9 Beautiful Heritage Buildings Manila Has Lost

Our built heritage doesn't speak of local culture in the here and now; it also paints a picture of how people lived during the time of its construction. Despite laws protecting built heritage in the Philippines, somehow we find ways to erase these architectural milestones. So much for being the "Paris of the East."

Jai Alai Building along Taft Avenue

Acclaimed as one of the best examples of Art Deco design in Asia, people have praised this structure as one of the most beautiful Jai Alai buildings in the world. Built in the 1930s by American architect Welton Becket, the building boasted top-notch facilities, gaming rooms, a roof garden, and an air-conditioned dining area called Sky Room. Jai alai, a variation of Basque pelota, was considered a game for the elite, and the building reflected its status.

The building went through several owners and renovations. During World War II, it was a hospital for the U.S. Navy and it eventually served as headquarters of the Japanese military secret police. After the Battle of Manila, the building was reconstructed and transformed into a Red Cross service center called The Roosevelt Club, the largest of its kind in the world that time.

In the ‘80s, the building succumbed to deterioration and it was ordered to be demolished in 2000 by former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza.


The Savory Chicken House on Escolta

Known for their Chinese-style fried chicken, the Ting brothers actually started out as pancit peddlers in Quiapo. Their first branch was built in an iconic building in 1950 in what was once the country’s premiere commercial district, taking the place of the beautiful La Esmeralda building. Savory has  undergone several renovations over the decades, but has marked the same street corner since 1950. It was gutted by fire in 2015.


Crystal Arcade on Escolta

Before the Philippine Stock Exchange, there was the Crystal Arcade, then the most modern building in the country before the war. Created by Andres Luna de San Pedro, the same man responsible for Manila Hotel and the First United Building, this Art Deco building was known for being the first air-conditioned public structure in the country.

Inaugurated in 1932, it housed the Manila Stock Exchange as well as glass-walled shops that sold imported goods. The building was heavily damaged during the Battle of Manila, and was reconstructed after the war. However, the reconstructed building was not up to par, and was eventually demolished in 1966.

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Insular Life Building in Plaza Moraga

The original Insular Life Building was constructed on what used to be a Chinese cemetery, which is why rumors of hauntings spread upon its inauguration. Despite its spooky reputation, it was still considered one of the most prominent financial buildings of its time. In fact, it was the tallest structure in Manila before the war.

One of its identifying features was the eagle at the tip, a symbol one can also see in the company logo. Insular Life, by the way, is the first Filipino life insurance company in the country.

Meralco Head Office building on San Marcelino St.

An Art Deco building by Juan Arellano—the same man behind the Manila Metropolitan Theater—the Meralco Head Office was built in 1936. It survived the war and was considered an architectural gem largely because of the "Furies," the relief sculptures designed by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti on its facade. 


When Meralco eventually moved offices, the building fell into neglect, leading to its eventual demolition in 2014, despite protests from heritage groups.


PNB Office on Escolta

The Philippine National Bank office along Escolta was built in 1962 and designed in the "international style" by Carlos Arguelles, the same architect behind the Philamlife Theater and the Manila Hilton Hotel.

During its time, the building was the most expensive building constructed in Manila. It played a vital role in the street life of Escolta and was the government's main financial institution prior to the establishment of the Bangko Sentral. The PNB's decision to transfer their headquarters to Pasay in the 1990s started the downfall of Escolta as the premiere business district.

The building unfortunately caught fire in 2015, and was eventually demolished in 2016 on the orders of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.

Hotel de Oriente in Binondo

Considered to be the first luxury hotel in Manila, Hotel de Oriente is known as the place where Jose Rizal stayed when he returned from Hong Kong in 1892. Built in 1889, it was designed by Spanish architect Juan Jose Huervas y Arizmendi. The hotel had a total of 83 rooms, complete with ceiling fans and electricity—features that were considered extravagant at that time.

It was eventually destroyed during the Battle of Manila, but it had a rich history, having been repurposed to serve the Philippine Constabulary, American Circulating Library, Official Gazette, and the Commercial Museum.


Avenue Theater along Avenida

One of the obras of National Artist for Architecture Juan Nakpil, the Avenue Theater was also built in the Art Deco style. During its heyday in the ‘30s and ‘40s, it was a choice venue for foreign movie premieres and vaudeville acts.

The grandiose theater could seat 1,000 and its grand lobby had stunning marble flooring. It was partially destroyed during the Battle of Manila and when it was renovated, its operators tried to stage several live performances. The theater closed in 1997 and it was eventually demolished in 2006.

The University Club Buildings and Apartments, formerly located along Kalaw Avenue

During the American occupation, Ermita was the address of the wealthy. On this street, one could find luxury hotels, including Luneta Hotel and the University Club Buildings and Apartments which were next to each other. The latter was built in the 1930s.

Built in the Neoclassical style, the University Club Buildings and Apartments became a serviced residence with 44 rooms and private bathrooms. American expats and their families were the regulars.

After the war, it was rechristened Shelborne Arms Hotel, and then the New Orient Hotel. It continued its operations in the early ‘90s before it was demolished to give way to a skyscraper. 

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Nicai de Guzman
Nicai de Guzman is the Head of Marketing of Rising Tide, one of the fastest-growing mobile and digital advertising technology companies in the Philippines. She also writes for SPOT.ph and Entrepreneur.com.ph.
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