Regina Building. Photograph courtesy of Isidra Reyes
Culture Spotlight

From wartime shelters to Dolphy’s office: 10 historical landmarks integral to Manila’s identity

Some have played significant roles during wartime, becoming refuge to both allies and foes, while others were witnesses to progress and peacetime. Our history is written on their walls—and here’s what we need to know.
Isidra Reyes | Aug 04 2019

While Manila has lost some of its most beautiful architectural heritage treasures, here are structures that still exist. Some have been put to adaptive reuse, renovated, and retrofitted while others, sadly, have suffered years of neglect or partial demolition and are awaiting their ultimate fate. 

Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso's drive to clean-up Manila and to give priority to the preservation of our architectural heritage has given heritage advocates the glimmer of hope that Manila shall at last recapture her lost glory and once again regain her title as Pearl of the Orient Seas.

 

1. El Hogar Filipino Building

The El Hogar Filipino Building was one of the most prestigious and elegant office buildings in Pre-War Manila. Built between 1911 to 1914 in a hybrid Neo-Renaissance and Neoclassical Revival style typical of Beaux-Arts style buildings between the 1880s to the early 1920s ,the four-storey reinforced concrete building has two open courtyards, a magnificently ornate grand staircase with intricate grillework, and a newel post in the shape of a Merlion. On one of its walls used to exist a landscape mural showing a formal garden with a fountain. And on its fourth floor is a ​mirador where business tycoons who held office in the building could view their cargo ships plying the Pasig River.

Said to have been built in celebration of the wedding of heiress Margarita Zobel and insurance executive, Antonio Melian y Pavia with the Spanish title, El Conde de Peracamps, the building housed the main office of El Hogar Filipino, Filipinas Compañia de Seguros, Ayala y Cia., Smith Bell & Co., and Sun Life of Canada, among others. 

El Hogar survived World War II but went into decline especially when businesses started moving out of the Binondo area to Makati in the 1960s. Thereafter, the building was occupied mostly by customs brokerage firms with few residential tenants. It also became the shooting location of movies, TV shows, and fashion and advertising shoots. 

In February 2014, the building passed ownership and its tenants were made to vacate the building’s premises. Its new owner planned to build a residential tower on the site but met with heavy opposition from heritage groups, especially after the grand staircase was removed and sounds of demolition emanated from the building. The building was condemned by the Manila City Building Official and was up for demolition. The NHCP issued a cease and desist order against the demolition and attempted to purchase the building but the negotiations were halted when the NHCP and the new property owner could not agree with the price. The building’s status is still uncertain.

Architect: Ramon Irrureta-Goyena and Francisco Perez-Muñoz

Where you can see it: Juan Luna Street corner Muelle de la Industria, Binondo

 

 2. Capitol Theater

Capitol Theater was one of the architectural and entertainment landmarks of Pre- and Post-War Escolta. Built on the site of the former Edificio Barretto (designed by Architect Felix Roxas) located along Escolta corner Yuchengco Street (formerly Nueva Street), the Capitol Theater Building was originally owned by the Eastern Theatrical Enterprises Co., Inc., a corporation owned by the Heirs of Demetrio Tuason and the Rufino family, which commissioned Architect Juan F. Nakpil in 1934 to build Capitol Theater, “Manila’s Most Modern Theater” and “Showplace of the Nation.” 

Designed in the then fashionable Art Deco Style, the zigurrat-topped facade was symmetrically balanced with a recessed central tower ornamented with geometric Art Deco grillwork. On the vertical planes flanking the central grillwork were bas-relief sculptures of Filipinas clad in baro’t saya carrying the symbols of cinema and sound. 

Highlighting the theater lobby was a mural entitled, “Philippines Rising,” by The Triumvirate of Filipino artists namely, Carlos V. Francisco, Galo B. Ocampo, and Victorio Edades. During the war, the Capitol Theater Building sustained some damage and for a time housed The Silver Slipper Club, which catered to G.I.s out to have a night of fun.

After WWII, Capitol Theater was renovated extensively in the Mid-Century Modern style with A.M. Oreta & Co. as contractor. It continued to be one of the premier movie theaters showing both first-run English-language and Filipino movies. 

Roxan, Inc. acquired the property in 1977 after which Capitol Theater went into decline until it was reduced to showing second-run Chinese action movies then later metamorphosed into a KTV Bar. Roxan, Inc. later entered into a joint venture agreement with Ascott Resources Development Corp.(ARDC) to build a residential condominium tower on the site. After meetings and consultation with the NCCA, a compromise development plan was reached whereby the facade would be retained using “in-situ bracing methodology” and the rest of the building would be demolished. There were still disagreements between ARDC and NCCA as to the new building’s final design.

