Saturday, February 17, 2007

Manila: Underneath the urban chaos hides Manila's former glory

I was at Binondo today to join in the Lunar New Year festivities. Since it was definitely going to be a traffic nightmare in Binondo, I decided to park at that unsightly shopping mall beside the City Hall of Manila (I must admit, I finally saw use for it... hehehe!) and walk to Chinatown from there. I also saw it as an opportunity to check out all the neglected heritage buildings along the way.

As I've mentioned over and over again, that uninteresting mall beside City Hall used to be where the elegant YMCA Building designed by Archt. William Parsons stood. Right beside it is an early post-war government building, one among many decrepit heritage buildings near City Hall, the former GSIS Headquarters. It was a pity looking at the building. From the architectural details, I could imagine just how chic it was during its heyday.

One thing the City Government of Manila lacks is creativity. There is such a thing as adaptive reuse Mayor Atienza. The GSIS Building could have been by used for the Unibersidad de Manila, and it would have been an elegant school building at that, instead of constructing that boring building in Mehan Gardens.

Aside from the fact that it was built on an important historical and archaeological site, it lessened the open space in Manila. We were discussing in my land use planning class yesterday that Filipinos seem to hate open spaces since when a local government sees one, they try to build something on it. In Mehan Gardens alone, Atienza had succeeded in constructing the UDM campus and Park & Ride. Check out this article for more details.

Anyway, right in front of UDM itself was another heritage government building that could also have been used by the UDM. But the National Waterworks and Sewage Authority building was obviously as derelict as GSIS. What a waste of architectural treasures right beside City Hall!

I continued my walk and saw that controversial DepEd building Atienza built in the Arroceros Forest Park. Oh brother! From outside, Arroceros was a sorry sight, heavily damaged by two typhoons, one named Milenyo and the other named Jose. If Winner Foundation was still on top of things, I'm sure the trees would have been rehabilitated immediately after Milenyo.

At the end of the road was the jewel of all decrepit heritage treasures in the vicinity of City Hall, the Metropolitan Theater. Need I say more?

I hope they are able to bring back the grandeur of that charming edifice which has Art Deco written all over it. But sadly, as early as now, one could already see that declared structures such as the Metropolitan Theater won't be spared by the elections. Attention Comelec, not only did Gabriela place their posters outside the designated posting areas, they violated PD1505 by desecrating a national historical landmark and had the gall to place their posters right beside the NHI marker at that!

At least across the street, Liwasang Bonifacio (formerly known as Plaza Lawton) had already been rehabilitated. Beside it, another imposing Manila landmark, the Central Post Office stands like a proud sentinel of Manila's former glory (before the city was carpet-bombed by American forces in the final days of the Second World War, it was among the great cities of Asia and the world). I guess there is a glimmer of hope for Manila's heritage.

I continued my walk across the Pasig River via the Jones Bridge. It's sad that they did not restore this bridge following the original plans of Archt. Juan Arellano. From the west side of the bridge, you could see Intramuros on your left and Binondo on your right. Again, amidst all the urban chaos, two buildings standout: the El Hogar Building and Pacific Commercial Building. I hope they restore these buildings soon.

At the end of the bridge, the Philtrust Bank Building (another grand pre-war building that should be restored) and a welcome arch greets visitors as they enter Chinatown. Along Quintin Parades Street, more Art Deco buildings still stand. And it was a pleasant surprise to see many of these old buildings freshly painted. And I also noticed that they are foreign banks, namely Citibank and HSBC which chose to locate in chic pre-war buildings. I guess it's because they know the value of the said buildings.

Anyway, my walk ended at the Binondo Church. Few people know that only the facade is original since the church was bombed too during the Second World War. But the current interior is just so nouveau riche, a cheap and pitiful imitation of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Binondo, with all its money could definitely do better than that.

Watch out for Part II tomorrow. Kiong Hee Huat Chai!
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