I’ve taken to sketching landmarks of Manila in the last 20 months of the pandemic. I usually do these in batches according to the districts they are located in. In this article we feature illustrations of landmark buildings in the historic Manila districts of Ermita and Malate.
We start with Ermita, one of the oldest arrabales (suburbs) outside Intramuros. On Padre Faura Street we find the iconic Solidaridad Bookshop of F. Sionil Jose. The colorful National Artist for Literature awardee passed away recently and the cultural world has grieved the loss.
My column “City Sense” actually started from a reply I crafted to a 1999 essay of his, published in The Philippine STAR, on the sad state of Philippine architecture.
On the strength of the recommendations of two friends — sculptor Ramon Orlina and editor Myrza Sison — Lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil printed my reply. I had challenged Jose’s views but did not totally disagree with him on the subject. I've not stopped writing for The STAR since.
Solidaridad, despite its small physical size, is a landmark for literary cognoscenti on Padre Faura. I’ve patronized the shop only a number of times, but hope it is declared an important cultural site.
Its neighbor, Ibarra's Garden, is another iconic structure on this street named after Father Federico Faura, the Jesuit scientist who pioneered typhoon prediction. The restaurant was adaptively reused from a postwar residence. Its front porch has similarities to the facade of the old Jai Alai. The house is actually one of twin back-to-back structures (the other faces Arquiza Street).
I had disagreed with Sionil Jose's last essays and strong views on Maria Ressa's Nobel award, as well as other national issues. It is unfortunate that his oeuvre in the last chapter of his life was not as brilliant as his earlier work. His legacy from earlier novels, like the Rosales Saga collection, and hopefully the bookshop, will be what persist. The country is indebted to him for these contributions.
The Supreme Court of the Philippines
Padre Faura was the address of two key educational institutions: the University of the Philippines and the Ateneo de Manila. After the war, the state university moved to Diliman and the Supreme Court took over the campus’ main buildings.
UP Manila does use some of what remained, but the rest of the campus was divided between the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, with the rest sold to the WHO and Philamlife company (now an SMDC project site).
The Supreme Court building is featured in this sketch was originally the Main Library of the university before the war. Designed by architects of the Bureau of Public Works, it was a noted landmark of the American colonial period and a masterpiece of the neo-classic. With the pending move of the Supreme Court to a new building in BGC, there have been suggestions to give the old building back to the UP.
UP Manila Museum
Across the street from the Supreme Court is the UP Manila Museum, also known by its formal name, The Museum of a History of Ideas. The structure was formerly the UP Infirmary and then the UP College of Dentistry before it was remade into a museum. The renovation and adaptive reuse was led by noted modernist architect Ed Calma. The museum itself was curated by Marian Pastor Roces. It was inaugurated in October 2014.
The museum “celebrates the contributions of the University to the critical imagination that shaped the Philippines as a nation in the early 20th century.” It houses a substantive display that narrates the improvements to healthcare and education that the institution has made and still retains as its overarching national goals.
I wish the whole UP Manila and UP PGH Complex could be provided with enough funds to conserve its heritage structures and site, as well as improve its functionality. Hopefully this would be with more accommodations to green space, pedestrians and universal access. Current initiatives are already on the way with renovations to the ER and other departments following designs by architect and hospital specialist Dan Lichaoco.
A few blocks away from Padre Faura is the Luneta Hotel. Designed by Spanish architect-engineer Salvador Farre and completed in 1919, the hotel was one of the first multi-story concrete buildings in Manila. Located on TM Kalaw Street, the hotel was neighbor to the University building, a similar structure completed a decade after.
The Luneta hotel continued as a hotel in the postwar years. It deteriorated physically in the ’60s and ’70s and eventually was shuttered. It served as a museum of Philippine costumes sometime in the 1970s and was also used as a location shoot for one of Chuck Norris’ action films (doubling as a Saigon hotel by temporarily removing the “e” in Luneta, making it the Lun Ta Hotel!).
In the 1990s it was shuttered again but was renovated a decade ago as a luxury hotel. Hopefully post-pandemic it will continue to serve as such.
Rajah Sulayman Plaza and Malate Church
We move to neighboring Malate and two open spaces there with key structures. The first is Plaza Rajah Sulayman, a welcoming large open space fronting the historic Malate Church. A large Ed Castrillo monument to the rajah anchors the plaza, which also has a huge fountain that is relatively well maintained.
I believe Mayor Isko Moreno has plans to connect the plaza to the Baywalk across Roxas Boulevard but in the meantime, the plaza stands as a good respite for all the urban expansion in the district.
The Malate Church dedicated to Our Lady of Remedies has been there since the 1860s, although the original structures it replaced date from two centuries before. The church has a well-established parish and is popular with tourists. The façade has recently been conserved by the artisans of the Escuella Taller de Manila.
We end with a fitting place to top off any tour or night out: Café Adriatico on Remedios Circle. Remedios Circle was the cemetery of the Malate Church, hence its circular geometry similar to Paco Park’s form. The Americans removed the cemetery and established Manila South Cemetery (in today’s Makati) as a replacement.
Café Adriatico is the culinary anchor of the district. The late Larry Cruz’s mothership is one of the only ones left from the heyday of the ’90s when restos and bars on Orosa and Nakpil ruled the scene. That was before BGC and now Poblacion wrested that metropolitan function for the party people of Metro Manila.
Here’s hoping Malate and Ermita experience a revival in post-pandemic times. These two historic districts still have great potential and, depending on who takes over for Mayor Moreno next year, we look forward to these landmarks regaining their shine and popularity.