As we emerged from the gate at right side of Sta. Cruz Church, two impressive buildings attracted us to cross the bridge spanning Estero de la Reina. The majestic buildings, one with fancy Art Deco elements and another in an elegant Beaux-Arts architecture stood face-to-face each other as if competing in grandness at the entrance of Manila’s historic high street –Calle Escolta.

Manila’s Historic High Street

Money and power once passed the old Calle Escolta. During the Spanish period, the Governor-General with his official escorts or escolta (hence the name) passed by this short stretch lined by one storey Chinese shops called camarines from Malacanang on his way to his office in Intramuros.

At the time when Jose Rizal’s Crisostomo Ibarra strolled old Binondo, cobblestones imported from Hongkong  paved the historic thoroughfare. The old rows of camarines has been replaced by glorified bahay-na-bato adorned with Neo-Classical elements like Greek columns and caryatids. In the last years of the Spanish Empire, only European establishments were permitted to do business in Escolta.

In the 1900’s, Escolta was the country’s premier shopping destination. 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, respectively. 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.

However, it was in the 1960’s when the prestige of Escolta gradually faded while pristine Makati and urbanized Quezon City were dramatically emerging as the country’s commercial and business districts.

Art Deco Perez-Samanillo Building

By the second half of the 2oth century, the jazzed-up architectural style known as Art Deco manifested in the Philippines. In Escolta, the First United Building, formerly Perez-Samanillo Building is one of the few surviving specimens of the Art Deco age in the city.

Built in 1928 by Andres Luna de San Pedro, the pink Art Deco building was once described as Manila’s foremost business address. It prides itself in enticing would be tenants of maximized space, abundant lighting and ventilation and a large amount of architectural and decorative elements.

While looking at the building’s awesome façade, our eyes were drawn at its central bay that rises towards a crowning block rendered with a bass relief of the Creation.

Beaux-Arts Regina Building

Facing the Art Deco Perez-Samanillo Building, in graceful white Beaux-Arts architecture is the Regina Building . Built in 1934 also attributed to Juan Luna’s son – Andres Luna de San Pedro, it was originally designed as a three-storey commercial building. When the de Leon family bought the building from the Roxases, a fourth floor was added by architect Fernando Ocampo -founder of the UST College of Architecture.

The senate staff of the late Senator Vicente Madrigal (grandfather of Ms. Jamby Madrigal) rented a suite in Regina Building while on the same floor across the hall was the office Madrigal Shipping, then the world’s largest tramp steamship company.

Like giant sentinels, the Perez-Samanillo and Regina buildings stood the test of time guarding the Sta. Cruz entrance of Escolta.

Landmark Buildings

The Burke Building with its simple balance lines was the location of the first elevator in the Philippines. The building was named after the cardiologist William J. Burke who introduced and installed the first electrocardiograph in the country.

International style expressed by the prevalent use of sun baffles were represented by the  Madrigal, the Panpisco and by the old Philippine National Bank buildings ( The old PNB was the site of Crystal Arcade, the first fully air-conditioned commercial building in the country).

Although marred by tangled electrical cables, there were more eye-catching architectural masterpieces that greeted us as we walked deeper down the street such as the charming Natividad Building which evokes a French café in a Parisian neighborhood and the Calvo Building with its stunning beaux-arts architecture.

Calvo Museum and the First Kapuso

The 1933 Calvo Building is home to a little known museum in Escolta. The museum was recently put together to showcase a bygone era through old photographs, turn-of-the-century newsprints, detailled scale models of Escolta’s architectural landmarks and an impressive Vintage Bottle Collection.

The Escolta museum also has information revealing the history that took place on its fourth floor.

When American war correspondent Robert Stewart sent the first signal of radio station DZBB from a makeshift studio in the Loreto F. de Humedes, (later Republic Broadcasting System), he has already given birth to country’s largest television network –the Kapuso Network -GMA 7.

Capitol Theater

There were two theater cinemas along Escolta –Lyric and Capitol. Both high class movie houses brought the glitz and glitter of Hollywood to Manila. Lyric Theater was an Art Deco masterpiece by Pablo Antonio while Capitol Theater was designed by Juan Nakpil. Sadly, the former  has been demolished while the latter has long seized operation, abandoned for decades and is in dire state.

As we walked across the street from Calvo Building, Capitol Theater stood majestically amidst its decaying and dilapidated shell. Built in the 1935, this Art Deco jewel once had mounted on its balcony a wall mural by Filipino modernist Vitorio Edades.

On the face of its western tower were bas-reliefs attributed to the Italian atelier Francesco Ricardo Monti. These relieves show Filipina (one holding a mask and another holding a lyre) in traje de mestiza frame by evocative Art Deco lines and curves.

Plaza Moraga

The entire stretch of Escolta is less than a kilometer long with both ends extending into impressive open spaces. We exited Escolta and stepped into Plaza Moraga.

Named after the first parish priest of Paco, Fray Fernando de Moraga, the plaza was the site of the first ice cream parlor in the country. Clarke’s Café became a sensation when it opened in 1899. Although, like all other establishments in Escolta, the phenomenal ice cream parlor has closed down except for Savory Restaurant which still serves their signature savory chicken.

From the foot of Jones Bridge we walked towards the stately Chaco Building (now owned by Philtrust) and slipped under the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch to begin the Binondo Heritage Trail Walking Tour. But that’s another story.

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. sad to say po that Nasunog yung Savory :((

  2. The govt.thru the tourism dept.,historical commision,nat’l.culture & arts,lgu-manila, will work for the restoration & preservation of these old heritage bldgs.for our future generation and tourist attraction as well.

  3. For more than decade things and places have change..i never know that the famous Plaza Cervantes are now Plaza Moraga.60s &70s where money is easy to earned..the place Escolta is a busy street..we sometimes there .Capitol & State theater..are the Finest 1st run movie house.and all kind of imported merchandise to look for…

  4. Hello! I wonder, san sa Escolta nagbebenta ng lumang pera? I’m so near that place and yet I feel alienated to it! I hope there are antique shops, I’m looking for antique keys.

  5. Do you know the contact no. of the museum in Calvo Building?

  6. Sadly, Escolta is really just a shadow of its old self. When the commerce shifted to Makati and other places in the 80s, most of the old buildings were either converted into office spaces, abandoned or demolished. I hope the next mayor of Manila will heed your advice and put back life into the strip. There’s much history just waiting to be told to the younger generation that’s just right under our noses.

  7. Hi TOF, What cool old buildings! I’d like to visit the Escolta Museum too. Are these mostly now housing businesses or office space? Although some still look in remarkable condition, do you think that they will ever be refurbished back to their former glory? If only those old buildings could talk–they would have a lot of stories to tell…
    Also, I was surprised to see the old money vendors in the pics. Is that something that one would find on Escolta Street or in the Binondo district? My husband collects old Philippine banknotes and coins, and that’s the first we’ve seen any for sale out like that.

    • Hi queeniebee. The old banknotes and coins are being sold along the side street before entering Escolta.

      There have been plans of making the entire stretch into an I.T. hub or an art and cultural district. Some of the buildings are sound and I know that office spaces can be leased at a low price compared to commercial spaces in malls and Makati buildings. I hope the local government develop the place into a artsy district for art galleries and art films.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 442 other followers

%d bloggers like this: