Centuries ago English kings and queens had to ask permission from the mayor of London before entering the ancient city. In 18th century Manila, governor-generals left their cavalry escort in Calle Escolta and walked the bridge across the estero to Plaza Sta. Cruz where the principales of Binondo would be waiting to accompany the viceroy of Spain to their wealthy district.
Plaza Sta. Cruz was to serve as neutral ground for a historic event when the British Surrendered the Key of the City of Manila to Don Simon de Anda in 1764.
The historic district of Sta. Cruz started as a Jesuit mission where Governor-General Alonso Fajardo founded the Colegio de San Ildefonso, on the site of the present church in the 1720s. From this developed the parish and borough of the Sta. Cruz, which the Jesuits managed until their expulsion in 1768.
Enshrined in the 17th century Sta. Cruz Church is the Nuestra Señora del Pilar whose feast is celebrated every third Sunday of October. In the olden days, the fiesta was the talk of the town for the vanity of its women, of whom it is said that they marched in the festive procession of their patroness covered with jewels from head to foot.
Sta. Cruz Church is surrounded by three open spaces; Plaza Sta. Cruz in front, Plaza Goiti at the rear, and a wide street on the right leading to Calle Escolta. In the 1900s, these areas came to be known as downtown Manila. The centerpiece of the Plaza Sta. Cruz is the 19th century Carriedo Fountain, which honors the legacy of philanthropist Don Francisco Carriedo y Perredo who left in his will the establishment of the first waterworks system for Manila.
On Plaza Goiti stood Monte de Piedad, where businessmen were said to hang around its porch to catch the latest news before it broke. It was in same bank where Manuel Quezon worked as a clerk before starting his political career.
Plaza Goiti, was also the city’s transportation network, where the tranvia ferried commuters to old Manila‘s major thoroughfares. Named after Martin de Goiti, the busy plaza was renamed Plaza Lacson in honor of the city’s first elected mayor, Arsenio H. Lacson.
Across the street from the right side of the church is Calle Escolta, the country’s premier shopping destination at that time. It was home to high-end stores like La Estrella del Norte and Puerta del Sol which marked the east and west entrances of the narrow thoroughfare. Fine household items can be purchased at H.E. Heacocks and Oceanic. While Fashionable clothes were displayed at Berg’s, quality leather and shoes were stocked at Hamilton Brown or Walkover Shoes. Botica Boie, mixed potent medicines and served the best soda and clubhouse sandwich in town.
Sta. Cruz was then already noted for its heavy traffic and thriving commerce even during the Spanish period. But the heavy traffic was on the muelles and esteros, where rafts coming from trading ships anchored in Manila Bay and cascoes that rowed from provinces unload their produce and other goods on the Muelles along Pasig River and on drop off points along esteros at Sibakong and at the foot of Escolta bridge.
The esteros that crisscrossed through and around Sta. Cruz were clean and fast-flowing then. This afforded the chief means of transportation, not only around the borough, but also to other districts like Binondo.
The major event in the district’s pre-war history was the opening of Avenida Rizal. The demolition of the all the houses that stood between Dulumbayan and Calle Salcedo caused the exodus of the district’s old time residents.
World War II gravely devastated downtown Manila. Several buildings around Plaza Sta. Cruz, along Escolta, and newly opened Avenida Rizal were heavily charred and pockmarked during the Liberation of Manila. The old Sta. Cruz Church was completely destroyed. But the image of the Virgen del Pilar was hidden in the vault of the Philippine National Bank on Escolta during the last months of the war.
- Feast Day of the Virgen del Pilar de Manila