Architect: National Artist for Architecture Juan F. Nakpil​

Where you can see it: The remaining facade and tower of Capitol Theater are located in Escolta corner Yuchengco Street, Binondo, Manila

 

3. Regina Building

One of the twin sentinels of Escolta together with the Perez-Samanillo/FUB Building across it, the Regina Building evolved from the Edificio Roxas, built in 1915 by Architect Felix Roxas for Ayala heiress, Carmen Ayala de Roxas y Roxas. It was renamed Regina Building after it was acquired by Don Jose Leoncio ”Pitong” de Leony Hizon of Bacolor, Pampanga, founder of Pampanga Sugar Development Corp. (PASUDECO) who named it after his first wife, the beautiful Regina “Inang” Gutierrez Joven de Leon. 

In 1934, after acquiring the building upon Doña Carmen’s death in 1930, Don Jose de Leon commissioned Architect Andres Luna de San Pedro to undertake the expansion and renovation of the building which now extended a full block from Burke Street to Estero de la Reina. Completed in 1934, the Beaux-Arts Style Regina Building was one of the most beautiful office buildings of its time highlighted by an ornate grilled grand staircase and a domed corner tower. Later on, an additional floor was added by Architect Fernando H. Ocampo. Perhaps of its beauty and location, it was once one of the choice business addresses of its time.

Architects: Felix Roxas (1915), Andrés Luna de San Pedro (1934) and Fernando H. Ocampo, Sr. (1930s)

Where you can see it: 420 Escolta Street Corner Burke Street, Binondo, Manila

 

4. Don Roman Santos Building (BPI Building)

Originally the main office of the Monte de Piedad y Caja de Ahorros from 1894 to 1937. The Neoclassical Revival Style structure with its iconic Classical pediment located at Plaza Arsenio H. Lacson (formerly Plaza Goiti), Manila was built in 1894 by Catalan architect, Joan Josep Hervas Arizmendi. He was then Municipal Architect of Manila and responsible for the design of the Tutuban Station, the early buildings of Assumption Herran, Hotel de Oriente and La Insular Cigar & Cigarette Factory, among others. 

 

The property underwent major renovation by Architect Andres Luna de San Pedro starting 1938 when it was acquired by Consolidated Investments Corp. In 1944, the property changed hands again when Hacienda Magdalena, owned by Doña Magdalena Ysmael Hemady, purchased the property. During the Liberation and early Post-WWII years, the building was temporarily occupied by the American Red Cross which operated a hospital thereat from 1945 to 1947. 

In 1954, the building was purchased from Hacienda Hemady by Prudential Bank founder Don Roman Santos who in 1957 rebuilt and expanded the building by adding three additional floors to the four-storey structure. It later became known as the Roman Santos Building and served as Prudential Bank’s headquarters before its move to Ayala Avenue, Makati. It also once housed a branch of South Supermarket and later a branch of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) after Prudential Bank was acquired by BPI in 2004. It will reportedly be put to adaptive reuse as a commercial building after renovations and retrofitting.

Architect: Joan Josep Hervas i Arizmendi (1894), Andres Luna de San Pedro (1938) 

Where you can see it: Plaza Arsenio H. Lacson (formerly Plaza Goiti), Santa Cruz, Manila

 

5. Luneta Hotel

Built between 1917 to 1919 by Spanish engineer, Salvador Farre, Luneta Hotel was one of the most elegant hotels in Manila and perhaps the only surviving example of French Renaissance Revival architecture in the Philippines. Its Mansard roofing, ornate grilled balconies, and original Louis XV Revival Style interiors lent it a Parisian air similar to the Casa Tesoro which was likewise built by Farre. 

There were originally sixty guest rooms with two suites in the hotel, each with its own private bathroom and telephone service. The hotel gained prominence at the 1937 International Eucharistic Congress when it housed delegates to the congress. During WWII, Luneta Hotel was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army and atrocities were reportedly committed there, especially during the Liberation. 

After WWII, the sparkle of Luneta Hotel fizzed out. In 1952, the hotel was purchased by a Mr. Lednicky (possibly Victor E. Lednicky of Lepanto Consolidated Mines) from Agustin and Rosalia Farre and was later sold to Toribio Teodoro, proprietor of Ang Tibay Footwear Factory. It later passed ownership to H.E. Heacock Resources from whom it was allegedly purchased by the Panlilio family who had it renovated in 1983. 

It was later sequestered by the Philippine government from the Panlilio family on the suspicion that it was part of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses, with Panililio as front. The hotel went into decline after which it was acquired in 2007 by Beaumont Holdings which had it restored and run as a boutique hotel, opening in 2014. It closed briefly but has since reopened.

