It was on the quays by the Pasig River that lighters, coming from trading ship anchored in the harbor would bring the goods into the river and unload them on the muelles or wharves.
The major wharves were the Muelle del Rio on Intramuros side and the Muelle de la Industria and Muelle de Banco Nacional on the Binondo side. According to Paolo Alcazaren, this thriving trade led to the construction of warehouses and the increasingly elegant houses of business and commerce –office and banks.
Four structures along Muelle de la Industria and Muelle de Banco Nacional have stood the test of time. Although some are neglected to decay, they form an elegant architectural cluster in the neo-classic style that was fashionable at the time they were built.
Along Muelle de la Industria is the El Hogar Building. Built in 1914, the five storey building housed the first Filipino financing institution and a number of offices. Alcazaren describes the façade of “having a classic rhythm of large arched windows providing well-lit and ventilated offices (air-conditioning was not yet de rigueur). The offices were reached through an inner courtyard corridor and stairs that boasted ornate balustrades and newel posts, a different one for each floor.”
Across El Hogar is an equally elegant structure. Formerly the First National City Bank, it was built in 1915. The building’s façade according to Alcazaren is “a formal combination of a strong rusticated base, followed by the main three storey mass of building. This mass is accented with Ionic columns on each side framing the building fenestration, which includes cast-iron-like spandrel panels.” The architects of El Hogar and the First National City Bank remain anonymous.
English architect GH Hayward designed the Honkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Building (behind El Hogar) in 1912.The upper floors was leased out to other foreign firms such as Sun Life of Canada and the Smith, Bell and Company while HSBC moved into the first floor.
Alcazaren noted HSBC of having “a distinctive top of twin finials. The architect may have previously worked on the Indian subcontinent. Its finials bear a resemblance to Sir Edwin Lutyens’ embellishments on the civic structures of the Imperial New Delhi. In any case, this building sits as probably the last remaining building of the British Empire on these shores”.
The fourth edifice is the China Bank Building which was built in 1924.
Alcazaren pointed out that these houses of business and commerce “reinforced the area’s standing as the city’s premier banking district. From the mid-1920s onwards, other buildings sprouted around these three. For all these buildings the neo-classic style ruled the day, and their robust elegance marked the peak of Binondo and Escolta as the city’s economic center.”
Source: Paolo Alcazaren, Pasig River of Life.