Plaza Calderon dela Barca was Plaza de Binondo then Plaza Carlos IV before it was named after the Spanish playwright. Today, it is also known as Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz, after the first Filipino saint whose statue dramatically stands on the plaza.
The late historian Teodoro Agoncillo described Plaza Calderon dela Barca as “one of the most impressive open spaces of old Manila.” It was lined with trees and beautifully landscaped with fountains at either ends. Mansions and large establishments surrounded the Plaza, on whose principal side was the church (Binondo Church) and two large buildings (a hotel and a tobacco factory).
The Hotel de Oriente and La Insular Cigar factory were the landmark structure gracing the Plaza Calderon dela Barca in Binondo. Both were architectural masterpieces of Spanish architect Juan Jose Huervas y Arizmendi.
Hotel de Oriente was considered the Philippines’ best lodging in 1899 by Americans first-timers to the Philippines. Its strategic location near the church of Binondo and the pretty view of the plaza’s manicured lawns and fountains contributed to its fame as the best hotel in Manila.
The hotel was opened in January 1889. It was an imposing three-storey high building with 83 rooms and stables for 25 horses, an attic, and a broad entrance floored and roofed in red clay tiles.
According to Lorelie de Viana, “the hotel was considered to be well ventilated and clean. Its interior was with its elaborate and attractive floral decorations. From the hotel ceiling were hung picturesque and spotless punkahs or huge broad fans which attendants standing in nearby corridors swung with a rope.”
Hotel de Oriente was plush for the period. It was where Rizal stayed upon his return from Hong Kong in 1892. The building was later converted in 1904 into offices of the Philippine Constabulary, American Circulating Library, Official Gazette, and the Commercial Museum.
There it stood until the last war. Partially destroyed in 1945 it was later torn down to give way to a huge building.
Another major architectural structure to grace the Plaza was the La Insular Tabacco and Cigar Factory. Agoncillo described the building to have “an imposing archway, a big courtyard, and broad staircase that gave one the impression that it was a palace.”
The three-storey structure was unique for it infusion of Neo-Mudejar motifs. The first and second floors had tall arched windows, marked off by bays by pilasters and mouldings. The third storey had a continuous stream of projecting balcony. It was generously ornamented with a balustrade and lamp posts.
The La Insular Tobacco and Cigar office and factory stood beautifully at the plaza for many years until its tragic destruction by fire in 1944.