The inauguration of Manila Hotel on July 4, 1912 was the climax of the Fourth of July festivities of that year. Standing on a reclaimed land in Manila Bay, the hotel was part of the original development proposed by Chicago’s fame city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham.
According to Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, the Manila Hotel was the most modern hotel in Asia when it was inaugurated in 1912. It was a statement of American gains in architecture and technological advances, and quickly became hub of a new tourism district. Older hotels and inns were initially inside Intramuros, but as business spread to the arrabales, especially in Santa Cruz, so did tourists and business lodgings.
The hotel was conceived as lodging for top brass Americans and to anyone of similar fair skinned. No Filipino (native) was allowed to stay as guest in the hotel. Until the term of most admired American Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison who broke the barriers by naming Filipino to the board of directors and inviting Filipinos as his guests in the hotel, Filipinos were uncomfortable at the Hotel and other American-owned recreational and leisure facilities.
In 1935, when President Manuel L. Quezon invited Douglas MacArthur to become the country’s Field Marshall and plan out a defense system, a seven-room penthouse at the government owned Manila Hotel was created to provide MacArthur with a home equal to, if not outshining the grandness of Malacanang. The renovation was executed by the best architect of the time, Andres Luna de San Perdro, son of the painter Juan Luna.
The suite which still carries MacArthur’s name was such a drain on the hotel’s finances that upon receiving the bill, Quezon immediately called his appointed mayor of Greater Manila, Jorge Vargas to settle the problem. The solution was to give MacArthur the honorary title as General Manager of the hotel to justify his free and luxurious living in his penthouse suit.
As proof that the MacArthur’s suite is the most luxurious living quarters in Manila, Japanese General Yamashita and later Japanese Premier Tojo preferred to use the suite as their home during the Japanese Occupation. According to historian Ambeth Ocampo, “the Japanese had taken the a liking to the place probably because Mrs. MacArthur had left at the entrance to the suite two Japanese vases given to MacArthur’s father by the Emperor of Japan.”
Manila Hotel was burned during the 1945 Battle for Manila. Although it continued operations after the war, changes in management and problem with logistics tarnished the place. Ocampo noted that the only thing which kept its reputation “as a place of prestige in Asia” intact was its list of guests. The lists include: US Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, British royalty the Duke of Windsor, British pop sensation the Beatles, American actors Marlon Brando, Bob Hope, John Wayne, US Senator Edward Kennedy, the Rockefeller brothers, and American writer Ernest Hemingway. All of them contributed to the prestige and colorful history of Manila Hotel.