Recently I was sent a photo of the Balboa Restaurant and it inspired me to do this mini presentation.  

You ask, "Balboa Restaurant?  Don't you mean the Balboa Clubhouse?"  No not the Clubhouse!  PCC built four restaurants in the Canal Zone to help feed the large force of bachelors at the time.  As an example,  in Balboa, there were at least six large wooden bachelors quarters starting across the street on Balboa Road and heading up past the Masonic Temple. As the Panama Canal bachelor force shrank and the married force grew it was more profitable to incorporate the restaurant into the clubhouse.  The Balboa Restaurant building became the Balboa Police Station in 1936 until it's fiery end in 1989 as it became a casualty of Operation Just Cause.

There was another restaurant at the Balboa Shops area that fed the large work force there.  

Ancon had a restaurant below the Gorgas Hospital area.  It later became the Ancon Commissary and in the later years PCC used the building to house it's Personnel Records - Administrative Branch.

The forth restaurant was in Cristobal.  It later became the club house and part of the Cristobal Commissary.  I am not sure of the year, but the building burned down aong with the commissary leaving a rather large parking lot by the train station.


The following information is from the PCC 1917 Annual Report.

Four restaurants were built in fiscal year 1916 - 1917 in the Canal Zone.  One at Cristobal, Balboa, Ancon and the Balboa shops.  All of which were practically completed and two being occupied on July 21, 1917.  All conformed in construction and design, in finish, and in most features of equipment, but the method of service varied to accommodate the different demands of the localities patronizing them.  The restaurant at Balboa shops is a branch of the Balboa restaurant and has no kitchen, the  heavy cooking being all done at the Balboa restaurant and transported to the shops for the convenience of the employees there at the lunch hour (the only meal served) and rewarmed on steam tables.

All of these buildings were of the usual type of permanent construction on the Isthmus; that is, reinforced concrete floors, bearing walls and columns, and concrete block nonbearing walls.  Because of the large span in the dining rooms, where columns were not desirable, steel trusses and purlins support the wood rafters and red Spanish tile roofs of all the buildings.  All except the Balboa Shops' restaurant were one-story structures of isolated square columns, 8 feet 10 inches between, forming the outer wall of the building and copper screened between.  This made an open pavilion of the dining room and such parts of the kitchen and other service rooms which it is not necessary to wall enclose.  This pavilion style of building is, without question, the best adaptable in the Tropics for structures of uses such as these.  Protection from the sun and rain was afforded by an extra projection of the roof eaves, in this case 8 feet.  The finish of these buildings was decided for its sanitary value.  No wood floors occur except in the office and stewards' living rooms.  Grocery storerooms and linen and equipment rooms have cement floors.  The dining rooms, kitchen, bakery, refrigerating rooms, help's dining rooms, and toilets had vitreous white mat tile floors and white enamel tile bases, the kitchen and toilet had an 8-foot high enamel tile wainscot, and the walls elsewhere being generally painted white enamel.  The food counters were marble, the steam tables Monel metal, guide railings in the cafeterias were pipe brass, and copper was freely employed about the kitchen.  Each restaurant, except the one at Balboa shops, had its own bakery and refrigerating plant, the one at Ancon served the Ancon commissary (of that time) in the neighborhood as well.

Cristobal restaurant - The Cristobal restaurant was L shaped, with wings 63 feet 2 inches wide and over all dimensions 97 feet 11 inches by 136 feet 8 inches exclusive of oven, garbage box , and platform.  The dining room was 63 feet by 97 feet 6 inches clear, inside dimensions, and has an unbroken ceiling 17 feet 2 inches high.  The restaurant was located on the corner of the two streets facing the Y.M.C.A. building.

Balboa restaurant - The Balboa restaurant had the same dimensions as the Cristobal restaurant and fronted on the south side of the Panama - La Boca road near the crossing of the Fort Amador (then Fort Grant) road.

Ancon restaurant - The Ancon restaurant was the same in dimensions as the Cristobal restaurant but on bay of 10 feet 6 inches shorter in length.  It was situated on the site of the old French laundry. 

Balboa shops' restaurant - was rectangular, 62 feet 8 inches by 100 feet 8 inches, and was two stories high, the upper story being the pattern shop connected with the main pattern shop of the shops by an enclosed concrete bridge.

Photos and information contributed by historians Bill Fall and George Chevalier.

Note:  As I went to see the burned down Balboa Police station a few days after it was blown up and burned, I could see the large steel trusses mentioned above.  I wondered why this building had such a heavy duty structure for the roof.  These old steel trusses were all twisted and bent from the heat and impact of the heavy fire power that killed this great old building.  It is certainly sad thinking about the history of this old building in Balboa and how it ended in such a tragic way.


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