#MetroLovesManila: A Love Letter To Manila's Hidden Treasures
Amidst the frenzied chaos of this city’s busiest thoroughfares, a long-forgotten history is told amongst the ruins and decaying architecture, and an untold future lay ahead.
Last night I had a dream about you. You know I love you and everything, but in my dream, you were dying of neglect and decay. Manila of late has always been thought of as some sort of decrepit hellhole. Indeed, in some places you are. At many times during the day, the strain of more than 21 million people breaks your available resources.
That does not mean you were never pretty nor unplanned. However, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley, says Robert Burns, and that’s also true of you. Changing plans have left you some unsightly scars. There is hope, however; people are fighting back, in some parts restoring you to your former glory, while others take the creative path of adaptive reuse. Some of your buildings have strayed from their intended use. Some will have found their way back. Others continue to serve in the same capacity, time capsules from another era.
And there I saw hope.
The new life of the Army Navy Club
The architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham had a dream for Manila. That dream had Manila standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other cities under his pen: Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, and downtown Washington D.C.
In that vision, Daniel Burnham had almost 200 hectares of land at the Port of Manila, and on its south-most portion, reclaimed land on which he extended Luneta Park. On its north side, the august Manila Hotel looks over Burnham Field, while on the south side, the Manila Army and Navy Club looked back, a sentinel clad in colonial white.
Completed in 1911 from the designs of William Parsons, the old Army and Navy Club building was a retreat for Americans who wanted exclusivity. The H-shaped building was an escape: It housed a theater, a full bar, multiple dining facilities (separate dining halls for men and women), and quarters for those who required accommodation. The rear lawn also had a dock by which the Club could receive ships. Two annexes were later added to house even more visitors and serve them in large dining halls.
As with most of Manila, the war left the building in ruins, but the Army and Navy Club’s social status meant a repair quicker than most. It was not until the beginning of the 1970s that the Club began to decline; eventually, it was high society’s exodus to Makati that brought its demise. With the building vacant and derelict, with attempts at reusing the building failing to generate the income necessary for its upkeep, decay came.
For a long time, it seemed that the building’s tony past was behind it.
In 2014, work began to turn the building into what is now the Rizal Park Hotel. While government permits allowed the demolition of the building’s two annexes, developers gutted the entire building. Tricia Perdigon of Arcogroup, the firm that designed the hotel’s interior, believed that there was no choice; she noted that when the City of Manila turned over the property to the developer, “the only solids left inside were the columns and a crumbling colonnade.”
The resulting work caused a furor, but the anger appears to have died for now. The developer, Oceanside Development, kept the property’s famous wrought iron gates, reconstructed the main lobby’s checkerboard floor, and maintained the façade that served the building for more than a century. A third of the original grillwork was saved—they found life in the hotel’s grand staircase.
Today, the Rizal Park Hotel is decked out in what the hotel calls “colonial style.” The interiors are a mix of “American Renaissance and Art Deco,” says Perdigon. To further highlight Parsons’ straight lines, chandeliers and floor lamps showcase ornate wallpaper patterns.
Our annual Philippine Issue is our love letter to Manila. Our multi-cover special features four of the country’s favorite love teams wearing garments by #Metrowear designers around some of the city’s oldest landmarks. Our first couple, #McLisse, explored the ins and outs of a major hub of Manila life in the early 20th century, the Manila Central Post Office. Reminiscent of images from a previous time, #ElisseJoson wore gowns by #VaniaRomoff while #McCoyDeLeon wore suits by #FrancisLibiran, as they watched the sunset from the steps of the neoclassical structure. #MetroLovesMcLisse Grab a copy of our #MetroJune2018 issue, as we celebrate the fashion and culture coming out of the Philippines! Read about Filipino designers making waves outside of the country, see the best collections from the Manila Fashion Festival and Philippine Fashion Week, get to know the newest crop of queens from Binibining Pilipinas, and discover new local beach getaways. #MetroLovesManila on stands soon. Photographer @paolopineda Creative Director @eldzsmejia Makeup @mkqua Hair @ariesmanal_hair Grooming @jeloalindayu Nails @luzfortuno of @tripleluckbrowandnailsalon Stylist @teamrainxem Elisse wears @studiovaniaromoff McCoy wears @francislibiran Special thanks to @sofitelmanila and @starmagicphils
Another hotel, another story, another rebirth
A few steps further down Calle San Luis (now T.M. Kalaw Avenue), the Luneta Hotel is a Parisian dream beside the park from which the hotel takes her name.
