Friday, April 12, 2013

Old Legislative Building (National Museum of the Philippines)

The old Legislative Building during the pre-war years. ©

The old Legislative Building is, without a doubt, the best example of neo-classical architecture in the Philippines. It has been the place for the country's statesmen for decades, it has witnessed wars, demonstrations and calamities.

The Legislative Building during its construction in the 1920s. © Arkitekturang Filipino

The building today is the present National Museum of the Philippines. Located on Burgos Drive, this imposing edifice stands across the old walled city of Manila (Intramuros). Originally designed by the American Ralph Harrington Doane and Filipino Antonio Toledo in 1918 to be the future National Library as intended for the Burnham Plan of Manila.

An aerial view of the walled city of Intramuros. In the foreground is the Legislative Building. © Flickr/John Tewell

The building's front and side portion colonnaded with beautiful Corinthian columns. © Pinoy Shooter

The construction of the building started in 1918, but had delays because of funding. In 1926, the Philippine Legislature decided to move into the building and thus changing the layout of its interiors. The interiors of the structure was designed by the great Juan Arellano, who also built several Manila edifices such as the Post Office Building and the Manila Metropolitan Theatre.

A plan for the City of Manila done by the American urban planner Daniel Burnham. The positioning of the government edifices is seen near the old walled city. © Wikipedia 

The Legislative Building was completed in 1926 and was inaugurated on July 11 of the same year. Both the Philippine Legislature and the National Library occupied the building. The total cost of construction was $2,000,000.00 or P4,000,000.00 in 1926 value.

The Session Hall of the Senate, circa 1926. © Official Gazette

"The Old Session Hall of the Senate of the Philippines is a chamber like no other in the country. Soaring three stories to the top of the Old Legislative Building, the hall was clearly intended to be nothing less than a secular cathedral – a temple of wisdom for enlightened debate and the making of laws.

During the early 1920s in the American colonial period, when the architect Juan Arellano was revising the plans of Ralph Harrington Doane in order to convert the building from the museum and library it was originally designed to be the seat of the legislature, the Senate was led by Manuel L. Quezon, the leader of the movement for Philippine independence from the United States. It is highly probable that Senate President Quezon exercised much influence over the design of the chamber where he would preside over the body that he himself had helped establish in 1916. With his strong personal aesthetic, well-known taste for grandeur, and deep belief in the need to promote confidence and respect by the Americans in the nascent all-Filipino institutions, it is easy to picture Quezon working with Arellano on the dimensions and decoration of the Session Hall. Whatever the case, the result was breathtaking with the combination of the lofty space with its mezzanine galleries for the public and the dizzying range of precast ornamentation crowned by a magnificent hardwood ceiling."

The Legislative Building viewed from Burgos Drive. ©

"The most impressive features of the hall, taking full advantage of the architectural space, are undoubtedly the series of Corinthian columns and pilasters, the main wall above the rostrum with its fretwork and garlands, and most of all, the sculptural groupings surrounding the top of the hall. This ornamentation and all other decoration in the Hall was the work of the most celebrated Filipino sculptor of the time, Isabelo Tampinco—a contemporary of Juan Luna and Jose Rizal—and his sons Angel and Vidal. Tampinco gave full rein to his deep knowledge of classical sculpture, as well as to his personal artistic mission of Filipinizing many of the traditionally Western elements and motifs of the neoclassical style. The result, an entablature of great lawmakers and moralists through history and allegorical groupings, was and remains to this day an outstanding and unique achievement in Philippine art.

 Filipino masses gather outside the Legislative Building for the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth and its first president, Manuel L. Quezon. © Flickr/Sepia Lens

The standing figures of the entablature represent great lawmakers and moralists of history ranging from antiquity and Biblical times to the twentieth century, and include Kalantiaw and Apolinario Mabini on the East (Main) Wall; Pope Leo XIII and Woodrow Wilson on the West (Rear Wall); Moses, Hammurabi, Rameses the Great, Li Si, Augustus and William Blackstone on the North (Right) Wall; and Solon, Averroes, Justinian, Manu, Charlemagne and Hugo Grotius on the South (Left) Wall. Surrounding the cartouches on all four walls are allegorical groupings representing sovereignty, progress, arts and culture, industry, trade, farming, education, and so on." (excerpt from Official Gazette)

An aerial view of the inauguration of President Manuel L. Quezon outside the Legislative Building. © The Kahimyang Project

Manuel L. Quezon's oath as President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Notice the ornate podium of the Legislative Building. © Flickr/Manuel Quezon III

In 1935, the Legislative Building became the place of inauguration of the newly-established Philippine Commonwealth. Also, this is where the late President Manuel L. Quezon was inaugurated. 

The Legislative Building before the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth. © via Nostalgia Filipinas

According to the description, it is a massive rectangular building which has a central portion flanked by two interior courts. The central portion houses both the Lower and Upper Houses. On the main floor, the House of Representatives held its sessions there while the Senate is on the third floor. The senate chamber has a fifteen (15) meter high ceiling. On its walls are statues of Filipino heroes and legislators, and on the two wings of the building are the offices of the legislators.

