Nostalgia for the Old Club Union of Casco Viejo (Panama)


For many decades el Club Union was the most exclusive and elegant social club in Panama City.  It was the place where the well off used to meet and have fun. It was the preferred spot of Panama crème de la crème .

Their banquets, lavish formal balls and other entertainment activities were envied by those who were  not invited.  It was a members club only, and being admitted was a complicated process.  One of the pre-requisites was to have money and lots of social and political influence.

As the Casco Viejo decayed, the affluent families initiated a migration to other parts of the city such as Marbella, El Cangrejo, Paitilla and Costa del Este.  El Club Union was not longer the center of attention of the Panama upper class society.  The Club Union was then turned over to the the military regime and its name was changed to Club de Clases y Tropas.

On December 20, 1989, Noriega’s regime was toppled by the U.S. military forces, and the Club de Clases y Tropas was abandoned to this date.  The walls are falling down and vegetation has grown through the cracks of the building.  The once proud building of Casco Viejo is dying a slow death as abandoned old building usually do until they are finally demolished.  However, there is still an air of nostalgia hovering over its white washed walls.

Once the revered Club Union, this waterfront property is one of Casco Viejo’s most memorable and scenic landmarks. It’s full of history, considering the strongman Manuel Noriega once used the club to throw parties for generals and friends alike.

The building is now under plans to become a new high-end hotel, perhaps the opportunity for tourists and investors to experience old-world Casco Viejo in all its glory. The Old Club Union is also a current favorite spot for skateboarders to hang out on weekends, for the time being at least, until construction begins.

When I last visited Casco Viejo on February 13, 2009; I witnessed the nostalgia of the old Club Union and took some photos to capture its dilapidated conditions before it’s destroyed.

This is what I saw through the lens of my camera.  Here we go.

The front section of the old Club Union located at Casco Viejo in Panama City, Panama.
The front section of the old Club Union located at Casco Viejo in Panama City, Panama.
An artistic approach to the previous photograph of the old Club Union  performed by Michael Moore.
An artistic approach to the previous photograph of the old Club Union performed by Michael Moore.
The dilapidated condition of the historic building.  Notice the vegetation growing on top of the structure.
The dilapidated condition of the historic building. Notice the vegetation growing on top of the structure.
An artistic view of the Club Union created by professional photographer Michael Moore.
An artistic picture of the Club Union created by professional photographer Michael Moore.

As you can see through these pictures, Panama is more than a canal.  It’s a land rich with tradition and history.  Good Day.

19 thoughts on “Nostalgia for the Old Club Union of Casco Viejo (Panama)”

  1. although i was not able to live at the time this place used the be the club union, i still see pictures that my grandparents have from when they used to go there…..it used to be very fancy. Now is in Paitilla…lovely place by the way too.

    1. Hello Alexander:

      You are right. This is the dazzling old Club Union where the upper middle class of Panama were entertained. Now it’s located at Paitilla as you well said.

      Soon this building will be torn down to give way to a new hotel. Nostalgia…

      Regards,

      Omar.-

  2. when i went on march 14th 2010 it was still intact
    2 weeks later they where domolishing it to build a new hotel

    1. What a pity!!!. New hotels come and go, but architectural jewels and history must be protected and allowed to live on. The Union Club not only served as a playground for Panama’s elite.. It was, likewise, a place where many high powered business and political personages met to discuss important matters that would later impact the country. In addition it was a place where many hearts werew holel or broken as couples danced on the terraces under starry skies or one of the grand ball rooms on balmy nights. great courtships and subsequent marriages between Panama’s r elite began at the Union Club. Be it as it may, the new Punta Paitilla Union Club lacks the grandiose architecture, romance, history and feel of the old club.T his grand old dame deserves and must be protected and rescued for future generations.

  3. Yes the old Club Union is no longer the Club Union, but there is a new one that has the same type of members and more activities, so really it’s not of a big deal, just that the location is different.

    1. From her comment one can infer that Ms. Anamay Is focusing her well-deserved point of view from a diff angle than the he one intended by the writer This is not about “the same type of members, location and activities.
      This is about the preservation of an old architectural and historical jewel. [ They simply don’t or can’t build them like that anymore.}
      Panamanian authorities should endeavor to rescue this grand old dame.]u.

  4. I was just there last week. Would love to see any old pictures of this club as it was in its glory days, or even under Noreiga. I am searching the web now, but would love if anyone can share photos with me!

  5. My mother had a cousin, Harry Ward, of Leicester, UK, who went out to Canal Zone c1910-20. He married Kathleen Louise Isabel Ford, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund G. Ford at St. Luke’s Cathedral, Ancon, Canal Zone in Feb. 1925. The reception was held at Union Club, Panama City immediately after the ceremony which was at 8 in the evening.
    My grandparents received an invitation (which I still have) but were quite unable to go, given the distance and expense.
    I am thrilled to see these photographs and to know that Cousin Harry was in with “society”. As far as I know he remained abroad. He was eventually living in Miami, I think.
    If anyone can tell me more I would love to hear from them.

  6. Hey guys… Do you know if by the time the Union CLub was open. Did they accepted Dark\or black people to be part member of the club?

    1. hi Anny, unfortunately the Club Union is ran by elitists and god forbid they admit people of color. this will never happen because its major asset is the exclusivity it provides to its members. i know because i’m a member myself…make no mistake—you become a member for social status, not because it’s a fine country club.

    2. Hey there. To my understanding, membership was not specifically based on color or race. However; based on the fact that this club was founded shortly after Panama’s independence from Colombia and that most notable lieders (or proceres) of Panama’s movement for independence from Colombia were either white or wealthty . One can infer that the founding members were mostly Caucasian.

  7. Of all my grandmother’s stories about growing up and living in Panama in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, my favorite is the one of her dancing with Prince Philip at a ball at the old Union Club. Hopefully the renovation/new hotel will at least attempt to maintain some of its character! So much history!

    1. This building, though in ruins, is absolutely fascinating, the very heart of Casco Antiguo and it deserves a new life !
      I am gathering some material about the Antiguo Club Union (stories, photos, historical facts,etc), that will hopefully serve to helping the new hotel restore it’s old world grandeur . I would really appreciate any help I can get !

  8. My grandfather, Julio Simon deDiego, was a president of this club in the early 1900’s. His great grandfather, Isidro deDiego, was president of Panama in 1855. I am trying to gain birth and baptismal records for Isidro to further my family genealogy. Can anyone help me or guide me? My e-mail address is jddediego@att.net
    Thank you
    Jim deDiego

  9. A parting thought about the Union Club and Panama’s history. As is common knowledge, the two most vile, evil men in Panama’s history were Torrijos and Noriega ( the latter more than the former). In addition to ousting the “gringos”
    Noriega’s other battle cry to obtain the people’s support and sympathy was his promise to right the uneven circumstances between the rich and poor. In order to prove to his sad. misguided supporters his commitment to their/his cause. He gave the Union Club to the Panama Defense Forces to serve as an enlisted club. where they could vent or get even with their rich, white oppressors. which brought about the pillage, plunder and destruction of this beautiful building.

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