One may be forgiven for waxing romantic at the Luneta; it’s hard not to be considering the first record of her existence is nearly a century old—in Rodenstock’s 1919 Manila City Directory.
An old photograph bears mute witness to her age—the then newly finished Rizal monument, viewed from its right flank occupies the center, with tall acacia trees forming a line behind the obelisk. Just behind the tower, spires rising high above the tree line, the Luneta calls attention to herself, not unlike a tower of more recent vintage.
First designed, built, and owned by Spanish architect Salvador Farre, the Luneta Hotel was one of the first concrete buildings in Manila. In her youth, she was legendary for her beauty. The late US President Dwight Eisenhower called it “one of the most romantic spots I have known in this entire world.” That romance was far from pure and chaste—shortly after Eisenhower wrote those words the Luneta became a brothel for American troops off to Corregidor.
While the Luneta Hotel survived the ravages of war, time was not as kind to her for the rest of the 20th century. By 1987, she lay broken and abandoned. For more than 20 years, the Luneta sat in broken disrepair, another sad derelict building in a neighborhood notorious for their number.
However, in 2008, with the help of the National Historical Commission, new owners began restoration work that led to a reopening in 2014.
The restoration work is striking. The intricate wrought iron that frames its ground floor windows and its balconies now has new life, returned to its former glory. Each floor carries a different pattern; they give context to the tall, stained-glass topped panel windows. They pop from the turnof-the-century beige that covers the exterior. The gargoyles that buttress the balconies stand out in white, to let you know they’re proud of the protection they’ve bestowed on this space. Above the entrance doors, a stylized “Luneta Hotel” in gilded brass pays tribute to a similar sign that once hung from the top floor.
Inside, French-inspired gilded chandeliers hang from a wood-stained ceiling laden with intricate Philippine-inspired woodwork. Beneath the lights, art deco marble floors acknowledge the heritage of the neighborhood that once housed an embarrassment of art deco riches. From the floor and just past the reception, intricate wrought iron work that echoes those that adorn the hotel windows frame a carpeted marble staircase. The carpet is a deep burgundy, festooned with golden swirls. Opposite, a black and gold sofa set rests beside a golden cocoon sofa.
It’s just so chichi, amigas.
The Art Deco influence extends into the hotel’s rooms, with round, woodframed circular mirrors, that have the room writing desk double as a vanity. Rounded bathtubs, a rarity these days, continue the turn-of-the-century feel.
Continuing our love letters to Manila for our annual Philippine issue, here we present another one of the country’s favorite love teams. #ElNella hopped around old-town Manila, both in designs by #Metrowear designer, #FrancisLibiran. From the heritage home at Casa Roces to the Dominican-built Paco Park, #ElmoMagalona and #JanellaSalvador were transported back to the time of great Spanish influence. #MetroLovesElNella Grab a copy of our #MetroJune2018 issue, as we celebrate the fashion and culture coming out of the Philippines! Read about Filipino designers making waves outside of the country, see the best collections from the Manila Fashion Festival and Philippine Fashion Week, get to know the newest crop of queens from Binibining Pilipinas, and discover new local beach getaways. #MetroLovesManila on stands soon. Photographer @sevenbarretto Creative Director @theonlychookiecruz Makeup @mickeysee Hair @renzpangilinan Grooming @aimeegrey Nails @luzfortuno of @tripleluckbrowandnailsalon Styling @perrytabora Elmo and Janella wear @francislibiran Special thanks to @casarocesph and @starmagicphils
The Luneta Hotel
Some dreams don't die. Sometimes, they turn into museums
Further down Kalaw, on the eastern end of Luneta, the National Museum caps the Rizal Park complex. The National Museum manages three separate museums in this area. The National Museum of Archaeology, the National Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Museum of Natural History. Each one, a prime example of prewar neoclassical architecture from Filipino architect Antonio Toledo—and each one with its own tale.