The ever-beautiful central facade of the Legislative Building adorned with Corinthian columns, ornate carvings and statues. © Facebook/Paulo Alcazaren via Nostalgia Filipinas

A two-storey, four-columned portico adorned the entrance of the Legislative Building. Over it is a triangular pediment with sculptures representing Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, Law, Education, Commerce, and Agriculture. On each end of the building is a two-columned portico complimenting its central facade. The sculptures were designed and made by Otto Fischer-Credo, a German expatriate who resided in the Philippines during the pre-war years. He was recalled back to Germany during the war years to be an artist for the Third Reich, and did sculptures for Adolf Hitler and SS chief Heinrich Himmler.

The front pediment of the Legislative Building containing sculptures representing Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao (center), Law and Education (left), Agriculture and Commerce (right). © Arkitekturang Filipino

The Japanese occupation of the Philippines meant a halt to the existing Commonwealth Government. The Japanese had set up a Japanese-Sponsored Government headed by the late Pres. Jose P. Laurel. The building was used as the assembly hall of the puppet government. The speaker of the National Assembly was Benigno Aquino, Sr., grandfather of Pres. Benigno 'BS' Aquino III.

 A motorcade for Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo in front of the old Legislative Building on May 5, 1943. © Manila Nostalgia/Rene Dominguez 

The Legislative Building became the home of the Japanese-Sponsored Republic of the Philippines. It became a home to Japanese propaganda. © Arkitekturang Filipino

A colored photo of the Senate chamber during the Japanese occupation. On the podium speaking is Sec. Jorge Vargas. Take note of the Japanese military officer seated. © Presidential Museum and Library

In February of 1945, American troops entered Manila trying to liberate the city from the Japanese Imperial Army. The battle became the worst urban fighting in the Pacific, sweeping eighty (80) percent of Manila's buildings. The Legislative Building was not spared from total annihilation. Because of its massive size and thick walls, it became the headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army. The Americans shelled the building until it was totally destroyed. Only the central portion of the building stood but still had major damages. 

A 2000lb bomb being dropped by American bombers onto the City of Manila. © WWII in Color via Nostalgia Filipinas

A colored photo of the destroyed Legislative Building. © Presidential Museum and Library

The war-torn Legislative Building. Note that the left portion of the building was still standing. © Flickr/John Tewell

The Legislative Building (center), together with the Manila City Hall (left) and the Philippine Normal School (right), in ruins after a heavy battle for the city. © Flickr/John Tewell

Manila became an urban battlefield in which 100,000 civilians were killed. Many of Manila's imposing structures were destroyed such as the Post Office, the Agriculture and Finance Buildings, the UP campus, etc. After the Philippines became an independent nation in 1946, the United States aided the Philippines with some $400,000,000.00 of war damage payments, another $120,000,000.00 for public works and left a total of $100,000,000.00 worth of war surplus.

Reconstruction of the Legislative Building is underway. © 

The reconstruction of the Legislative Building started in 1949 until 1950. The building was renamed from "Legislative Building" to "Congress-Republic of the Philippines". The post-war version of the building was not as accurate as the pre-war version. The original plans were not followed, the once colonnaded facade having the full, engaged columns were replaced with a less ornate pilasters. 

The post-war Legislative Building. The building was rebuilt using the same dimensions, but with lesser ornamentations. ©

After its reconstruction, Congress once again held its sessions until 1972, when Proclamation 1081 (Martial Law) was implemented by President Ferdinand Marcos. The building was re-inscribed with the name "Executive House" which was lent to different government agencies such as the Office of the Prime Minister on the fourth floor, the Office of the Ombudsman (Tanodbayan) on the third floor, the National Museum on the second floor and the Sandiganbayan (Peoples' Advocate) on the first floor. 

Leaders of SEATO member nations gather outside the Legislative Building in Manila during a summit in 1966. Notice the less ornate portico of the post-war structure. © Flickr/Manhhai

The Senate, House of Representatives and other various government agencies occupied the Legislative Building until 1997 when the Senate relocated its offices at the GSIS Building in Pasay, making the National Museum its only occupant. The "National Museum act of 1998" was turned into law which makes the Legislative Building, together with its adjacent buildings, the former Agriculture and Finance Buildings under their care. 

In 2010, the Legislative Building was declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. Also on the same year, the National Museum began the restoration of the Session Hall, returning its pre-war grandeur. The hall's restoration was completed in October, 2012.

The newly-restored Senate Session Hall of the Legislative Building. Restoration of the Session Hall was completed in 2012. ©

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Manila Metropolitan Theater

The Met's facade during its pre-war glory. © Flickr/John Tewell

If anyone was to be asked 'What is the most beautiful theatre you've seen in Manila?' probably the answer is the Metropolitan Theater, or simply the Met. The Met hosted several operas, plays, and concerts of pre-war Manila. Situated across Plaza Lawton (now Liwasang Bonifacio), this magnificent Art Deco gem is considered as the 'Grand Dame of Manila's theatres' for its ornate architecture.

