The Post Office was an important facility in pre-war Manila. The newly established American Government needed official communication for governance and commerce. But why build a Post Office beside the Pasig?
According to Paolo Alcazaren, “in those days riverbeds or streamers transported the mail, along with most goods. Airplanes and even buses had to wait a few decades more to be used with any regularity.” The goods were unloaded on muelles or wharves. The vibrancy of those Glory Days by the Muelles led to the construction of structures like warehouses, banks, the custom house and the post office on the river banks.
The Post Office was one of several government buildings envisioned by the famous urban planner Daniel Burnham. Burnham designed Manila after Washington D.C. Alcazaren noted that “he (Burnham) placed the national capitol at the Luneta with supporting offices around it, and even more government offices in a string composed of the national library, the national museum, the national exposition building (our Smithsonian), and finally the national post office by the river.”
US-trained Filipino architect Juan Arellano designed the Post Office. It was his obra maestra in the neo-classic expression along with the original Jones Bridge and the old Legislative Building (formerly the National Museum now known as the National Arts Gallery).
Completed in 1931, the five-storey concrete structure used columns and capitals of the Ionic order. Adapted for the tropics, its rectangular mast with two semi-circular drums on each end has an atrium in the middle that provides natural ventilation and light. The highly decorated ceiling and marble wainscoting assumed to be the handiwork of the sculptor Isabelo Tampingco, whom Arellano often worked with.
The Post Office by the Pasig River won praises from as far as New York City –from the famous architects Mckim, Mead and White (architects of the Chicago Columbian Exposition, the Boston Library, and majority of the neo-classic building in New York).
Information source: Paolo Alcazaren from an essay in Pasig: River of Life