The National Museum of Fine Arts has the more storied past among the three. Initially designed to be the National Library, the Old Legislative Building once housed both the Senate and the House of Representatives from 1926 to 1972. The Second World War destroyed much of the building; reconstruction work finished in 1950, aided by a few surviving blueprints.
Recently, the National Museum finished restoration work on the old Senate session hall. The restoration brought the hall back to its prewar glory. On the other hand, the plenary floor for the former House of Representatives is home to Juan Luna’s Spoliarium.
The National Museum of Archaeology, within the former Department of Finance, and the National Museum of Natural History, within the former Department of Agriculture, were designed in 1940 to be parts of a grand civic plaza. Those plans changed with the destruction of war. Instead, the grand courtyard became a rotunda named for the buildings along its circumference—Agrifina Circle. Plans for the circle changed as well—a globe, fountain, and skating rink that once were at its center are long gone; the silent figure of Lapu-Lapu now stands in its wake.
To Lapu-Lapu’s right, the National Museum of Anthropology has called the old Department of Finance building home since it moved in 1998. The ground floor of the building holds offices of the country’s top archaeologists and anthropologists. Four floors of exhibits above these offices cover everything from earthen jars from the dawn of Philippine civilization to artifacts recovered from shipwrecks from Manila’s galleon trade. One jar on display is the “Calatagan Pot.” The pot, though barely 12 centimeters in height, currently holds the oldest known example of baybayin script.
Across the way, the Department of Agriculture building breathes new life as the National Museum of Natural History. The structure’s central courtyard now features “The Tree of Life,” a towering double helix that provides form and function: It is both an homage to the role of DNA in building life as well as structural support for a glass dome that covers the space. An elevator within the double helix takes visitors straight to the fifth floor, where a glass and steel bridge awaits. Inside, visitors can expect to find exhibits and recreations of Philippine wildlife.
In our next love letter to Manila, another favorite love team explored the city for our annual Philippine issue. Young and lively couple, #MayWard was introduced to the bustling city of Escolta. Channeling the color and vibrance of the ‘70s, #MayMayEntrata wore garments by #MarkBumgarner while #EdwardBarber wore #FrancisLibiran. On that afternoon, the pair pranced and danced along the streets, bringing fresh life into the city. #MetroLovesMayWard Grab a copy of our #MetroJune2018 issue, as we celebrate the fashion and culture coming out of the Philippines! Read about Filipino designers making waves outside of the country, see the best collections from the Manila Fashion Festival and Philippine Fashion Week, get to know the newest crop of queens from Binibining Pilipinas, and discover new local beach getaways. #MetroLovesManila on stands soon. Photographer @iamdoc Creative Director @eldzsmejia Makeup @emandeleonmakeup Hair @jaymarlahayhay Nails @luzfortuno of @tripleluckbrowandnailsalon Stylist @teamrainxem MayMay wears top and trousers from @bumgarnerstudio Edward wears @francislibiran Special thanks to @sofitelmanila and @starmagicphils
Flyovers ruin everything, except buildings designed by Juan Arellano
Long before the sightlines were marred by the construction of a flyover complex from the 1960s (admittedly to alleviate congestion from the loss of the tranvia), Taft Avenue’s last leg was a broad avenue from City Hall down to the Plaza Lawton rotunda (today, Liwasang Bonifacio). From here, there is easy access to three bridges that cross the Pasig River: The Puente de España (replaced by another Juan Arellano edifice, the Jones Bridge), the Sta. Ana Bridge, and the Colgante (replaced by the Quezon Bridge).
At the head of this intersection sat the Manila Central Post Office, built on the site of an older Spanish fort, the Cuartel de Fortin. The Post Office had used the Cuartel de Fortin as its home from 1904, when a typhoon damaged its old office in Escolta.
The Post Office is the only building to retain its function among all the buildings in Daniel Burnham’s master plan. Burnham chose this site for its accessibility: Plaza Lawton was not just a major intersection, it was also a major tranvia stop. Burnham also thought that the post office could benefit from its proximity to the Pasig River, where it could use the waterway to deliver mail upstream.
Arellano’s magnum opus of neoclassical architecture is a prayer to the gods for a lasting institution for mail delivery. Built for one million pesos in 1926 and finished in 1928, the building has 16 Ionic pillars framing a rectangular building, with two semi-circular wings at both ends.
