Monday, December 24, 2012

Historical Walk Through Binondo and Escolta Part 1

National Architecture Week is celebrated in the country every second week of December as declared by Proclamation No. 934 of 1971.  This years theme is "Arkitekturang Tugon sa kalikasan".  For our chapter I originally wanted to come up with an Urban Challenge integrating historical landmarks in Metro Manila.  But since December is the peak month at my office,  and I did not have time to prepare.  My back up plan was to conduct a walking tour of Binondo and Escolta.  This would be easier for me since I grew up in the area.

A week before, I posted the event invite, but up to the last minute, only 4 person signified their interest.  Fortunately, another officer in my organization who also teaches history of architecture volunteered her third year architecture class at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and instantly, I was guaranteed with 37 students.

The night before, I prepared my itinerary and researched on interesting historical background of the areas and buildings we would visit.  What made the tour extra special, was that we were given an access to enter a 90 year old building undergoing adaptive re-use at Escolta.

I changed the original meet up time to 1:00PM to accommodate the students who still has class at 12 that would end at 1:00.  I chose Binondo Church to be the meet up place, since its safer, and would not require permits, and masses usually ends in 1:00PM and would resume late in the afternoon at 5:00PM.
Inside Binondo Church

First in the venue was our Past Chapter President Patrick Rodriguez.  I actually arrived an hour before to prepare name tags and certificate, and took the chance to have lunch at Tasty Dumplings.
Pork Chop Rice at Tasty Dumplings
Also, my designer Mhelen Hassim and her friend Eds Roxas came.  A few minutes before 2:00 PM, the students arrived with their professor Ar. Muning Pujalte.
Since we're already in Binondo Church, I gave a brief background on its history.
Binondo Church

Binondo Church 

Even before the arrival of the Spanish to the Philippines there was already a community of Chinese traders living in Manila. The population of Chinese traders increased with the advent of Spanish colonization of the Philippines, due to increased trade between the islands.The upsurge in their population prompted the catholic missionaries to manage the conversion of the Chinese population to the Christian faith.[3]

In 1596, Dominican priests founded Binondo church to serve their Chinese converts to Christianity as well as to the native Filipinos.

The original structure has sustained damages during wars[4] and various natural disasters.[5] The current granite church was completed on the same site in 1852 and features an octagonal bell tower which suggests the Chinese culture of the parishioners. The church was burned during the British invasion of 1872. Another one was quickly built following the occupation. Improvements were made in the 18th century but the edifice was again destroyed in the 1863 earthquake. It was rebuilt in the grandeur the remains on which we see today. Before the war, it was considered as one of the most beautiful churches in the country. Its bell tower was composed of five stories, octagonal in shape. At its top was a mirador (viewing window). This roof was destroyed during the 1863 earthquake.

American bombing on September 22, 1944 destroyed the structure. Everything including the archives of the parish were burned. Nothing was left behind except the stone walls of the church and the fire-tiered octagonal belltower. After the war, Binondo parishioners had to make do with a roofless church for several years until it was rebuilt in the 1950's.

The present church and convent was renovated between 1946 and 1971.


After the church, we stopped by the Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz

Plaza Calderon dela Barca

Plaza Calderon dela Barca was Plaza de Binondo then Plaza Carlos IV before it was named after the Spanish playwright. Today, it is also known as Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz, after the first Filipino saint whose statue dramatically stands on the plaz
The late historian Teodoro Agoncillo described Plaza Calderon dela Barca as “one of the most impressive open spaces of old Manila.” It was lined with trees and beautifully landscaped with fountains at either ends. Mansions and large establishments surrounded the Plaza, on whose principal side was the church (Binondo Church) and two large buildings (a hotel and a tobacco factory).

The Hotel de Oriente and La Insular Cigar factory were the landmark structure gracing the Plaza Calderon dela Barca in Binondo. Both were architectural masterpieces of Spanish architect Juan Jose Huervas y Arizmendi.

Hotel de Oriente was considered the Philippines’ best lodging in 1899 by Americans first-timers to the Philippines. Its strategic location near the church of Binondo and the pretty view of the plaza’s manicured lawns and fountains contributed to its fame as the best hotel in Manila.
The hotel was opened in January 1889. It was an imposing three-storey high building with 83 rooms and stables for 25 horses, an attic, and a broad entrance floored and roofed in red clay tiles.

