FEU GOOD MEN. Heritage tours take us far back in time. Old structures serve as our time machine. Our tour guides are like the Dr. Emmett Brown from the 90’s film Back to the Future. And we, tour participants were like Marty McFly who are excited to be transported to the past.
In our recent FEU Heritage Tour, Rence Chan and Martin Lopez were the Dr. Brown. Rence, an alumnus recall campus life and shared his knowledge on the plant life thriving on campus grounds. Martin, the university’s director on culture led us to every piece of artwork incorporated into the school’s Art Deco structure. And together with the FEU Guides, a group of student and alumni volunteers who gave tour participants a gracious welcome into their campus, they represent FEU’s good men and women.
HERITAGE BUILDINGS. The FEU heritage tour takes us to the Art Deco decade. It was in 1939 when London-trained architect Pablo Antonio designed and built what we see today as the largest Art Deco architectural ensemble in the country. Antonio became National Artist for Architecture in 1976 and the building he designed for FEU were recognized as an important cultural and heritage structure by UNESCO in 2005.
Historically, the Japanese took over the Art Deco buildings during World War II. It became the headquarters of the notorious Kempetai. During the Liberation of Manila, the campus was occupied by the American forces. After the war, more building were put up with architecture and design following Antonio’s Art Deco.
ANTONIO’S ART DECO. Art Deco came to the Philippines a few years after its introduction to Europe in 1925. It was considered as a progressive and modern style in an era dominated by Neoclassical architecture for government and school buildings.
Antonio’s Art Deco, in the words of the late San Beda College rector, Fr. Bernardo Ma. Perez, OSB were marked by certain boldness, the play of planes and volumes and strong and dynamic movement. Antonio brought home with him an imported template of streamline shapes and curves evocative of steam ship liners. Seen in FEU buildings, are geometric patterns that form the concrete columns, the decorative grillwork and the stylized lettering at the end of staircase bannisters.
OLD SWAMPLAND. The tour started at the vast campus quadrangle dotted by tropical trees and ornamental plants. Here, Rence pointed out that the school grew out of a swampland abundant with aquatic plants locally called kiapo.
The swampland was part of the old Manila district of Quiapo that took it’s name from the aquatic plant. As the new structures were built, new land filled the swamp. Today, a few river stones and some aquatic kiapo in the central pond serve as a reminder of the old swampland.
ENTENG BRONZE AND PIECES. Central to the quadrangle are cubistic human figures in bronze by National Artist Vicente Manansala. In canvas, Mang Enteng is famous for his overlapping planes known as Transparent Cubism. In this one-of-a-kind sculpture, the cubism master applied his trademark style by breaking human figures into planes and surface and arranging them into a tableau around the central flag pole.
Framed by trees is a mosaic of the Our Lady of Fatima gracing the facade of the FEU chapel. This pieces of glass is another rare masterpiece by Manasala.
BOTONG MURALS. Martin led us up the FEU chapel. As we climb the steps, all we could do was gasp in awe at the cinematic mural of the Stations of the Cross by National Artist Carlos Botong Francisco. The Botong murlas are made of three massive panels, the two murals on both sides of the chapel that tell the story of the Via Crucis and a central panel by the altar depicting the Crucifixion.
At the Crucifixion panel, we immediately noticed the fading circles by the foot of the crucified Christ. Martin revealed that it originally meant to be the halo for the statue of the Our Lady of Fatima that was taken down to the side of the altar and replaced by the tabernacle.
RELIGIOUS ART. The FEU chapel was designed in the 1950s following the International style by architect Felipe Mendoza. Religious icons of St. Jude, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Our Lady of Fatima were commissioned by the leading santero of the time, Maximo Vicente.
A Filipinized version of Michaelangelo’s La Pieta by National Artist Napoleon Abueva has an exclusive space inside this sacred ground for religious art.
NICK JOAQUIN’S MEDALLION. Important of all the FEU buildings is the Nicanor Reyes Hall. This is the second building designed by Pablo Antonio after the first building was demolished to give way to the road development on Quezon Boulevard. Named after the school’s founder, it houses a library of antique books and a permanent exhibit dedicated to Nick Joaquin. The exhibit shows all sorts of memorabilia, books, a typewriter with an unfinished draft for a prose and lots of photos of the National Artist for Literature.
One of the photos shows Nick Joaquin wearing the National Artist medallion. As a devotee of La Naval de Manila, it is said that Nick offered the chain of gold-plated bronze to the Virgin. I have yet to see the treasures of the La Naval and confirm the story about Nick Joaquin’s medallion.
THE FIRST CCP. The Administration Building houses the FEU Auditorium. Before National Artist Leandro Locsin built the Cultural Center of the Philippines on a reclaimed land in Roxas Boulevard, Pablo Antonio’s FEU Auditorium is as considered the country’s cultural center. It played host to performances from ballet to orchestra concerts. It has a revolving stage like the one we saw in Les Miserable.
The Administration Building is also home to a huge mural and a triptych made of beer bottles by the great Antonio Dumlao. A contemporary of National Artist Vicente Manasala and H.R. Ocampo, Dumlao was entrusted to do the restoration work on Juan Luna’s Spoliarium when the large painting was shipped from Spain to Manila in the 1960s.
FOUNDER’S KEEPERS. The Administration Building has an exhibit dedicated to the university’s former presidents and to its founder. In the exhibit are photos, the founder’s typewriter, including the founder’s desk. Made of heavy kamagong, the huge table was carted away by the Japanese invaders and was later retrieved after the war. There is also a bronze mace depicting a sarimanok designed by artist Galo Ocampo. The ceremonial mace is the symbol of authority of the university president.
EPILOGUE. While in front of the portrait of Dr. Nicanor Reyes by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, Martin narrated a story that took us to February 9, 1945 at Reyes home in Malate. In Martin’s voice: As the Japanese began a systematic exit of the city by going from house to house, killing anyone they found. It was too late for the Reyes family to escape. Before he was led away, the President in all dignity said to his daughter, Be brave. ‘Be brave’ were the founder’s last words before he died in the hands of the enemy. This legacy is carried on to this day by FEU’s good men and women.
-Eve of Philippine Independence Day 2015