The facade of the QI Administration Building in Quezon City. Photo by David Montasco courtesy of Isidra Reyes
Culture Spotlight

Behind Quezon Institute’s magnificence was a President’s battle against a killer disease

It’s an outstanding work from a National Artist, and its storied past surely adds to its aura of mystique—no wonder it’s a favorite setting for movies 
ISIDRA REYES | Sep 27 2020

It is the largest medical facility in the country done in the Art Deco style. “The QI is a masterpiece of Filipino architecture, interior design, site planning and landscape architecture,” the architect Paulo Alcazaren once wrote. Meanwhile, the late heritage conservationist Augusto F. Villalon in his book “Lugar” called it magnificent, certainly one of the two outstanding works of the esteemed architect Juan Nakpil early in his career. 

Vintage photo of the second floor lobby, Quezon Institute Administration Building. Source: Bulletin of the Quezon Institute, July 1939

Filmmakers continue to be charmed by the complex and make it the sets of their films—albeit many of these movies tend to belong to the horror genre. Which is understandable, considering it was primarily built as medical facility for the treatment of tuberculosis—one of the biggest killers of Filipinos for quite a long period—and it was run as an army hospital during the Japanese occupation. 

Facade of Quezon Institute Administration Building. Source: The Bulletin of the Quezon Institute, July, 1939 courtesy of Ivan Man Dy

After several years of quiet existence, the Quezon Institute was recently in the news as the proposed location of five off-site modular hospitals to be built by the DPWH for the quarantine and treatment of mild and moderate Covid-19 cases. Just like the Rizal Memorial Sports Coliseum, another equally significant Pre-War heritage structure, the Quezon Institute was repurposed last April to serve as a COVID-19 quarantine facility. 

The Philippine Tuberculosis Society, Inc. (PTSI) owns the property where the Quezon Institute Complex stands. The group traces its roots to the Philippine Islands Antituberculosis Society which was founded in 1910, the year that saw the beginning of a systemic campaign against tuberculosis in the country. TB, according to Norman Owen in his book, “Death and Disease in Southeast Asia” (1987), “had killed far more Filipinos over the past two centuries than all the cholera epidemics put together.” 

Quezon Institute Medical Director Dr. Miguel Cañizares and his staff taken in front of the QI Administration Building. Source: The Bulletin of the Quezon Institute, July 1939

The Quezon Institute was preceded by two specialized institutions: the San Juan Tuberculosis Hospital, which opened in 1911 as the first public health facility in the country to exclusively admit tuberculosis patients and, upon the former’s closure, the Santol Tuberculosis Sanatorium, which was inaugurated in 1918 and was patterned after similar sanatoriums in Europe and the U.S. The Santol Tuberculosis Sanatorium aimed to segregate infected patients and place them in health programs based on the time-honored principles of fresh air, good food, and rest in sanitary and spacious surroundings. Both institutions, which were partly funded by the insular government, were  run by the Philippine Tuberculosis Society.

An aerial view of the Quezon Institute after WWII.

The Santol Tuberculosis Sanatorium was built on a fairly wide plateau of about six hectares located in the Barrio of Santol, which was then part of Caloocan. Over the years, more buildings, pavilions and cottages were added to the complex, some of which were funded by the government as well as donations by prominent personalities such as Don Enrique Zobel and Don Rafael Ynchausti.

Clinical notes written by President Quezon's doctors in his final days, 30 July-1 August 1944. Source: Quezon Family Collection


Instrumental in the sanatorium’s growth and expansion was the vigorous support  given by President Manuel L. Quezon, who lost his mother, Maria Dolores Molina Quezon, to tuberculosis in 1893 when he was only fifteen. In 1924, he also lost his youngest daughter, Luisa Corazon Paz, or “Nenita,” to the disease. She died of Tuberculous Meningitis when she was only ten months old. General Basilio Valdés, who was the infant’s attending physician, can not forget how the future President cried after learning of his daughter’s demise. In 1927, Quezon himself was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis.  

