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.

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Hey look! History and architecture right around the corner

Whenever I travel and find myself gazing at some intriguing structure of some other city, watching also fellow travelers flocking to it, I find myself wondering: which places and structures back home merit the same admiration or at the very least, curiosity?

Manila or even the Philippines is usually not on the shortlist when it comes to eye-popping architecture. No, we don’t have pyramids, grand castles, and towering structures to take your breath away. (We have lots of beaches though, check this, this or this.) In the capital, most of the beautiful colonial buildings were destroyed during the World War II when the Americans dropped them bombs to finish off the Japanese.

When I worked for a teen fashion mag years ago, I sat next to one of the editors of the shelter and architecture magazines of the publishing company. Sitting next to her didn’t make me imbibe special architecture and design knowledge, but I did think of her when I posed that question to myself a couple of months back: Where in Metro Manila can you see historically significant Philippine architecture?

Aside from the historic churches and the old walled city of Intramuros built during the Spanish times that are typical tourist fare for Manila sightseeing, there are other areas with structures that are worth a look for the history they carry. Within a university campus, a residential neighborhood and even a cemetery, here are the places where Real Living magazine editor in chief Rachelle Medina recommends if you’re on the lookout for some historic pieces of architecture.

University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City

Aside from being one of the country’s top universities (not to mention a favorite Sunday running spot), Rachelle says that UP Diliman has the best example of post-war Philippine architecture all in one area. And they’re all made by some of the country’s national artists: Cesar Concio, Juan Nakpil, Juan Arellano, Leandro Locsin, among others.

Church of the Holy Sacrifice

The Church of the Holy Sacrifice is recognized as a National Historical Landmark

The Church of the Holy Sacrifice is likely the only church in the country created and designed by five national artists–Locsin for architecture, the River of Light floor design by Arturo Luz, the crucifix by Napoleon Abueva, and the Stations of the Cross by Vicente Manansala and Ang Kiukok. It stands out compared to other popular Catholic churches in the country (with their towers and columns) because of its circular shape, its concrete dome (a first back in the mid 1950s), and the location of the altar in the center. Continue reading