January 20, 2004

Panama Canal Zone

I found this image of my childhood home online recently. An example of base housing, Howard Air Force Base, Panama Canal Zone. I thought I would share it with ya'll.

Essentially, it's a duplex. First floor: carport and utility room, second floor: kitchen and living room, third floor: bedrooms and bathroom. Our place wasn't up against the jungle like this one.

I was there from the second to the sixth grade. Tropical. Johnson grass that can cut you. Alligators in Gatun Lake. Big fish at the farmer's market in downtown Panama city. Iguanas. Toucan birds that screeched and shit everywhere. A mango tree in the front yard with so much ripe friut that they fall and rot on the ground, too fecund for our ability to eat them. Sharks kept at bay with giant shark net barriers at Kobbe beach. Clouds of DDT dropped by aircraft roaring overhead. The big bridge. Lots of parties. Empanadas, mu delicioso. Kick ball. Lots of kids and bikes.

Posted by Dennis at January 20, 2004 10:23 PM


I visited panama city in 1999 for a latina american students of architecture conference. What struck me most about Panama was the historic ceter. It has a Old Havana feel to it and a Pirates of the Caribean air as well.

There are also some incredible third word ghettos that were very intense both emocionally for the intense poverty and the collage quality of the architecture. The irony of the poorest people in the city living in the most historic buildings was too much.


oops I misspelled my e-mail.

I guess by irony, you mean that the historic buildings have a value that doesn't match the poverty.

As in much of the third world, a ghost of tribalism haunts them, subverting the public good for private (blood and extended family gain). The sharper irony is that the private property of the West safeguards the public order better than the collective of Lenin, albeit how this collective is translated from the tribal heritage.

I remember the tall walled compounds of the better off in Manila amidst the throngs of the less fortunate throughout the city.

Mom is travelling to Manila this week, and I sit on pins and needles until she returns safely.

That may be the house I lived in while in the last years in Panama. I miss it and it is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

It took a little work, but the unit in this picture is quarters 161 on Ft Kobbe (later Howard AFB). I am able to narrow this down some because I lived in 163 in the 80s, and am still on Howard/Kobbe frequently now.

The tell on which unit this is is, above the unit right next to this one on the Right of the picture, there is another higher unit above and behind it - that is unit 194, commanders' quarters. In later years this hill was grown up with foliage and you could no longer see the units up above any more (there are 5 total).

This unit is still standing, along with most of howard behind the hill, but in a state of ruin. All metal of any value (and some of no value) has been looted, including, critically, the copper roof vents (the big piece at top of roof). the houses are full of fiberglass and bat droppings. most everything in front of the hill has been demolished already.

Sorry for double-post - but worth adding, this unit was originally a single-family, 4-bedroom unit, intended for officers. once the air force took most of the post, this ended up being, at least in my time, a 4br unit for Senior NCO's.

Thank you for this. We lived identical housing at Ft. Kobbe in 1956-57. I went to third grade in the elementary school. Great memories.

I remember living in the military housing in 1946-1948 (approx.) at Quarry Heights. The rule for everyone was to never ever go in the jungle which was the woods a few feet from the barracks. One day I saw a soldier dressed in his fatigues disappear down the wooded hill to the highway below with his knife pulled. He could have used the concrete stairway but he chose not to. The next morning he was found dead at the bottom. I was about 5 yrs old then, still comes back to me today in my memories of Panama.

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