President Manuel Quezon on his sick bed at Camp McMartin in Lake Saranac, New York, weeks before his passing on 1 August 1944. This is one of his last known photos. Source: Quezon Family Collection

When he was still a Senator, Quezon had bitterly noticed that the insular government was not paying as much attention to the prevention and control of tuberculosis as it was to leprosy. He compared the expense of reforming six thousand lepers with the pittance spent on the prevention of tuberculosis, a disease that killed some 30,000 Filipinos each year.  In 1923, Quezon told the annual meeting of the Philippine Islands Medical Association that the expenditure on the leper (Culion) colony “for experimental purposes” was excessive. He was also concerned the tubercular patients were not separated from the non-tubercular lepers. He was stunned that, even at Culion, tuberculosis prevention and treatment were neglected. 

Dr. Jaime Estrada and othee physicians and health workers at the Quezon Institute, 29 September 1939. Source: Joel Estrada Joves, Manila Nostalgia FB Group

Quezon would suffer numerous hospitalizations due to the disease. According to Sol Gwekoh in his book, “Manuel L. Quezon: His Life and Career,” Quezon was first diagnosed with tuberculosis at the New York Institute of Health in 1927 while on a trip to the U.S. as co-chairman of the Fourth Philippine Independence Mission, during which he suffered from lassitude, nausea, and chest pains. Upon the advice of lung specialist, Dr. James Alexander Miller, he was confined for complete rest and treatment for six months at the Pottenger Sanatorium in Monrovia, California. 

President Manuel Luis Quezon visits patients at the Santol Tuberculosis Sanatorium, 1936.

Upon his return to Manila in 1927, to help him recuperate, he purchased a rest house from Doña Magdalena Hashim Ysmael Hemady in then suburban and breezy New Manila, with address at 31 (later 45) Gilmore Avenue. He loved the rustic surroundings and the abundance of trees around the property which reminded him so much of his native Baler. It was also closer to the Santol Sanatorium where he went for check-ups and received pneumothorax treatments and calcium injections from his physicians. All the best tuberculosis specialists were attending to him. Their expertise benefited even charity patients in the institute.

The bridges were some of Nakpil's inspired touches for the complex.

Changing the game

In his address to the National Assembly on October 18, 1937,  President Quezon emphatically recommended that funds be set aside for the purpose of preventing the spread of tuberculosis—which led to the enactment into law of the Sweepstakes Bill as Commonwealth Act No. 301 on June 1938. The bill provided that out of the gross receipts from the sale of sweepstakes tickets, 25 percent shall be allotted to the Philippine Tuberculosis Society. Unfortunately, the PTS did not get the whole 25 percent promised it. The group had to find other sources of income from donations and fund-raising activities such as the Anti-Tuberculosis Benefit Ball at the Santa Ana Cabaret.

The spacious 6.5-hectare Quezon Institute Complex is home to a group of beautiful buildings designed by Nakpil in the Streamlined Moderne and Tropical Art Deco Styles.

One of the avid supporters of the PTS was Doña Julia Vargas vda. de Ortigas.  Starting with the “Ropero de Santol” in 1929, an association of leading society matrons and ladies who raised funds for worthy causes, she joined the Philippine Islands Anti-Tuberculosis Society (later PTS) where she successively served as board member, until she was first elected President in 1932 and re-elected every year thereafter for many years until her passing in 1969. 

Under her leadership, the PTS grew by leaps and bounds. She was one of a few who worked hard for the passage of the Sweepstakes Law which, despite the previously mentioned fact that the PTS did not always receive the full amount allotted, still enabled the group to build the Quezon Institute and expand its services in the provinces. 

A quiet area in the complex. Photo courtesy of the author.

It was also through the efforts of great ladies like Victoria Lopez Araneta and Mercedes Zobel McMicking, with the help of their supportive spouses, Salvador Araneta and Joe McMicking, and friends like sugar planter, publisher, and movie producer J. Amado Araneta, PLDT  President & General Manager Joseph Hamilton Stevenot, and AG & P President  William  B. Shaw, and the first couple, President Manuel L. Quezon and First Lady Aurora Aragon Quezon, that White Cross, earlier known as the Quezon Preventorium, was established to take care of children whose parents suffered from tuberculosis.

As described in Ivan Man Dy’s and Gerard Lico’s Deco Filipino, the Quezon Institute is “the largest Art Deco medical facility in the country...with its untextured walls, undulating curves, and wraparound corners (which) feature prominently in the facility’s various wings.

