What Manila Looked Like in Its Heyday
Many Asian cities have been called “Paris of the East” but none more so than Manila. Also called the “Pearl of the Orient” because of the country’s collection of islands that resembled precious stones, Manila was the envy of neighboring Asian countries because of its European-inspired structures.
1890s to 1910s
Spanish officials were mainly responsible for bringing in Western architects to make Manila feel more like home. A 19th-century traveler, Fedor Jagor, described Manila as “a splendid, fortified city of wide, cobbled streets and regal townhouses.”
Bridge of Spain
Bridge of Spain with seahorse figures at the base of light poles
Street in Binondo
1920s to 1930s
During the American occupation, Daniel Burnham, the master planner of Chicago and Baguio, was tasked to produce a master plan for the city. Burnham’s plan included Roxas Boulevard functioning similar to Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, while Intramuros and the surrounding districts serving as the business and entertainment hubs.
The 1920s was the also emergence of the Art Deco movement, characterized by geometric lines, symmetry, and simple, clean shapes, or a “streamlined” look.
Red Cross health mobile
Pacific Motors, located north of the Pasig River
Pacific Commercial Company
Manila Carnival entrance
Shortly before the war, the city boasted of its Art Deco buildings and palatial government offices. It was also not crowded and the choice destination in Asia for expats wanting to relocate to milder climates.
Back then, Westerners actually chose to live and work in Manila and not just out of duty. These foreigners, along with the rest of the Filipinos, were unluckily caught up in the war. Most of them were forcibly contained at the Sto. Tomas internment camp during the bloody February 1945 battle.
Santa Cruz Plaza
El Hogar from Magallanes Landing
1950s and 1960s
Sadly, Manila never recovered from the battle. Researchers have claimed that the Battle of Manila was “the single most devastating instance of urban warfare fought between the United States and Japan in the Asia-Pacific.” Some of the buildings were never rebuilt and Burnham’s urban plan never grew to fruition.
The population of Manila also grew during this time as people from the provinces migrated to Manila, a place that lost its sense of history and identity. Sadly, most of the lively centers of entertainment plunged into decay as the city and neighboring towns favored new structures and living quarters in lands untouched by the war.
Plaza Moraga different angle
El Hogar and First National City Bank