Architect: Salvador Farre (1919)

Where you can see it: T.M. Kalaw Street, Ermita, Manila

 

6. Calvo Building

Built in 1938 by Architect Fernando H. Ocampo and his partner Architect Tomas Arguelles in the rather anachronistic Beaux-Arts Style more prevalent from the 1880s to the 1920s, the Calvo Building was one of the most prestigious business addresses of its time. Owned by realtor, Doña Emiliana Mortera vda. De Calvo, its tenants included the Bank of Commerce and Lissar Commercial on the ground floor, the Aquino Lichauco Law Offices on the second floor, and the offices of Araneta & Co. on the third floor. The Calvo Building also housed Luisa & Son, a Pre-War soda fountain frequented by Manila’s high society. During the Post-War years, a fourth floor was added to the three-storey edifice. Today, the Calvo Building hosts the Escolta Museum, as well as the offices of the Escolta Commercial Association, Inc. (ECAI).

Architect: Fernando H. Ocampo and Tomas Arguelles (1938)

Where you can see it: 266 Escolta Street corner Soda Street, Binondo, Manila

 

7. Samuel J. Wilson Building (now Co Ban Kiat Hardware Building)

Designed by Architects Fernando H. Ocampo and Tomas Arguelles, the former Samuel J. Wilson Building (1927) was a major center of business activities from Pre-War to Post-War Manila. Originally built by Samuel J. Wilson, a Philadelphia-born business executive who came to the Philippines to initially work with Carmelo & Bauermann, it once housed offices of the Manila Stock Exchange, stock brokerage firms, embassies, consulates, lawyers' offices, Philamlife Insurance Company, and Bank of America's Manila branch where a mural by Antonio Dumlao once graced its lobby. 

The building passed ownership to Doña Narcisa B. de Leon, matriarch of LVN Pictures, and after many years was acquired by Co Ban Kiat Hardware in 2014. After extensive renovations, the building became the headquarters of the Co Ban Kiat Group of Companies, a successful case of adaptive reuse of a heritage building.

Architect: Fernando H. Ocampo & Tomas Arguelles (1927) 

Where you can see it: 231 Juan Luna St, Binondo, Manila

 

 8. Casa Tesoro

This was the former Salvador Farre Residence built in 1901. Farre was a Spanish architect-engineer who was the contractor of the El Hogar Filipino Building and owner/builder of the Luneta Hotel built in 1919. Now known as Casa Tesoro, this building once housed a post office branch, the Tesoro’s shop, and various art and antique dealers who were displaced when Chateau Marie, the former Alfonso Zobel Residence in Roxas Blvd., was demolished to make way for a 52-storey condominium tower. Among these antique dealers was Maria Closa, which once occupied a large area of Casa Tesoro. 

Casa Tesoro was founded in 1945 by Atty. Nestor and Salud Tesoro and has been a leading purveyor of Philippine crafts for over seven decades.

Architect: Salvador Farre (1901)

Where you can see it: A. Mabini St. cor. Padre Faura St., Ermita, Manila

 

9. Paco Railway Station

The Paco Railroad Station was designed by Architect William E. Parsons and built between 1912 to 1915 to service the Paco-Binakayan, Cavite, Paco-Tutuban, and Paco-Muntinlupa routes. It is older than several heritage buildings still existing today: The Post Office Building, the Legislative Building, and the Manila City Hall Building, among others. 

It was likewise the site of a heroic battle in 1945 and its recapture led the the crucial defeat of the remaining Japanese forces in Manila. With its beautiful architecture, historical significance, and the ongoing rehabilitation of our railway system, there is every reason to restore the Paco Railroad Station or at least put it to adaptive reuse.

Architect: William H. Parsons (1915)

Where you can see it: Quirino Avenue cor. Pedro Gil Street Paco, Manila

 

10. Perez-Samanillo/First United Building Corp. Building

Designed by Architect Andres Luna de San Pedro in 1928, the Perez-Samanillo/FUB Building is one of the best-maintained and optimally used Art Deco buildings in the Philippines today. One of the Twin Sentinels of Escolta and awarded “Most Beautiful Office Building” by the City of Manila in 1928, this five-storey edifice was built by Luis Perez-Samanillo as a commercial and office building. 

Standing on the site of the former Manila Post Office Building at the corner of Escolta and Burke Streets, the building once housed consular offices, law firms, mining firms, dentists’ clinics, and movie production outfits such as Dolphy’s RVQ Productions.

After it was sold by Luis Perez-Samanillo, the building became a co-ownership between First United Building Corp. (succeeded by UCPB) and the Sylianteng family. The FUB Building is likewise the home of two stalwart heritage organizations: the Heritage Conservation Society and the ICOMOS and has become a creative hub for artists and art and heritage lovers alike who can sell their creations in shops found at the building’s ground floor and use the co-working

space at the building’s fifth floor. On October 16, 2018, the NHCP unveiled the building’s historical marker attesting to the building’s architectural and historical significance.

Architect: Andres Luna de San Pedro (1928)

Where you can see it: Escolta corner Burke Street, Binondo, Manila

 

With additional text by Mandy Altura. Photos courtesy of Isidra Reyes