The architect 

With funds coming in, plans for the construction of new edifices and pavilions started. Commissioned to design the complex was a future National Artist, Juan F. Nakpil, one of the most prominent young architects at the time. Born in Quiapo, Manila on May 26, 1899 to musical composer, Julio Nakpil, and Gregoria de Jesus, widow of Andres Bonifacio, he was likewise the nephew of the eminent physician, Dr. Ariston Linpingco Bautista, married to Julio Nakpil’s sister, Petrona. 

According to the book Deco Filipino, the QI had "Lofty ceilings, oversized slide windows, and open corridors with decorative ironwork in the grills and staircases featuring jazzy, interlocking geometric shapes." 

The young Juan F. Nakpil and his family lived in the beautiful Bautista-Nakpil House in Calle Barbosa, Quiapo, Manila and was treated like a son by his childless uncle who saw much promise in the talented young Juan. After his studies abroad—at the University of Kansas where he obtained his Civil Engineering in 1922, at the Harvard Graduate School of Architecture, at Cornell University, at Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Fontainebleau to study architecture—Nakpil returned to Manila in December 1926 and began working as an assistant architect at the Bureau of Public Works. In 1928, he joined the architectural firm of Andrés Luna de San Pedro and collaborated with the eminent architect in several significant works, among which were the Perez-Samanillo Building and the Crystal Arcade Building, both located at Escolta, Manila.   

A vintage photo of the Quezon Institute interiors.

In 1930, he opened his own architectural firm and became well known as architect of some of the most beautiful cinemas in Pre- and Post-War Manila: Capitol Theater, State Theater, Avenue Theater, Gaiety Theater, EVER Theater, and Rizal Theater among them. Among his other significant works at the time were the Quiapo Church (reconstructed in 1929), Manila Jockey Club, the Geronimo de los Reyes Building, and the Capitan Pepe Building, as well as several beautiful family residences. He later achieved great renown for his design of the Quezon Hall and Gonzalez Hall (the UP Main Library) at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, the Iglesia ni Cristo Complex in San Juan, and the SSS Building at East Avenue, Quezon City. 

Some of the buildings have beautiful staircases with exquisitely designed grillwork, geometrically kinetic designs and beautifully patterned tile flooring.

At the time he was commissioned to design the Quezon Institute Complex, he had just built several beautiful buildings as architect of the XXXIII International Eucharistic Congress held in Manila in 1937. The Philippine Architecture Engineering and Construction Forum (June 1955) noted that “Nakpil’s greatest contribution has been the advancement of the theory that there is a Philippine architecture, and his service to the Philippine public has been the consistent espousal in his writings, speeches, and most important, in his architectural works.”

A staircase with Deco touches.

New name 

The Bulletin of the Quezon Institute, July 1939, recounts the beginning of the facility’s renovation and expansion. “The old wooden structures gave way to new concrete buildings, with a corresponding increase in bed capacity. The first of these concrete edifices is the Administration Building inaugurated by President Quezon on 18 August 1938.” The bulletin goes on to say that said building housed “the administrative offices, laboratory, and pathological and X-ray departments, operating, autopsy, and treatment rooms, among others.

Marker of the Philippine Tuberculosis Society with the names of the Board of Directors headed by its President, Doña Julia Vargas Ortigas., dated 19 August 1938. Photo by Ivan Man Dy.

“On May 12, 1939, two concrete charity pavilions with a total bed capacity of 400 were opened, thus swelling the bed accommodations of the institute to 600. These charity pavilions, according to Dr. Andreas Trepp, can compare with those of modern sanitoria abroad. Knowing full well that the hub around which tuberculosis work revolves is the X-ray, the Institute  purchased a complete X-ray apparatus and tomograph, or planigraph, the only one of its kind in the Orient. Fluoroscopic examinations and pneumothorax treatment are being rendered daily to both poor and rich alike, supplemented by proper medical advice. The response of the public to the free service being given by the Institute has been most encouraging indeed.” 

President Quezon in his sick bed at Miami, Florida presenting the Congressional Medal for Valor to Major Emigdio Cruz, an army physician who was one of his attending physioans until his passing on 1 August 1944. Source: Manuel L. Quezon, His Life & Career by Sol Gwekoh

As a gesture of gratitude to President Quezon, who had always been supportive of the Institute, a plaque hangs at the Administration Building of the Quezon Institute inscribed thus: “President Manuel L. Quezon, In whose honor this Institute is gratefully dedicated as a tribute to his untiring efforts to free his people from the White Plague. August 19, 1938”  

The spacious 6.5-hectare Quezon Institute Complex is home to a group of beautiful buildings designed by Nakpil in the Streamlined Moderne and Tropical Art Deco Styles. Most notable of these are the Administration Building and the former headquarters of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office which have beautiful staircases with exquisitely designed grillwork, geometrically kinetic designs and beautifully patterned tile flooring.

