All that is left is the skeleton of a building. Run-down and hardly note worthy. A sign is perched outside, signalling that construction will soon be underway for a new five-star Panama hotel. The sign has become weathered and old. The plans had started with the demolishment of many of the club’s walls but have since been cancelled.
Today, the old Union Club Panama is quite unimpressive. All that remains is the bare bones; cement pillars hold up flimsy walls, while vegetation and rubble have overtaken the compound. As a result, travelers visiting Casco Viejo often pass by this building without knowing the immense historical significance that it once held. For many decades the Union Club was the most exclusive and elegant social club in Panama City. It was famous for its banquets, lavish formal balls and other activities for the most affluent members of the Panamanian society.
But as the years weathered on, the rich and famous became bored of Casco Viejo; they moving on to other neighbourhoods, such as Marbella and El Cangrejio, leaving Club Union to the emerging military regime. Union Club became known as the Club de Clases y Tropas and General Mauenl Noreiga often used the club to throw parties for generals and his friends. It became the playground for the military elite.
Quick history lesson: Who was Manuel Noriega?
Noriega is quite the famous figurehead in Panama. He was the military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989. He was removed from power in 1989 after Panama was invaded by the United States. He was then captured and deainted as a prisoner of war and flown to the United States. In April 1992 he was tried on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering.
After his capture, Club Union fell into disarray and was also bombed a couple of times during the U.S. invasion. Almost completely forgotten, Club Union was then once again reintroduced in popular culture through films like James Bond: Quantum Of Solace and The Tailor of Panama, and most recently became the best spot for rave style outdoor parties. The whole area is now closed off completely to the public as it undergoes renovations that have yet to be started.
After learning about his historical importance after my first trip to Panama City, I decided to sneak onto the property with a friend of mine in 2012. The old Club Union is closed to the public but there are still ways of getting onto the property.
After climbing down a steep wall my friend and I touched down on the grassy floor that covers the old ballroom. There is not much left of the club, the front walls remain intact, but other than that the club has been striped of it’s magnificence. We poke our heads around before taken a couple of shots of the Panama City sky line, one of the best views in the city before being caught. There may be no plans of any future construction but there is a man who lives on the property on a permanent basis: a security guard and his family.
As we are taking pictures of the skyline, we hear a man yelling in our direction only to find an older gentleman hobbling towards us. Our Spanish is weak but we grasp that he is telling to leave the property. Our immediate compliance softens his stern expression and he gives us a kind smile. We begin to prod a little as we walk in union back towards an exit. The security guard tells us that the company who has purchased the land has give up hope. Casco Viejo is a UNESCO protected site and as a result the bureaucracy and paper-work has dissuaded companies to continue their plans with this property.
He leads us the exit as we anxiously take pictures before being escorted off the property. As I look back at the Club Union I try to picture it in its glory days. My imagination leads me to the James Bond scene, set in “Bolivia.” I imagine decadently dressed individuals gliding effortless on the dance floor or chatting amicably outside on the balcony with a glass of champagne.
The actual location may be unimpressive but the nostalgia of the old Club Union still lingers and is the main reason why this locale has retained much of its magic.