From The Panama Canal Review ... January 3, 1958

Barring the unforeseen, the biggest news for the Atlantic side at the beginning of the New Year will be the exodus of several hundred residents from New Cristobal which will take place during the next few months.

An integral part of this story is the opening of a new Company-Government town at Coco Solo which for the several decades spanning the two World Wars was one of the bastions of the United States Navy's forces guarding the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal.

Most, but not all, of the New Cristobal residents are expected to receive housing assignments in the former Naval Base. In addition to the 175 employees occupying family quarters in the New Cristobal and Fort DeLesseps areas, there are 84 Canal families living in one-bedroom apartment buildings who are to be reassigned better housing. Also, there are a number of new employees who have not yet received permanent housing assignments.

As a consequence, the evacuation of the New Cristobal area will be only the bigger part of a population shift on the Atlantic side which surpasses any to take place there.

Not since the construction of the Third Locks towns of Margarita, Cocoli, and Diablo Heights has an integrated community for American employees become available for occupancy on such a scale. While the town of Los Rios - the Zone's youngest - is comparable to what Coco Solo is to become, its residents depend on facilities in other towns for shopping, postal service, schooling, and other such community services.

The extent to which permanent community facilities will be established in Coco Solo is still in the planning stage. Future plans for the townsite will constitute one of the principal subjects for consideration by the Board of Directors at the meeting here next month. If the decision is to develop it into one of the principal Canal Zone civilian towns, buildings and other facilities are available for the reestablishment of services which would, in many instances, outstrip those of most other Canal Zone towns.

Among the buildings or facilities available are tennis courts, baseball diamonds, hobby shops, swimming pools and pavilions, and one of the best clubs on the Isthmus. Buildings are also available for refitting or remodeling for use as a commissary, schools, a service center, and a post office.

While most of these facilities will be placed in use at an early date for the convenience of the families residing there, the extent to which remodeling, renovation, and furnishing will be done for long-range occupancy as the principal Atlantic side community is still for determination, being partly dependent on whether arrangements for permanent occupancy of the area and facilities can be made.

Meanwhile, all plans have been completed for the population transfer which is scheduled to begin about the middle of this month and which will continue for several weeks. It is expected that 300 or more families will move during this period.

In the survey conducted by the Housing Division last month, 297 questionnaires were returned by employees indicating their desire to move and indicating their choice of towns and types of quarters.

The tabulation of these showed the following results: Present place of residence: New Cristobal, 166; Margarita, 90; Gatun, 26; and others, 15.
The latter category includes new employees or others presently without housing assignments.

Place or residence desired as first choice: Coco Solo, 131; Margarita, 129; and Gatun, 37.

The quarters at Coco Solo do not require extensive renovation and they can be made available for occupancy at a rapid rate. It is planned to move about six families a day and all available personnel and equipment will be assigned to this work during the moving period. Electric ranges will be installed as the quarters are occupied.

Although temporary renovations are to be made immediately, the Canal Administration is considering plans for extensive improvements in the housing facilities in the future. Such items under consideration are electric water heaters, tile floors, and modernization of kitchens. This will be tied in to the overall study of improving the livability of permanent quarters.

The abandonment of New Cristobal as a townsite for American employees will bring a twinge of nostalgia to oldtimers of the Canal organization. The rim of Manzanillo Island has long been a place or residence for them and their predecessors who built and operated the Panama Railroad before them. While the name "New Cristobal" dates back only to about the time the Canal was opened, the history of the residential area spans more than a century.

The entire Manzanillo Island became the property of the Panama Railroad under the original concession for its construction. The northern end of the island became a residential area during that time.

The development of New Cristobal and Colon Beach as that area appears today, came since the Canal was opened. Consideration was given at the close of the construction period to the establishment of a permanent townsite at Mount Hope. This idea was abandoned, however, in favor of developing the Panama Railroad section along Colon Beach. Consequently, the swampy area in the heart of the island was filled and an extensive housing development was undertaken in 1917. Many additional quarters were built there during the 1930's.

Since the area was never a part of the Canal Zone, New Cristobal was never developed as a town with all facilities for its population and residents there have depended upon the Commissary and Service Center in "Old Cristobal" for their shopping and amusements.

Water, electric, and sewer systems are in place; the electric system had already been converted to 60 cycles. The Coco Solo area is located about five miles from the Cristobal piers and four miles by road from the center of Margarita.

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Last update: January 26, 1998

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