Mariana Lighthouse: Bridging the past and present

Posted on Jan 28 2021

Mariana Lighthouse will open to the public within the first quarter of 2021. (BEA CABRERA)

After a year of extensive repair work, the abandoned Old Japanese Lighthouse on Navy Hill has a new lease on life, with Bibong Corp. transforming this iconic structure that once helped ships navigate into the Saipan harbor into a modern-day oasis that boasts an expansive view of Garapan. It will not only be a tourist site by itself but a coffee shop and a restaurant will soon be located there.

It was not until Korean businessman Bong Heung Lee, CEO of Bibong Corp., visited the site in 2018 that got this landmark’s revival on track. The sight of the vast turquoise ocean, the white sand coast of Garapan, and the historical lighthouse behind him gave Lee a glimpse of a possible future for the building.

The lighthouse was built in 1934 when Saipan was still under Japanese administration. It stopped operating in 1944 when it sustained severe damage from bombs during the Battle of Saipan. It was turned into a restaurant in 1990 but closed years later due to economic troubles.

“We went to the Department of Public Lands and, after several meetings, we were given the lease and opportunity to rebuild the lighthouse,” Bibong Corp. financial controller John Park said.

The renamed Mariana Lighthouse is, in fact, Bibong Corp.’s first venture outside of South Korea, where it is in the business of construction and education.

“We started with construction exactly a year ago, January 2020, and went on even during the pandemic. Our plan was to finish within six months and start operations on the seventh month but, due to the pandemic, everything got delayed,” said ark.

“We encountered major challenges but our mindset was always, ‘How can we make things better?’ We tried to keep everything as it is. There was a lot of improvements but, to preserve the historical value of the structure, there were some parts that we did not touch. …As for the name, we thought of calling it Saipan Lighthouse…but we [eventually] chose Mariana Lighthouse because the range is wider and inclusive of all of the islands of the CNMI,” Park added.

The walls that were once full of graffiti are now painted white, the floors are shiny after being buffed, the open windows now have glass panes and, if you have been to the lighthouse many times before the renovation, you might be amazed at what it has become. “We reinforced the walls and foundation of this structure so it will be safe for occupation. We finished renovation in November 2020 and all that we are doing now is trying to ‘touch up’ a bit as we plan to open it within the first quarter,” Park said.

The company’s vision is to make Mariana Lighthouse a signature place for Saipan, especially for the tourists “but we also kept in mind that this structure has a deep history with the locals. We are now creating a place where locals can visit and relax and this is the same for the tourists when they come. We are trying to find the right balance between catering to both markets,” Park said.

Inside the Mariana Lighthouse, a coffee shop and gift shop on the first floor will soon open, while a bar and restaurant grill will be located outside.

“…We are hoping to start all of them at the same time…and we plan to hire local workers. …Right now, we are waiting for the shipment of our kitchen setup and coffee shop counters. After that, we will be working on our permits. …Since the building has two floors that will be open to the public, customers can stay at their tables or freely walk around inside or out to enjoy the sights and views within the vicinity while enjoying their coffee,” he said.

“We are also working on a walk-through mini-museum and we are in coordination with the Historic Preservation Office to create something that will tell and remind people about its rich history. …On the second floor, which has a big view deck, we plan to build space where people can hung ‘love locks’ that they can buy from the gift shop. They can write their hopes and wishes on the love locks. …The third floor, or top of the lighthouse, will be closed to the public for safety reasons,” he added.

The renovation of the Mariana Lighthouse aims to tell a story of the past while enjoying what is available in the present and, according to Park, this is their company’s first step in doing business on Saipan. “We really love Saipan and when everything gets settled, we will try to move further and venture into other businesses. There are some areas on Saipan that we believe we can make a better place but that is still far into the future. Right now, the focus is the Mariana Lighthouse,” he said.

“I have been to other places like the U.S. mainland, Canada but, to me, Saipan is more beautiful because of its relaxing vibe and the locals are friendly compared to other places. The people of Saipan create the atmosphere of this place, which makes this island simply amazing,” he added.

Bea Cabrera | Correspondent
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.
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