Throwback to March 15, 2016
Joining Carlos Celdran’s guided walking tour of pre-war buildings in Escolta and Old Manila (“Making The Invisible City Visible”) opened up a floodgate of childhood memories, and also gave me a nostalgic glimpse of the beginnings of insurance in the Philippines. Here are my impressions of seven (7) of the many landmarks that we visited.
El Hogar is now owned by an unidentified Chinese businessman who reportedly plans to convert the once-iconic building into a warehouse. Heritage conservationists have launched a petition to preserve the edifice and stop its demolition, and personal pleas have been attached to the concrete barriers now surrounding El Hogar.
A gratified tour participant poses with the irrepressible and uber-controversial Carlos Celdran, and asks him for the schedule of his irreverent take on the former First Lady, the one-man show “Living La Vida Imelda.”
Built in pre-war 1938, the Calvo Building, which continues to defy both time and modernity, still has operational “Otis” elevators with cage-like grills that evoke the downtown offices of the era.
Calvo Building also hosts a little-known museum of vintage bottles. Among many glass-encased cabinets, this one displays the “Halili Beer” bottle, a rare and much sought-after specimen (and Holy Grail of bottle collectors) of a brewery in Bulacan that dared to compete, but failed, against the monopoly of San Miguel Beer.
The 800-seater Capitol Theatre was a masterpiece of Juan Nakpil, whose Art Deco style included a rare double balcony and a decorative tower facade flanked on both sides by bas reliefs of typical Filipina maidens. Originally owned by Don Demetrio Tuason, the glamorous theatre was then operated by cinema moguls Vicente and Ernesto Rufino. Damaged during the bombing of Manila, it resurrected in the post-Liberation era, and in 1965, our family watched “Thunderball,” the 4rth installment of the hugely popular James Bond series. In the 1970s, Capitol Theatre fell into disuse, showing bomba films and Kung-fu movies. The once stunning cinema is now partly home to a Chinese restaurant, but sadly abandoned.
Edificio El Hogar Filipino (“hogar” means home or hearth) along Juan Luna St. cor Muelle de la Industria was designed by Ramon Yrureta Goyena and Francisco Muñoz Palma in 1911 in the Beaux Artes style that was the rave during the turn of the 20th century. A wedding present of Don Antonio Melian Pavia to his bride Doña Margarita Zobel de Ayala, it survived WW2, and is one of the few remaining American-era structures in downtown Manila. Don Antonio, along with brothers-in-law Enrique and Fernando Zobel de Ayala, went on to establish Filipinas Compania de Seguros, the “F” in FGU Insurance Corp. when the Ayalas eventually consolidated their 3 insurance companies.
Just beside the El Hogar stands the ruins of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank Building, designed by British architect G. H. Hayward in 1921 in the Neoclassical style, and the first HSBC office in Manila. Among its early tenants was the Sun Life of Canada headquarters, the first foreign life insurance company set up in the Philippines in 1895. In the 1950s, it also housed the law offices of William Quasha & Associates, where a then recent passer of the bar (1953) named Atty. Augusto Vega Toledo first honed his lawyerly skills.
Tour guide and tireless defender of Philippine arts and culture Carlos Celdran gesticulates in his inimitable style at the Plaza Moraga. The gateway to Manila’s Chinatown of Binondo, this public square at the foot of Jones Bridge is named after Franciscan friar Fernando de Moraga who was honored for convincing Spanish King Felipe III not to surrender the Islands. The Chinatown Arch, reputably the world’s largest, was constructed in 2015 to celebrate the 444th anniversary of the founding of Manila.
The Perez Samanillo Building (now called First United Building) was originally Edificio Luis Perez Samanillo, named after a Spanish businessman who also owned Hotel de Oriente in Binondo where Jose Rizal often stayed when in Manila. Featuring a grand ornate stairway with elegant grillwork, the Art Deco structure was the work of Andres Luna de San Pedro and Juan Nakpil, and when completed in 1928, … See More
The Regina Building was designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro and Fernando Ocampo in the Neoclassical style in 1915. Originally known as Roxas Building, it was first owned by Doña Carmen de Ayala Roxas, and then sold upon her death to Don Jose Leoncio de Leon, who renamed it after his wife Regina. A starkly white and elegantly simple building, it’s early tenants included Provident Insurance Corp. (today’s Mapfre Insular Insurance Co.), and the de Leon family’s National Life Insurance Co.