The headquarters of the Philippine Postal Corporation and Manila’s post office can get quite busy in the day, but passive cooling keeps the heat from being oppressive. Massive chandeliers overhead provide additional light beyond those filtering through the columns. Gain access to the rear walkway, and visitors are not only provided with a view of the sorting area, but also get to see how mail delivery has not changed over the last 50 or so years. To the side of the main lobby, a large staircase leads to more offices. As one makes his way to the second floor, a full Roman Catholic chapel greets visitors, complete with pews, the Child Jesus, and a tabernacle. It only seems appropriate to say a prayer for mail being delivered that day.
Plans to revitalize the building as a hotel appear to be dead in the water, and no updates have been announced by the Department of Finance, the agency then in charge of the project, or by the Philippine Postal Corporation.
Opposite the Post Office, and across the fountains of Liwasang Bonifacio (its working fountains are still a marvel in this city where almost everything lies broken), the Metropolitan Theater sits behind a construction barricade that promises its rebirth.
Built in 1930, when the end of American colonization was not even a dream, Juan Arellano’s homage to the Philippines is filled with design cues of a nationalist variety: its façade in which the name “Metropolitan” shines through amid tropical imagery down to the lobby in intricate stained glass work; the Fernando Amorsolo murals on the second floor balcony do not hide their nationalist pretense; the Isabelo Tampinco sculptures of fauna that fill the interior spaces likewise speak of our tropical heritage. This nationalism extends to the theater’s interior: Bamboo-shaped crystal lamps provide indirect light. Above, the imagery of a tropical paradise continues with colorful motifs featuring bananas, mangoes, and other foliage.
Cooling the space was a matter of ingenuity—Arellano had tunnels built to bring chilly air from a nearby ice plant to cool the theater. Unfortunately, the tunnels were never sealed when the ice plant closed, and parts of the Met were underwater whenever the rains came.
Today, the conservation and rehabilitation of the Met continues, under a project the National Commission for Culture and the Arts calls “METamorphosis.” The project looks to conserve as much as possible of the Met’s significant aspects. To retain its authenticity, current workers worked closely with painters who were involved in Imelda Marcos’ 1978 intervention. Those who worked on the Imelda intervention, in turn, took oral traditions from workers who worked with Juan Arellano himself.
The work has been one of rediscovery. “We discovered underneath the [Imelda Marcos] proscenium arch lies the original proscenium arch,” says one of those leading the project. The original arch, though in poor condition, caused plans to recreate the proscenium from photographs, to be shelved.
The project developers are hopeful that the doors should reopen by December, but much like everything that has happened in Manila’s long, dynamic, and vibrant history—anything can happen.
We cap off our love letters to Manila series with one more love team on the cover of our annual Philippine issue. #JoshLia spent the day at the historic Luneta Hotel. Both in designs by #Metrowear designer, #RajoLaurel, the couple brought a modern twist to the romanticism of the French Renaissance structure. #MetroLovesJoshLia Grab a copy of our #MetroJune2018 issue, as we celebrate the fashion and culture coming out of the Philippines! Read about Filipino designers making waves outside of the country, see the best collections from the Manila Fashion Festival and Philippine Fashion Week, get to know the newest crop of queens from Binibining Pilipinas, and discover new local beach getaways. #MetroLovesManila on stands soon. Photographer @andreo_ and @iamdoc Creative Director @eldzsmejia Makeup @antonpatdu Hair @renzpangilinan Grooming @jaybherrera Nails @lizfortuno of @tripleluckbrowandnailsalon Styling @cathsobrevega Joshua and Julia wear @houseoflaurel Special thanks to @thelunetahotel and @starmagicphils
Sometimes, legends are facts buried in myth
One of the bridges leading to the Met and to the Post Office, Quezon Bridge, is a late addition to Manila’s fascination with Art Deco before the start of the Second World War. Quezon Bridge, named after the late President, takes its design cues from Sydney Harbor bridge.
The bridge, whose Art Deco cues indicate it was built in the 1930s, was part of a spending spree on the part of the Commonwealth government, after United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt handed over a hundred million dollars to the Commonwealth government, representing excise tax revenues from coconut imports to the United States.
