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Remembrances and the streets of Manila

August 20, 2006 02:59:00
Luis R. Sioson
Inquirer

CERTAIN sections of Ermita, Sta. Cruz, Binondo and Quiapo are fascinating pieces in the city of Manila’s mosaic. But the plazas seem to have shrunk because there are more people and motor vehicles.

The churches, on the other hand, remain durable and visible landmarks, spiritual sanctuaries for hundreds of pedestrians and visitors. People ply various trade on streets and sidewalks among old buildings and structures, testaments to time’s quick passage.

The pace is slower in the Ermita of the Guerreros than in Sta. Cruz and Quiapo across the Pasig River to the north. There is more space in this district that still bears traces of its genteel past. Shady trees line some of its streets and a few old homes still exude the elegance of a bygone era.

On T. M. Kalaw Street, just off noisy (and polluted) Taft Avenue that intersects UN Avenue (formerly Isaac Peral), one can retreat to the quiet of the United Central Methodist Chapel hidden in the shadows of a large mall that replaced the old Harris Memorial Building.

The section, bounded on the south by Padre Faura Street, on the north by T. M. Kalaw (San Luis Street), on the east and west by Taft Avenue and Roxas Boulevard (Dewey Boulevard), respectively, is dominated by American Period buildings housing the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, University of the Philippines Manila and Philippine General Hospital.

The old Ateneo and its next-door neighbor, Assumption College on Adriatico Street (Dakota Street) and Pedro Gil (Herran), have been replaced by Robinson’s tower and a sprawling mall.

At the corner of Padre Faura and J. Bocobo Street (Nebraska) is a cream-colored residence- turned-restaurant, its charming balcony and stairway remarkably well maintained.

Oldest ‘real’ bookstore

The nearby Marietta Building also on Bocobo, has been re placed by a condominium. Ulog was a popular jazz joint on the same street. F. Sionil Jose’s Solidaridad Bookshop, probably the oldest “real” bookstore in the city, still sells books on P. Faura. Erehwon Bookshop, once the hangout of poets, English majors or anyone looking for hard-to-find books, was once a neighbor.

Za’s Café and Hizon’s Bakeshop at the corner of Arquiza and Bocobo streets still serve their famous ensaimadas, raisin bread and pricey coffee. The café has outlived the other coffee shops in the neighborhood—Taza de Oro, Country Bakeshop, Rolling Pin and United Supermarket’s.

To the west of Padre Faura, corner Roxas Boulevard, one faces the unsettling vista of rundown buildings side by side with a modern glass, steel and concrete structure. On this corner once stood a beautiful mansion owned by a prominent family. It became a bank later.

Ermita Church stands guard over the now quiet tourist belt and a row of naughty bars. The park in front of it is no longer called Plaza Ferguson but Nuestra Señora de Guia.

On UN Avenue is the Philamlife building. Inaugurated in 1961, it has a well-maintained theater that was (and still is) a venue for memorable musical performances and stage plays. The glass-paneled cafeteria, with its adjacent chapel and indoor garden, drew thousands of faithful patrons for lunch and merienda.

Across the avenue is the Manila Pavilion (formerly Manila Hilton and then Holiday Inn). Still eye-catching is the tall white and green Don Alfonso Sycip Building, standing at the corner of UN Avenue and M.H. del Pilar.

Delightful sight

On a quiet narrow street called Alhambra that connects UN Avenue to T.M. Kalaw, is the old Diokno house, a striking two-story white building with a black iron-railed balcony overlooking the street. It is a delightful sight amid towering structures and a tangle of telephone and television cables.

The renovated Bayview Hotel, built in 1935, still stands at the corner of UN Avenue and Roxas Boulevard. Across is the Bel-Air Apartment building, designed and constructed in 1937 by National Artist Pablo Antonio.

Opposite are the former Elks Building and the fabled Army and Navy Club where members of the elite hosted parties or watched plays staged by members of the American community.
Beyond the stretch of graceful apartments and glamorous hotels beckons Manila Bay where people watch magnificent sunsets.

Northward across Jones Bridge, are Plaza Moraga and Plaza Cervantes of Binondo. The conjoined squares that once comprised the city’s throbbing center of commerce now lie desolate in the shadows of aging buildings.

The El Hogar Filipino, almost a century-old, stands forlorn on the seedy southern end of Juan Luna Street (Anloague Street, where Capitan Tiago’s house in Jose Rizal’s “Noli me Tangere,” once stood). Standing beside it are the concrete remains of the old Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank on storied San Gabriel Street.

Farther north, intersecting Juan Luna, is Estraude Street where Rizal’s house was located and where his mother supposedly waited and prayed while he was being escorted to his execution in Bagumbayan (Luneta).

El Hogar, standing by the banks of the Pasig River, still has a number of tenants. Its ground floor gets flooded when the smelly Pasig River—thick and brownish—swells when filled with wild water lilies. The dank odor of old buildings follows you as you gingerly step on improvised wooden planks to avoid the muddy water.


