On the Brink of Destruction: Metro Manila's Last Heritage Buildings
This was originally published in our December 2014-January 2015 issue.
Today the Metropolitan Theater is dark, eerie, and its pillars reek of piss from passers-by, who are ironically also the only people who come close enough to appreciate it. A peek through its broken glass walls will reveal only leftovers from the past. Built by Juan Arellano in 1930, it was envisioned from a modern and expressionistic style, housing two mural paintings by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, and a modern sculpture by Francisco Monti. The front face of the theater brandishes an iridescent stained glass signage carrying the name “Metropolitan.” Operas, concerts, and plays were performed under its roof, which was partially destroyed during the war. Post-war, it became a boxing arena, a motel, and a bar, dipping its stature from an architectural treasure to evidence of neglect. Forgotten, the theater continues to deteriorate, patiently waiting for someone to take notice before it completely crumbles.
UPDATE: In 2015, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts took over the building, and has since worked to restore and raise awareness about the Metropolitan Theater. Photos from the METamorphosis Facebook page, which tracks the progress of the restoration, shows that the beloved building is now on its way to again becoming the beautiful landmark it once was.
The streets surrounding the Ides O’Racca are now a bustling fruit market, alive when the sun is down, filling the air with the faint smell of citrus and roasted castañas. Local vendors will tell you that the building is haunted, having caught fire one too many times. History dates it back to 1935, built by Dr. Isidoro de Santos with failed intentions to make it a cold storage. The war wreaked its havoc on the building under the hands of the Japanese who used it as a base, and then the Americans who made it a barracks. After the war, it was returned to the Philippine government and used as offices for various agencies. On foot, the structure is completely obliterated from sight. It seems as if attempts are made to forget it’s even there. But if you peer far enough, looking to the sky, past the makeshift tarpaulin roofs of the noisy market, you will find its unique frame glaring back at you, severely battered by history, still a sight to behold.
UPDATE: In 2014, the Ides O'Racca building was declared a Significant Cultural Property by the National Museum of the Philippines, and as such, is protected from demolition, under the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.
Manila Central Post Office
From across the Pasig River, the Manila Central Post Office stands proud, a majestic backdrop to the aging cargo ships that slowly voyage by it at night. Constructed in 1925 and designed by Juan Arellano, its Neoclassical structure remains in good condition, and still functions as the head office of the Philippine Postal Corporation. The Post Office was also one of the buildings severely damaged by the war, but was rebuilt in 1946 with its original design preserved. Standing at the walkway opposite the Post Office, distanced from the raucous traffic of Manila, you will find that this view gently transports you, even for a moment, to a different time. And the unfamiliar nostalgia feels nice.
The Ocampo Pagoda is arresting from a distance, its distinct Oriental roof emerging through the trees and webs of tangled telephone wires from a small residential neighborhood in Quiapo. Looking for its gates from the main streets is futile. To see it in full, you have to enter a side street whose only marker is a statue of the Black Nazarene. The pagoda was constructed in 1935 to beautify the estate of Don Jose Mariano Ocampo. When the war broke out shortly after its completion, it was used as a refuge site. Today, it serves as a boarding house for seafarers waiting for employment. A makeshift basketball court is built outside its gate, creating a picture of two parallel realities co-existing at the same time.
There is a community of boatmen who reside along the Pasig River, on the edge of Muelle de Industria Street and across a 1914 Beaux-arts building called El Hogar. Don Antonio Melian built the structure as a present for his wife Margarita Zobel, their initials adorned the lavish staircase which once stood inside. El Hogar functioned as a business establishment. Designed by Ramon Irureta-Goyena and Francisco Perez-Muñoz, its style draws inspiration from the neoclassical and Renaissance period. The building was damaged during World War II, but renovated right after. Today, it is abandoned and left behind in the nook of a dark alley in Binondo, gazed upon only by the boatmen who see it to sleep every night.