The country’s capital is teeming with heritage landmarks. Some have fallen on hard times or become embroiled in land disputes, have been condemned or razed to the ground. Some are lucky to have adopted by caring patrons and restored to their previous glorious state. The adaptive reuse of the 106-year-old Army Navy Club to the Rizal Park Hotel is proof that we do not have to always resort to the wrecking ball.
The hotel’s façade shows the arches that Architect William Parsons is known to have favored in his designs. The original balcony, which you can only gain access to if you check into their Army Navy Suite (aka the presidential suite).
Its history: A rich colonial past
The Army Navy Club (ANC) was established in 1899, shortly after the Americans’ arrival in the Philippines. From their previous location inside Intramuros, the ANC moved to their current location along T.M. Kalaw Extension (previously known as the Luneta Extension) in 1911, as part of architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham’s city planning of Manila. The Luneta was extended, as the original plan was the area would be populated with government offices, as well as places for leisure for the Americans, the Army Navy Club included. The ANC was established to serve as a social hall for the American Army in the Philippines to relax, play sports, and sometimes stay for the night.
In photo: The original structure of the Army Navy Club has been maintained by the Rizal Park Hotel, from the steps leading up to the hotel, to the placement of the arches and windows. The capiz and wood windows have been replaced with glass and steel, and the balcony has been included in the presidential suite, converted into an extension of the anteroom included in the suite.
Plans by architect and urban planner William Parsons were chosen to create the ANC. With an area of 135,500 square feet, the main building followed an “H” pattern—a center building with two wings flanking it. Inside the main building contained a reception room, a tearoom, dining rooms, and a bar. There were also roughly 70 rooms on the second and third floors available for temporary lodging for members. A swimming pool, tennis court, and lush lawns were also built.
Its Slow Decline
For decades, it was the place to be seen in, the venue for everything from grand balls to Easter egg hunts and fashion shows. But perhaps due to its exclusivity and the wartime devastation of Manila (we were the second most devastated city in the world after the war, just right after Warsaw, Poland), the club slowly deteriorated and fell into decay.
In photo: Membership to the Army Navy Club started out to be open for just members of the US military. The ANC had a separate dining room for men only, and one solely for women.
Attempts to maintain its status as a social club ended in the 1980s when the city government took over. Even if it was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1991 by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), it struggled to stay up and running. It changed lessees, from a manufacturing place for Christmas lanterns to the Museo de Manila, until it was turned over to the present Lessee, Oceanville Hotel and Spa Corp.
In photo: The Men's Reading Room of the Army Navy Club was well-adapted to the country's climate, with its tropical design and accents, combined with large floor to ceiling windows.
Honoring its historical roots
It took Oceanville four solid years to get the Rizal Park Hotel up and running, and according to the hotel’s general manager, Paolo Sumera, it was a task that was both hard and easy. Palafox Associates headed the restoration of the façade, and the ArcoGroup, headed by Tricia Perdigon, spearheaded the interior design. The firms had their work cut out for them, considering that they had the retain most of the original structure, and with old photos to base their designs on.
But it was a challenging project, due to the building’s status as a historical landmark. Their plans had to be viewed and approved by both the city government and the NHCP. GM Sumera recalls, “The word that we always use to describing what was done to the building was restoration. So we restored parts of it that are salvageable. The foundation of the building is still the original one; we managed to outfit steel into it. But of course, we have to strengthen it. We managed to preserve parts of the building, namely the iron fence outside, two statues at the courtyard, the steel railings in the staircase, the staircase itself, and the façade and the interior design of the lobby is also original. The windows used to be capiz windows, but now we have to put in glass. Everything that could be restored was restored.”
The Army Navy Club’s rebirth as a hotel
Being a stone’s throw away from Rizal Park, it felt fitting to name the hotel after it, as well as to put it in touch with its Filipino roots. The grandeur of the Rizal Park Hotel is felt once you see it from outside, at the approach before the main driveway. Iron grill fences (all from its original turn-of-the-century building) line the hotel, and once you drive up to the steps of the hotel, you’re greeted by a lobby that’s meant to make you stand in the middle and be in complete awe of it.
The building’s trademark arches, as designed by Parsons in the 1900s, still dominate the exterior and interior of the hotel. The original dome ceiling was slightly lifted to create a higher one, with stained glass windows adding a much-needed pop of color into the lobby. Predominantly black and white with touches of gold and wood, the octagonal lobby introduces you to the mix of European and American styles. The huge windows are no longer made of capiz, but fitted with glass, letting sunlight in, adding a gleam to the already very gleaming interiors of the hotel. Imposingly tall Doric columns add to the drama.
The entrance to the hotel is still the original entryway from when the Army Navy Club was still operational, and gives a glimpse of things to come—notably, tasteful black and white décor with hints of gold. To the left of the entrance, stop by to read the historical marker, bestowed by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to the Army Navy Club in 1991, declaring the ANC a historical landmark and a monument to Filipino-American friendship.
