Snapshots of history and old-time conversations filled the official opening ceremony of the newly rehabilitated and reconstructed Guam Congress Building held yesterday morning.
Nearly 68 years after it was first built and dedicated to the Guam Legislature in 1948, the opening ceremony gathered numerous former public servants to the building to commemorate the local landmark's history, including former Speakers Joaquin Arriola, Joseph Ada, Thomas Tanaka, Carl Gutierrez, Joe San Agustin, Don Parkinson and Mark Forbes.
The ceremony also brought together many former senators, mayors, judiciary members and other public officials who gathered around the building, sharing memories of their time in public service in the building with a patriotic Guam Territorial Band playing in the background.
Outgoing Speaker Judith Won Pat in her opening speech shared a brief history of the landmark building, which served as a nationwide stage for local lawmakers who participated in the “Guam Congress Walkout” of the 9th Guam Congress in 1949. It was a historic moment in Guam’s history that her father, the first speaker of the Guam Congress and later the first Guam delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Antonio Won Pat, had a hand in.
“I’m reminded of the first time my father addressed the people of Guam from this very building as the first speaker of the Guam Legislature. I feel that it is providence that I should deliver my final address here too,” the ousted senator said. “I take some comfort in the fact that I’m about to walk out of the very same doorways he exited on that fateful day in 1949, that proved to be the turning point for Guam’s self-government and a historic moment for our people.”
The distinguished building also served as the Island District courthouse and the Territorial Court of Guam, and it wasn’t until 1968 when the judicial branch relocated that the building would solely serve as the Guam Legislature.
The political landmark closed after 40 years of service in 1989 due to safety concerns over asbestos, leaving the Legislature displaced for nearly 27 years until Sen. Rory Respicio moved to drive efforts to renovate and restore the building for use again in recent years.
“After extensive restoration work and renovation, we have brought this important part of our heritage back to life again. Clearly from this day forward, this will again be the home of the Guam Legislature.” Respicio said.
'Designing for the future'
After officially opening the building, local political figures and island residents flurried in to view the newly restored monument, fresh with state-of-the-art technology.
The new building was outfitted with modern, eco-friendly features including power-saving LED lights with reactive motion sensors that illuminate parts of the building. Other power-saving methods included solar panels that provide approximately one-fifth of the building's overall energy, new air-conditioning systems that use minimal power and recycled collected rain water and water dripping from the air-conditioning system for toilet flushing.
According to the Guam Preservation Trust, which worked with the Legislature to renew the landmark, initial plans called for "saving what is best from the past while designing for the future," a trademark of the organization that has restored many local landmarks including the Plaza de España and the historic Lujan House.
The formal chambers and public areas of the building remained intact according to the Guam Preservation Trust, but two new wings were added for additional space for legislators and their staff.
A signature of the former Guam Congress Building, mahogany panels were also restored and are evident in the rustic session hall, public hearing room and main corridor areas.
Former Vice Speaker Ted Nelson walked throughout the building, recalling his time as a public servant to the people of Guam as a senator in the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd Guam Legislatures.
“It’s a beautiful place and it brings back memories of all the hard work, dedication and working relationships with the other senators,” Nelson said. "We did a lot here."
Nelson’s granddaughter Telena Nelson was recently elected into the 34th Guam Legislature in the 2016 general election. The granddaughter of two notable and respected public servants will begin her first term as a freshman senator in the same building where her grandfather once served.
“Being alongside my grandfather, who made a significant impact in helping the people of Guam, it was a blessing and an honor to get to share this moment with him and to continue doing this good work,” Telena Nelson said. “To be able to walk through those doors with him at the same time, and to know that I’m following the legacy that my grandfather and grandmother worked so hard to build in active service - that moment was priceless for me.”
The outgoing 33rd Guam Legislature will hold their last session of the year in the new building next week.
The incoming 34th Guam Legislature will officially occupy the building upon their inauguration in January 2017.