A History of Forbes Park, the Philippines' Wealthiest and First Gated Subdivision
Beyond the ravages of World War II that left 80 percent of Manila in shambles in 1945 (it was the second most devastated city in the world after Warsaw), the Ayala family saw a vision of opulence and economic prosperity. At the heart of its vision was for Forbes Park to become the most exclusive address among the country's upper class.
A Result of a Hundred Years’ Foresight
Forbes Park is a result of an urban plan that can be traced to a hundred years’ history, beginning in the 1800s. This was a time when Spanish colonial development was almost nonexistent, the economy was failing, and the colonial government was struggling to keep the archipelago in check.
In 1851, the Roxas-Zobel-Ayala clan purchased 1,000 hectares of farmland in the Hacienda San Pedro de Makati, which would become a third of present-day Makati City. Purchasing land for investment was a common enterprise for families like the Roxas-Zobel-Ayalas, who ran import-export businesses. They also owned pharmaceutical factories.
The 1000-hectare land was the clan’s first step to becoming urban directors. The Ayala family was joined by a handful of wealthy families like the Tuazons, the Legardas, and the Aranetas who also owned vast tracts of land in Manila. The Ayalas, however, were characteristically different about their plan for their estate.
According to Muijzenberg and Naerssen, while other wealthy clans maintained agricultural enterprises which they lost to the government’s land conversion in the 1940s, the Ayalas pursued an active plan for the urban development of their haciendas. They wanted to create an urban environment for businesses and upmarket housing. For this mission, the family sought the help of Joseph R. McMicking, a Philippine-born American businessman who married into the Zobel family, to draw up the plans and the blueprint of its urban development plan, known today as the Ayala Master Plan—the inspiration behind Makati’s business, commercial, and residential districts.
Creating Forbes Park After the War
In 1945, much of Makati was a vast plain used for farming. It was also called a swampland because of its northern border of the Pasig River, which usually flooded its banks in the rainy season. In contrast to Manila, it had very little infrastructure at the time, which is why it was largely spared from war damage. In fact, the destruction of Manila in World War II presented a new opportunity for the landed elite to create new housing. The Ayala family, with a thousand hectares of Makati land, envisioned a master plan for a modern city where wealthy Manileños could find new homes.
McMicking’s blueprint consisted of business zones where various offices were located, commercial zones with shopping centers, and residential areas. Each zone was designed to enhance the value of the other. The Ayala family decided to name the premier residential zone Forbes Park after William Cameron Forbes—the American Governor-General who brought polo to the country.
For McMicking, the best way for Makati to succeed was for Forbes Park to succeed. In 1948, when the Ayala family broke ground in Makati, McMicking envisioned Forbes Park as the centerpiece that would draw the rich and the influential into the neighborhood. He said “the fate of a city is in the hands of its population.” Part of the population he wanted to draw into the city were businessmen, government officials, and civic organizations. He understood that an elegant and comfortable residential district was key to attracting such.
McMicking took inspiration for Forbes Park’s layout from Palo Alto, California: a grid with widely convenient streets, manicured lawns, and trees lining the sidewalks. He also envisioned Mission Revival-style homes to be built in the village.
The Ayalas also convinced the iconic Manila Polo Club (then in Pasay) to sell its property and move to Makati. The same strategy played out well when they also persuaded the Manila Golf Club to move from Caloocan to their 250-hectare residential estate. With these two institutions of prestige nestled in the village, Forbes Park became a powerful magnet for members of high society to take up residence.
When the village’s roads and lots finally took shape in 1949, its first homeowners began to trickle in.
The First Residents
The first lot the Ayala family sold in Forbes Park was No. 2, Caimito Place to John L. Manning. Upon his purchase of the lot, Manning signed a private agreement about restrictions on the use of his property. This deed restriction was binding for 30 years from January 1949.
Soon after Manning’s move to Forbes Park, the Ayala family also took up residence in the village to demonstrate its confidence in its residential estate. This encouraged wealthy businessmen and families to follow suit. It did not take a long time for the upscale village to be reputed as the best residential estate in the country, with its proximity to the business and commercial districts that the Ayala family had simultaneously developed over 25 years since 1948.
Forbes Park Today
At present, Forbes Park is considered the wealthiest village in the country in terms of its residents’ combined net worth. It is also one of the most exclusive. A square meter of land here cost between P224,820 to P411,765 in 2017. The average price of a piece of property in the village is P532.38 million.
In 2015, it was reported that out of the country’s 50 wealthiest Filipinos, 14 lived in Forbes Park.
Aside from CEOs, a number of diplomats, celebrities, and government officials also reside in the village. What draws them to live there is the same elegance, prestige, and comfort envisioned by McMicking and the Ayalas in 1948.
So successful is Forbes Park that it's become the standard on which many high-end residential and suburban plans in the country are based—lending credence to McMicking’s prophetic vision of urban development: “The rapid but well-ordered growth of Makati need not be exceptional, it could very well be the rule throughout the country.”
Nas, Peter J.M., Muijzenberg, Otto Van Den, Naerssen, Ton Van. (2005). Directors of Urban Change in Asia. London, New York: Routledge Taylor Francis Group.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountry.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.