According to Lorelie de Viana, “the hotel was considered to be well ventilated and clean. Its interior was with its elaborate and attractive floral decorations. From the hotel ceiling were hung picturesque and spotless punkahs or huge broad fans which attendants standing in nearby corridors swung with a rope.”

Hotel de Oriente was plush for the period. It was where Rizal stayed upon his return from Hong Kong in 1892. The building was later converted in 1904 into offices of the Philippine Constabulary, American Circulating Library, Official Gazette, and the Commercial Museum.

There it stood until the last war. Partially destroyed in 1945 it was later torn down to give way to a huge building.

Another major architectural structure to grace the Plaza was the La Insular Tabacco and Cigar Factory. Agoncillo described the building to have “an imposing archway, a big courtyard, and broad staircase that gave one the impression that it was a palace.”

The three-storey structure was unique for it infusion of Neo-Mudejar motifs. The first and second floors had tall arched windows, marked off by bays by pilasters and mouldings. The third storey had a continuous stream of projecting balcony. It was generously ornamented with a balustrade and lamp posts.

The La Insular Tobacco and Cigar office and factory stood beautifully at the plaza for many years until its tragic destruction by fire in 1944. 


San Nicholas Houses

After exploring the Plaza, I then brought the students to the San Nicholas area, mainly Lavezares St. and Madrid St.  In these streets, you can still see see old fil-hispanic houses that  has evolved through the years.  Some have adapted but most are in various state of disrepair.

After going around the streets of residential Binondo, we then walked our way along Madrid St. until we reached the north bank of the Pasig River, opposite another Historical place, Fort Santiago.

Juan Luna Building

We were fortunate to have been granted an access inside a 90 year old building currently undergoing adaptive re-use.  This may be familiar to you since its been frequently used as backdrops for commercials and movies.  Its the old HSBC Building now called Juan Luna Building.

We would like ti thank Jose L. Berenguer II, VP of GEALACH Inc. for allowing us to see first hand how such a historic building be used to adapt to the current business needs.  It is now being develop as a BPO hub.  The have extended the original 6-storey structure to house a glass walled deck offering a panoramic view of the Pasig river and the equally historic El Hogar right beside it.


Across Juan Luna and Cervantes Streets is the neoclassical building known in prewar Manila as the first office of HSBC in the country. Before the concrete building you would see today, HSBC first held office in the former wooden building in 1875.
Cervantes Street was considered as Makati’s Ayala Avenue a century ago, said Tan.As business boomed in the 1920s, British architect GH Hayward designed the neo-classical building in 1921. HSBC leased some offices in the building to Sun Life of Canada and Smith, Bell and Co. By the 1970s, HSBC sold the building to a local bank that foreclosed a decade after.
It is said that the bank’s treasury vaults had 40-inch thick walls reinforced by twisted steel bars. The ground floor ceiling is 23 feet high, while upper floors are six-feet high.

The Rehabilitated HSBC Building now known as Juan Luna E-Services Building
The original cast iron window frame, now replaced.
View from the 7th Floor
View from the 7th Floor
My Tour Participants
Also, we would like to thank Arch. Marlou Campaner of the City Planning Division of Manila for getting us acquainted with the people behind the revival of Escolta.

After Juan Luna, we moved to El Hogar, just across the street.
El Hogar as viewed from the top of Juan Luna Building

EL Hogar Building : “This beautiful beaux-arts building, designed by architect Irrureta Goyena and set by the Pasig River on Muelle dela Industria in Binondo, was built as a wedding gift for the union of a Zobel daughter and a Peruvian count back in 1914. It housed the offices of the lending company El Hogar Filipino (hence its name) and the original headquarters of Ayala Life Insurance Company. After World War II, the building found itself in the hands of the Fernandez clan who still run the building till this day.”

El Hogar as viewed from the top of Juan Luna Building
El Hogar as viewed from the top of Juan Luna Building

 It was a long walk from San Nicholas area to Escolta, not to mention that we took the stairs up to the 7th floor of Juan Luna Building and back down.

By this time, we were really exhausted and took a break.  Fortunately, there were vendors selling softdrinks and snacks at the corner.

After rehydrating, we continued our walking tour as we reach Escolta.

To be continued........

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