Aerial view of the Quezon Institute Complex showing the Administration Building with partially demolished structures behind it in the photo's foreground. Photo courtesy of Paulo Alcazaren.

Great beauty

As described in Ivan Man Dy’s and Gerard Lico’s Deco Filipino, the Quezon Institute is “the largest Art Deco medical facility in the country...with its untextured walls, undulating curves, and wraparound corners (which) feature prominently in the facility’s various wings. Inner halls are given a simplified and sleek, machine-smooth finish. Lofty ceilings, oversized slide windows, and open corridors (with) decorative ironwork in the grills and staircases (featuring) jazzy, interlocking geometric shapes. Nautical porthole motifs punctuate individual doors...The QI complex is a tribute to the Streamline Moderne aesthetic.”

On the upper wall of  the second story lobby overlooking the Main Lobby, there used to be a fresco dated 1940, showing the influence of science and religion on the Filipino people. As described in the book “Edades, National Artist,” the artwork had Quezon standing in the center “directing scientists at work with test tubes and other equipment; on his right was a woman with a cross, symbolizing Christianity. Sickly people who would be cured by medical science and faith were also depicted.” This was a collaborative work of National Artist Edades together with Anita Magsaysay-Ho, and Consuelo Lee, a student. The mural was unfortunately destroyed by Japanese soldiers during WWII.  

Passport photo with signature of Juan F, Nakpil, 1920 on his departure for the U.S. to pursue further studies in architecture and engineering. Source: National Archives and Records Administration

Liberation would come after a gruelling, bloody, and destructive Battle of Manila which raged from February to March 1945. The Quezon Institute was designated as the 227th Station Hospital, treating wounded soldiers. Compared to other structures which were badly battered by the war, the Quezon Institute suffered comparatively less damage. 

Connecting the buildings and pavilions are open, breezy  bridges overlooking vast spaces of greenery, “which because of the terrain, microclimate, and vegetation (were deemed) beneficial for tuberculars (by doctors)” as stated by Michael Pante in his article, “Peripheral Pockets of Paradise,” published in Philippine Studies 59 (2), 2011.

In a Facebook post, heritage advocate and practitioner, Paulo Alcazaren once wrote about these bridges: “Juan Nakpil used several of these elegant bridges to connect the pavilions with each other and with the main building (the Administration Building). They allowed safe, sun and rain-protected circulation throughout the entire complex. Amazing! Look closely...the bridges also deftly mediate changes in grade. The detailing is superb here as well as in the entire complex.  Natural light and ventilation pervades all spaces inside.”                

The former PCSO Main Office building at the Quezon Institute.

Alcazaren further wrote in the same post: “The QI is a masterpiece of Filipino architecture, interior design, site planning and landscape architecture. The QI is arguably the largest intact institutional complex and prime example of Tropical Art Deco in the country...possibly in Asia.  The QI’s bridges, seamless continuity, and level of architectural cohesion in style, functionality, and facade treatment, the way the complex sits comfortably in its site, all make it distinctive, distinguished, and delightful. It is a natural treasure. It would be an unthinkable tragedy to lose this.”

Architect Juan Nakpil must have been particularly proud of the Quezon Institute that he chose it as backdrop for a portrait taken of him by ace photographer Dick Baldovino published in Asia Magazine’s December 1963 issue.

Photo of a United Nations Party entertaining injured US Army soldiers and personnel during the early Post-War years when QI served as 227th Station Hospital, 3 April 1945.

Quezon’s fight 

The Quezon Institute under the Philippine Tuberculosis Society continued to grow and at one time operated 11 pavilions as well as chest clinics and dispensaries all over the Philippines.

As recounted by Sol Gwekoh in his book, “Manuel L. Quezon, His Life and Career,” in 1940, President Quezon underwent an X-ray examination at the Quezon Institute.  His attending physicians, Drs. Antonio G. Sison and  Miguel Cañizares pronounced him hale and hearty as his X-rays showed that his lungs,  maorta, and heart were in perfect condition. 