The staircases that will greet you when you step into the hotel lobby are the original ones found inside the Army Navy Club, with the steel railings included from the original building. It was restored, strengthened to withstand daily use, but is cordoned off to the other hotel patrons for the privacy of check-in guests.
The black and white checkered tiles are a feature that was found in the old ANC, and recreated in the hotel. The two staircases that lead up to second-floor rooms are as grand as ever, built upon its original structure, but cordoned off for the public’s safety, as well as for the privacy of the checked-in guests. The hotel has been modernized and equipped with the standard hotel key cards.
Café Rizal offers all-day dining, while other casual and fine dining restaurants, and a sky bar are also in the works. The courtyard is a throwback to how members used to lounge around in the grounds to chat and dine in, and also plays host to two statues made of plaster that were part of the original ANC—a statue of Venus is found in the middle of the courtyard, while a cheeky manneken pis statue greets you at the courtyard’s side entrance.
Café Rizal, the hotel’s all-day dining option, can seat 120 patrons at a time. The buffet serves international and Filipino fare.
The courtyard is now open to guests who want to enjoy happy hour at the hotel. It also houses two statues that were found in the original structure—a statue of Venus, and of a little boy.
In photo: The grand staircase head up to the second floor of the hotel, but guests are asked to use the elevators outfitted into the building instead, to preserve the staircase. Seventy-six rooms are found in the succeeding floors (there are four floors housed in the original ANC building), with most of the rooms retaining their previous layout and dimensions.
The lobby leading to the rooms is a sight to behold in itself. The hotel has kept them as narrow as they were much like when the building was first built, and Parsons’ landmark arches provide a beautiful bird’s eye view of the breathtaking lobby—and one that is perfectly Instagrammable.
The hotel offers deluxe rooms, junior suites, premier suites, and an Army Navy Club Suite, aka their Presidential Suite. Neutral tones dominate each room, from beddings to wallpaper, with touches of gold hardware and pieces of bleached furniture. Machuca (or patterned cement) tiles add a splash of color. One could only imagine how the previous lodgings of the ANC looked like, but it could be said for certain that the present hotel rooms are light, luxurious, and stylish compared to its predecessor.
The Presidential Suite is a combination of two junior suites and an anteroom. If you’re willing to splurge on your stay, you will be treated with your own balcony—the same balcony that you can see from the exterior of the hotel, an original structure in the ANC that dates back to the 1900s. It overlooks Manila Bay, the streetfront, as well as the Philippine Flag waving from Rizal Park. It’s a piece of history right there, all for you.
The anteroom of the presidential suite includes a 12-seater dining area, a 4-seater coffee table, and a living area that overlooks the balcony. Only guests checked into the presidential suite have access to the balcony.
According to GM Sumera, the presidential suite used to serve as soldiers' sleeping quarters.
In photo: The Presidential Suite bedroom
Much of the hotel is already operational, but there is much to be done. A casino is up and running, and the second phase—slated to finish by the end of the year—will have 36 more rooms, and among others, a casino, a ballroom that can seat 1,200 people, a lifestyle club, a swimming pool, and recreational activities involving their waterfront of Manila Bay. Sumera says there are plans of creating a dining experience out in the water, and a possibility of patrons being able to go on a tour of Manila Bay on their own boat, and perhaps a trip going to and from the SM Mall of Asia grounds.
The rooms are dominated by neutral tones and outfitted with modern features that make it perfect for your next staycation.
Sumera adds that locals have welcomed the Rizal Park hotel with open arms—guests feel that they’re transported into another country, and not in the middle of the bustle of Manila. “We give [staycationers] both a getaway from the city and a way to still stay in the city. Why? Because we value privacy, so people here, when they check in, we give them a sense that they’re not inside Manila. It’s different, it’s quiet, I can say it’s secluded, and we give them the same experience that you can get from a five-star hotel. For foreign tourists and travelers, our location is an edge, because all that they can do in Manila is accessible from our hotel. Luneta Park, Ocean Park, Intramuros are all just a stone’s throw away. If they want to see old Manila, it’s just five to ten minutes away.”
Rizal Park Hotel is worth the trip to Manila. Visit the hotel for the grand experience, but stay a while longer for its historical significance. The hotel is a testament to how the ANC has evolved from its “members-only” roots, to accepting all nationalities. It also proves that heritage landmarks can find its place in present times, and can be put to use, while giving it the honor and respect that it deserves.
Rizal Park Hotel is located at South Road Drive, T.M. Kalaw Extension, Ermita, Manila, tel. (02) 804-8700; for reservations, email them at reservations[at]rizalparkhotel.com.ph, or go to their website. You can also follow them on Facebook.
This story originally appeared on RealLiving.com.ph. Minor edits were made by the EsquireMag.ph editors.