A return to Escolta

Almost two months ago I got an email from an old editor asking if I wanted to write about Escolta. And it took me all of two seconds to say yes.

I spent some parts of my childhood walking the stretch of Escolta street when my mom used to work in one of the banks there. Then when the bank transferred offices and eventually we moved out of Manila, we hardly had any more reason to go back. The occasional trips to Binondo or Divisoria later on for some food tripping or bargain shopping hardly warranted any quick side trip to this almost-forgotten street.

The street is one of the oldest in Manila–it’s been around since the Spanish times, a sort of riverside commercial district. But it reached its glory days during the American rule when it became the country’s trendiest street, when the most fashionable store and glitziest restaurants set up shop. By the 1960s, it had begun to lose its lustre, when other commercial districts like Makati charmed business their way.


It was in the 1980s when my siblings and I used to walk around the street dotted with old buildings, duck inside old bookstores, watch cartoons (no adult supervision!) in one of the crumbling movie theaters (can’t remember whether it was Lyric or Capitol), and look through the clearance sales of several stores that constantly looked on the brink of closing. Escolta then was no longer the high street that it was before and when more offices left (including the bank where my mom worked), a lot of those businesses did close shop.

Now Escolta appears to be ready for another reincarnation and my editor wanted me to talk to the group of artists and business owners who were working together to bring about this change. (Here’s the story on Escolta’s Revival in the inflight magazine of Cebu Pacific, November 2013 issue of Smile)


Look beyond the chaotic crisscross of electric wires to find some of the country’s notable works of architecture

Time hasn’t been kind to many of the buildings along Escolta. Capitol Theater is boarded up. The once imposing PNB building has now been shuttered. But a few more steps (in the direction of Sta. Cruz Church) and you’ll see that the street holds many architectural gems. As an interior designer I interviewed shared, “It’s the one street in the country where you can see different eras, periods and styles of architecture.” Some of them may need a bit (or a lot) of sprucing up but a walk along Escolta should reveal a bit of the country’s history and heritage.

First United Building

First United Building, designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro in an art deco style during the 1920s. While I didn’t get to take a picture, I love its wrought iron grill door

Get more history inside the Calvo Building

Get more history inside the Calvo Building. Built in 1938, it has a small museum in the mezzanine floor.

To find another reason to go back to Escolta, drop by First United Building on the Saturday after the 15th of the month to find Future Market, a bazaar organized by 98B.

98B is the group of artists who’ve set up shop in Escolta, a sort of alternative work and social venue for artists and other folks in the creative field, who present their work through art, publications and bazaars. Now, part of their advocacy is to help with the revitalization efforts in Escolta. Future Market gathers artists who sell their works, crafts and other knickknacks. So on that Saturday, with over 40 stalls in the old Berg’s Department store location, the shoppers come, and Escolta turns into an exciting shopping spot once more… at least on that day. And that’s a start.

Regina Building

The Regina Building is one of the prettiest structures along the street; also built by Andres Luna in 1915 and expanded by Fernando Ocampo. There are still offices inside and if you can find an excuse to go in, the intricately designed metal staircase is a lovely sight (a stark contrast is the old and decaying Syvel’s building beside it)

Burke Building

One of the newly refurbished old buildings along Escolta, the TEOFF Center (formerly known as the Natividad Building); it looks ready to take on new tenants and storefront businesses.


6 thoughts on “A return to Escolta

  1. Love this post, Mabes! I loved going here with my mom. She’s a great one for exploring Quiapo, Escolta, Chinatown, Divisoria and Lawton. I remember near a bridge near Escolta there would be puppy sellers and we bought puppies there once or twice (I’m sure that was illegal though, haha!).

  2. I grew up in Tondo where Escolta was only a jeepney ride away. I remember going there in my Sunday best because it used to be the classiest place in Manila.:) Nasenti ako sa post mo Mabes. I remember my childhood so vividly. 🙂

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