QI Medical Director Dr. Miguel Cañizares showing a table model of the Quezon Institute Complex to Eleanor Roosevelt during her visit to Manila. Source: Posted by Elizabeth Cañizares Brucker in Manila Nostalgia

However, in November of that year, he was ill again. After recuperating aboard the presidential yacht, the Casiana, and at the Mansion House in Baguio, he returned to Manila and went straight to his Marikina home. After a few days, he motored to the Quezon Institute together with his physicians for his periodic examinations. An X-ray of his chest during one of these visits showed his recuperative powers. His physicians found out that the inflammatory processes in both lungs had subsided and had healed rapidly. In his 20-minute visit, Quezon appeared in excellent spirits: he did not use his portable wheelchair, but walked unassisted direct to the X-ray Department; he disdained wearing an X-ray gown and went bareback to the X-ray stand. He had lively conversations with Drs. Cañizares and Trepp. His X-ray results showed great improvement  and his weight returned to his normal 154 lbs. 

One of two state of the art operating rooms and one of two X-ray rooms at the Quezon Institute Administration Building. At the X-ray room are a tomograph (background) and an orthoskop (foreground).

He was fine but not for long. A photo taken on Christmas Eve the same year shows Quezon on a wheelchair—his tuberculosis had relapsed.          

The coming of WWII to the Philippines did not bode well for President Quezon’s health and the institute that bore his name. On August 1944 at Camp McMartin in Lake Saranac, New York, Quezon lost his long and valiant fight against the dreaded “White Plague.” It is indeed sad that a man who so courageously waged his twin battles against tuberculosis and his country’s independence did not live long enough to see them through.  


Japanese time 

The Quezon Institute waged its own battle for survival from the Japanese Occupation onwards. During World War II, the Japanese forces occupied the Quezon Institute which was run as an army hospital for their own sick and wounded.  The Japanese looted the compound. 

In January 1942, the tubercular patients and hospital staff were transferred to the San Juan De Dios Hospital in Intramuros, Manila which had also become a tuberculosis sanatorium. Those who chose to stay were murdered. Later, 78 of the remaining staff were incarcerated at Fort Santiago, in Intramuros. Forty eight of them died.  

At the entrance of the Quezon Institute is a Roll of Honor plaque dedicated to those who died and survived the Intramuros Concentration Camp. At the field in front of the Quezon Institute is a small memorial marker dedicated to the hospital staff who died during WWII, either at the Quezon Institute or at the Intramuros jail.  Fronting the memorial is a statue of the Madonna and Child as a testimony to the loving dedication the brave hospital staff had displayed.               

Fresco on the upper wall of the second story lobby of the QI Administration Building dated 1940, depicting President Quezon harnessing the efforts of the Filipino people in their fight against diseases such as TB. The fresco was a collaborative work of Victorio C. Edades, Anita Magsaysat-Ho, and Consuelo Lee which was unfortunately destroyed by the Japanese soldiers who occupied QI during WWII. Source: PresidentialMuseum and Library

A vivid description of Quezon Institute during WWII was described in Pacita Pestaño Jacinto’s entry dated August 4, 1942 in her published diary entitled Living with the Enemy: “Oscar (Pacita Pestaño’s husband) has just come back from Quezon City. We used to drive there in the old days, top down and doing sixty, till the small hours of the morning like two romantic ghosts under blue moonlight, dreaming dreams. It used to be such a lovely, clean-looking place. But Oscar says it has changed quite a lot. He says that the Quezon Institute, one of the largest and loveliest hospitals in the Islands, has been taken over by the Japanese. It used to be a landmark built on high ground, its simple garden so well cared for. Now there is dirty khaki linen hanging everywhere along the verandahs, draped under windows, even on the lovely shrubs. And what makes it truly unlovely is the sight of naked figures adorned with G-strings, squatting on the porch rails or walking among the canna flowers, like stunted ugly dwarfs.”   

Liberation would come after a gruelling, bloody, and destructive Battle of Manila which raged from February to March 1945. The Quezon Institute was designated as the 227th Station Hospital, treating wounded soldiers. Compared to other structures which were badly battered by the war, the Quezon Institute suffered comparatively less damage.  


Next: The future of the Quezon Insitute.