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IN PHOTOS: Photographs, teddy bears, and other scenes from Sofitel's last day of operations

By NICK GARCIA Published Jul 01, 2024 5:57 pm

For nearly five decades, Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila wasn't just a luxurious hotel, it was an integral part of Manila's social and cultural scene. Couples exchanged vows overlooking the stunning view of Manila Bay, families celebrated milestones at the famous Spiral buffet, and countless galas and events filled the grand ballrooms with lasting memories.

But on its last day of operations, June 30, Sunday, hotel employees wearing neatly pressed black suits take turns photographing each other by the lobby, the front desk, and the spiral stairway. Dozens of guests walk to and from the hallway with their luggage, even as others enjoy gastronomic delights on the ground floor.

Last May, the five-star hotel announced that it was closing its doors after nearly five decades. It said the decision is part of its "ongoing commitment" to providing the "best possible experience" to staff and guests.

Its buffet restaurant Spiral and sports bar Snaps also bid their goodbyes a day before the closure.

Sofitel guests wait at the lobby during the hotel's last day of operations on June 30.

Nevertheless, that fateful day seemed like a normal day of service to patrons.

Patrons of ages and nationalities couldn't help but take selfies and document the moments during their final booking with the place.

An orchestra played its renditions of popular hits that included British rock band Coldplay's Viva La Vida and P-pop girl group BINI's Pantropiko on the iconic stairway, as guests admired its performances from upstairs and took videos of its last hurrah.

To mark the final day, Sofitel staff distributed teddy bears of varying sizes to departing guests. They also served six flavors of ice cream to everybody.

Sofitel staff distribute teddy bears to outgoing guests on its final day.

Then came more photos involving Sofitel workers, whether from the hotel's official photographers, groufie, or even the 0.5. Others also took what seemed to be materials for Reels.

Edna Reyes, a 65-year-old retired doctor from Eastwood who frequents Sofitel with her family and friends, told L!fe that her visit was "melancholic."

A Sofitel guest lines up to get free ice cream.

"(Since the announcement of the closure), we've been trying to book many times for lunch, buffet, and dinner," Reyes said. "But then, (it's already) fully booked."

Reyes, who was with her friend on Sofitel's last day, sat at the lobby mostly after their breakfast, observing the throngs of people who would be in the popular hotel for the last time.

"That's why we're hanging on right now. We just wanted to feel (the place)," she added.

Sofitel, originally named the Philippine Plaza, was built in 1973 and started its operations in 1976, during the martial rule of Ferdinand E. Marcos. It was designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin and Isidro Santos.

Owned by the Government Service Insurance System, the property was one of 12 hotels whose construction was rushed at the behest of First Lady Imelda Marcos for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank in Manila in 1976.

After the annual meeting, the property was managed by the Westin brand as part of the global Starwood hotel chains and was known as Westin Philippine Plaza until 2005. Westin made renovations to the property in 1994 and 1995.

In 2006, AccorHotels got the management contract and renamed it Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila.

Sofitel guests pay their final visit before the hotel's closure.

The hotel was reminiscent of 19th-century architecture and has shades of red, brown, orange, gold, and cream in the interiors. It also had Filipino elements like bamboo, wood, shells, and seeds.

One of Sofitel's best features was the Grand Plaza Ballroom, which can accommodate over a thousand guests. It can be divided into three smaller bedrooms called Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, named after the Philippines' major island groups.

Its 180-degree steel staircase was also a fixture for generations of guests. Illuminated by a seven-tiered crystal lighting fixture, it had intertwined patterns in matte gold and black marquina granite finish.

Several social media users reminisced about their stays in the hotel and how they celebrated milestones like birthdays, graduations, and weddings.

"I will miss the ambiance the most," Reyes told L!fe. "I've been used to going to different hotels and buffets, but Sofitel is the best."