Quezon Bridge was designed and built to replace Puente Colgante (literally, hanging bridge in Spanish). Puente Colgante was a two-lane toll suspension bridge designed in 1849 and finished in 1852. It was the first suspension bridge in Asia, and a tribute to the industrial revolution. By the late thirties, Puente Colgante had outlived its usefulness, and a new bridge was necessary.
Legend has it that Puente Colgante, together with Ayala Bridge, are the work of Gustave Eiffel, he of the Statue of Liberty and of the Parisian tower that still bears his name. Those rumors refused to die down even if the construction timelines disprove any involvement of the great architect and engineer.
National Museum of Anthropology
Standing the test of time
While rumors of Eiffel’s involvement in those bridges abound, rumors did not stop there. In the days before the internet, I.M. Pei, he of the Louvre’s glass and steel pyramid, heard a story that Eiffel left some his work strewn across Asia. One of the works, it is said, is the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian, a church made entirely of prefabricated steel.
San Sebastian was built in Belgium from prefabricated parts and was supposed to be the first of many environment resistant steel churches throughout the world. However, for many reasons, this never came to pass; San Sebastian stands alone as the only prefabricated steel church, period.
As far as distance goes, The Minor Basilica of San Sebastian sits on the opposite bank of the Pasig and is a short walk away from the other foot of Quezon Bridge, at the end of F. Hidalgo Avenue.
In a country where 80 percent of the population are Roman Catholics, San Sebastian raises a distinctive profile. The two towers, 64 spires, and its relatively thin walls, are hallmarks of neo-Gothic architecture that were, and still are a departure from the neoBaroque earthquake proofing of other Philippine Roman Catholic churches. So distinctly French Gothic is the influence on the architecture that author Carmen N. Pedrosa, on attending a function from the Belgian Embassy on basilica grounds, once wrote that it was as if a slice of Europe landed smack dab in the heart of Manila.
There has been a church in San Sebastian for more than three centuries; the first church, made of wood, was reduced to ashes following a Chinese uprising in 1651. Binondo, the Chinese enclave, is further down Calle Iris (now C. M. Recto Avenue), along San Sebastian’s eastern border. Fire and earthquake ensured the destruction of three more iterations of the Church.
Determined to make things of a more permanent nature and following the destruction of the last church in 1880, then-rector Esteban Martinez approached the architect Genaro Palacios for assistance in creating earthquakeresistant San Sebastian as we know it today. Prefabrication work was completed in Belgium; it took 52 tons of steel in eight shipments to bring the pieces to Manila. A ninth shipment, which was supposed to contain a prefabricated retablo, was lost to the sea. Local artisans reconstructed one from wood; it is this retablo that is featured in San Sebastian today, and it is the only part of the church still made of wood.
In 2012, San Sebastian officials launched a 300 million-peso renovation and restoration project that is expected to take eight years, with funding from the United States State Department, through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Bakas Filipinas, a heritage group.
So far, officials have found numerous leaks and pools of water within the church’s columns, with rust weakening the structure. Fortunately, the strength of the design keeps the building safe. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) reports that while the most damaged columns have been repaired, much work needs to be done for the remaining columns.
The City of Manila nowadays, much like its many broken-down structures, represent a glorious past wrought with a history of wealth, of progress, of war, of neglect, and finally, of survival. Despite its present state of seemingly organized chaos, it continues to thrive—a city in flux, a city that will withstand the tests of time.
In photos: Overview of Intramuros, Bindondo arch, Manila Central Post Office, Capitol Theater, Regina Building, Luneta Hotel, National Museum of Anthropology, National Museum of Art, and Liwasang Bonifacio
For every building highlighted here, many more are being dismantled by their new owners. The fight to conserve our architectural history is being led by the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), led by decorator Tats Manahan and lawyer Mark Evidente. The HCS make their home at the ground floor of the Museo Pambata, in the former Elks Club Building. Those interested to volunteer and help conserve the Philippines’ built heritage can contact them through [email protected] or their website at www.heritage.org.ph.
Read the full article, know more about McLisse, ElNella, MayWard, and JoshLia and see more of these love teams on the pages of Metro's June 2018 issue, now out in major bookstores. Metro is available in bookstores and on newsstands for P150. Like Metro on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Metro.Magazine) and follow Metro on Twitter and Instagram (@MetroMagPH) #MetroMagPH
Photographs by Dan Sebollena courtesy of Metro magazine