Nearby, the old Insular Life Building facing the Uy Chaco Building (constructed in 1914) in Plaza Cervantes looks dreary and worn, shorn of its emblem of a proud eagle perched on top of its small dome. The top floor used to house radio station dzRH that featured in its programs popular movie stars at the time like Rosa Rosal, Jaime de la Rosa, Pugo, Tugo and other entertainers.

Rizal slept in this hotel

On the same small block stood the First National City Bank of New York and the Bank of the Philippine Islands. Paredes (Rosario) Street still does some business. Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz (Plaza Calderon de la Barca) in front of Binondo Church teems with pedestrians and motor vehicles. On this square once stood Hotel de Oriente, a “five-star hotel” that Rizal patronized.

Escolta has retained its name but not its unofficial title, “Queen of the Streets.” The Crystal Arcade, Botica Boie, Heacock’s, Alonzo, Estrella del Norte, Dencia’s Pansit Malabon, Max’s Fried Chicken, Henry’s Donuts and other well-known establishments are gone. But Savory Restaurant is still around.

A dying Escolta

Escolta has been dying all these years though some businesses still remain. First-run movie theaters Capitol and Lyric are long gone. Nueva Street, where Andres Bonifacio once worked as a sales agent of Fressell y Cia, now carries the name E.T. Yuchengco.

David Street is now Burke Street while across the City College of Manila (formerly the Philippine National Bank head office) is Calvo Building. Soda Street, the Love Bus terminal before, is unrecognizable.

The Perez-Samanillo Building (now First United) and Regina Building still stand strong, proud sentinels at the entrance to Escolta from Sta. Cruz Church. The Samanillo Building, constructed in 1930, was designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of painter-patriot Juan Luna.

Neglected and unnoticed by passersby is a historical marker honoring patriot-newspaperman Patricio Mariano on Banquero (Bangkero) Street, beside the Escolta Bridge, on the edge of a garbage-congested canal.

From the bridge to the left on Plaza Sta. Cruz, the historic Carriedo Fountain shoots out sprays of water that sparkle in the sun. The fountain stands between the Sta. Cruz Church and Monte de Piedad, the country’s oldest savings bank where Manuel L. Quezon, Commonwealth President, once worked as a clerk. The short Bustos Street links the plaza to Avenida Rizal.

The strip between the drab dirty-white Capitan Pepe Building and the equally drab dirty-white Priscilla Building on the Avenida Rizal-Recto Avenue intersection, southward to Carriedo Street and Plaza Lacson (Plaza Goiti), was the most popular part of downtown where one could eat, shop and see first-run movies.

The popular cinemas—Ideal, Universal Theater (now Universal Park Mall), Luzon Theaters’ Avenue and State, and Ever—are all gone. Some familiar landmarks like the Arguelles and Guison buildings remain, but the strip has been transformed into a pedestrian promenade with dusty alfresco cafés accented with balding worn-out topiaries.

Locksmiths on Ronquillo Street still practice their trade. Stores painted in loud Mediterranean colors of yellow, blue and red, and a barber shop crowd under the LRT Station on the Carriedo Plaza Lacson junction. This section has, quite accidentally, developed into a kind of open-air concert hall.

The crowds form a half circle to watch and listen to a blind duo of singer and guitarist, static distorting the sound of the music coming from an amplifier powered by a car battery. The blind musicians and their motley audience of commuters have carved out a space under the LRT tracks.

Distracting background

Further distorting the sound of music is a combination of the hard and heavy rhythmic roll of LRT cars, the ear-splitting sounds of videoke machines and the hoarse voices of ambulant peddlers.

On nearby Palanca Street (Echague), Henry Sy’s old Shoemart (some say the first, the original SM) still does brisk business.

Plaza Lacson honors the colorful Manila Mayor Arsenio “Arsenic” Lacson. He stands tall on a pedestal across the old Roman Santos Building topped by a big clock and stone sculptures.

The popular Clover Theatre that brought the public Don Jose Zarah’s Extravaganza and jazz pianist Ping Joaquin, has become the City College of Manila annex.

On the crowded streets leading to Quiapo Church and Plaza Miranda, Sta. Cruz and Quiapo meet, borderless and offering a mix of colors and scents of street food, fruit and flowers. The aromas of fishball, smoked fish, pineapple slices, flowers, burning candles, herbs, roasted castañas and other “chichiria” fill the air.

Platerias, barely visible on congested Carriedo Street, still offer hard-to-find “piezas” (music sheets).

The stretch from Sta. Cruz Church to Quiapo Church is almost impassable, choked by crowds, stalls and merchandise of all kinds. On Plaza Miranda, balloon vendors, fortune tellers and novena sellers vie for the attention of church goers.

Take a trip to nostalgia and enjoy the walk and the remembrance of things past and present. It will be good for your soul and your sole.

(Luis R. Sioson, president of the Torres High School Class 1955 Foundation, has been writing articles about Tondo and other districts of Manila.)

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