. 

With a panoramic view of the hills surrounding the city, a flood-free location, complete drainage system and favorable geo-hazard analysis results, The Shoppe Houses in the Uptown Metropolis is expected to lend  further impetus to the already burgeoning Uptown Cagayan de Oro property boom.


Bibliography and Works Consulted:

Cañete, Reuben Ramas, PhD. The movie theatres of Colon Street are fading people’s palaces. (Sept. 11, 2018)

Demetrio, Francisco. Casa del Chino Ygua. Cagayan (28 August 1971)

Kim, Young Hoon; Lim, Sooyoung (2013). “A Study on the Spatial Composition influenced by climatic conditions in 19C Bahay na Bato around Cebu city in Philippines”. Journal of the Korea Institute of Ecological Architecture and Environment. 13 (6): 29–37. doi:10.12813/kieae.2013.13.6.029.

Kudasinghe, KSKNJ; Jayathilaka, HMLB; Gunaratne, SR. “Evolution of the Sri Lankan Shophouse: Reconsidering Shophouses for Urban Areas” (PDF). General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University. Retrieved 10 July 2021.

Lim, Charles. Shophouses in Singapore. Email correspondence, 10-11 July 2021.

Lim, Jon S.H. (1993). “The Shophouse Rafflesia: An Outline of its Malaysian Pedigree and its Subsequent Diffusion in Asia”. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. LXVI Part 1 (1 (264)): 47–66. ISSN 0126-7353JSTOR 41486189.

Montalvan, Antonio J. II. Cagayan de Oro Ethnohistory Reader (2004)

Ong, Kenneth Irving. Shophouses in the Parian, Manila. Email correspondence, 10-11 July 2021.

Parian Sugbu, The Story of Parian, The Early Years 1565-1614. (2012) accessed 11 May 2021.

Sia, Johnson L., transcribed from a Sia Family History Manuscript (December 17, 2004)

^ “Shophouse”.

The Shophouse, Urban Development Authority,

Tirapas, Chamnarn. “Bangkok Shophouse: An Approach for Quality Design Solutions” (PDF). School of Architecture and Design, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi. Retrieved 10 July 2020. Archived 2017-09-23 at the Wayback Machine The Spanish Colonial Tradition

 Zwain, Akram; Bahauddin, Azizi (1 December 2017). “The Traditional Courtyard Architectural Components of Eclectic Style Shophouses, George Town, Penang” (PDF). International Transaction Journal of Engineering, Management, & Applied Sciences & Technologies. Archived (PDF) from the original on 31 July 2019. Retrieved 10 July 2021.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.