A front elevation of the Met. © Arkitekturang Filipino

The Met is one of the few surviving examples of art deco architecture in the Philippines. The theatre is an example of Philippine art deco for its native designs and carvings. Built in 1931 by Juan Arellano, architect of many Manila landmarks such as the Post Office Building, the Legislative Building, Jones Bridge and among others. 

The Met sometime after its reconstruction during the 1970s. © Manila Symphony Orchestra 

The Met was inaugurated on December 1931 and has a seating capacity of 1,670 (846 in the orchestra section, 116 in the loge section, and 708 in the balcony section). During its prime, the Met was home to the Manila Symphony and also home to operas, vaudevilles, and zarzuelas. Its stature as the 'Grand Dame' made the Met a gathering place for Manila's 'alta sociedador high society.

The Met's exterior adorned with intricate art Deco tiles inspired by indigenous designs. © Tumblr/Indio Historian (Indio Bravo)

The Met's facade was a stunning piece of art. Its exterior is adorned with intricate designs inspired from Philippine flora. The sculptures within the Met was done by Francesco Riccardo Monti, an Italian expatriate who also made the statues atop the University of Santo Tomas' Main Building and the mourning angels atop the Quezon Memorial. 

One of the Met's bronze statues depicting Siamese dancers. The statues were sculpted by Italian expatriate Francesco Riccardo Monti. © Philippines Blog 

The neglected proscenium of the Met. © Cosplay Rune

The Met's intricate facade is seen through its grills and stained glass windows. © Gustavo Thomas Theatre

The Met's art deco architecture is simply one of a kind. Minarets inspired from Islamic architecture gave it a Filipino touch. © Philippines Blog

Unfortunately, Manila was ravaged by war and most of Manila's buildings were obliterated, including the Met. It was reconstructed again during the Marcos administration in the 1970s, but ownership disputes between the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the City Government of Manila made the Met be closed once again. Calls for reconstruction were made by heritage enthusiasts to save this magnificent gem. It is sad to see the Met (and other heritage structures) being neglected by our own people. When will we Filipinos learn how appreciate our heritage? 

The Met in ruins after the Liberation of Manila in 1945. © Tumblr/Manila 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Manila Central Post Office Building

Manila Post Office Building's most famous photo, along with the grand Jones Bridge. © Arkitekturang Filipino 

The Post Office during the American Occupation. © Arkitekturang Filipino 

 The Manila Post Office Building stands proudly along the banks of the Pasig River and has witnessed many of the nation's historical events, from the American occupation to the Battle of Manila in 1945 up to the present time. Its elegance made Manila the 'Best City in the Far East'. Constructed in 1925 and designed by the great Juan Arellano, together with American Ralph Doane and fellow Filipino Tomas Mapua, is built in neo-classical architecture, which is one of the greatest examples of American colonial architecture in the Philippines.

The foundations for the Post Office Building is being started. Take note of the newly-built beaux-arts Jones Bridge in the center which makes the Post Office and the Jones Bridge a perfect match.  © Arkitekturang Filipino/John Tewell 

The Post Office building was only one of many government edifices envisioned by the famous American urban planner Daniel Burnham. His plan was to pattern Manila after Washington DC and make it the 'Paris on the Prairie'. According to Filipino urban planner Paulo Alcazaren that "He (Burnham) placed the National Capitol at the Luneta with supporting offices around it, and even more government offices in a string composed of the National Library, the National Museum, the National Exposition Building (the Philippine equivalent of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC), and finally the National Post Office by the river". The Burnham Plan of Manila was not able to be realized because of then Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon making a new capital of a much-larger and grander scale which is now Quezon City. 

Aerial view of the northern part of the city as construction for the Post Office Building is underway. © Nostalgia

The Post Office Building sits along the banks of the Pasig River and by the Plaza Lawton across. It is flanked by the Manila Metropolitan Theatre to its northwest, two bridges spanning the Pasig River, the Jones and the Sta. Cruz (now MacArthur) bridges which serve as entry to the then-grand Taft Avenue with its tree lined walkways. The Post Office Building has a rectangular shaped mast adorned with fourteen Ionic columns and has two semi-circular drums on both sides has an atrium in the middle which provides natural light and ventilation.

The Post Office Building taken from P. Burgos Drive in 1941. © Flickr/John Tewell

A perspective of the Post Office Building drawn by its architect, the great Juan Arellano. © Arkitekturang Filipino 

After its completion in 1931, the Post Office Building won praises abroad, as far as New York from the famous Mckim, Mead and White.

Aerial view of the City of Manila and the Post Office Building, after its completion in 1931. © Nostalgia

The Post Office Building survived its pre-war beauty until in 1945, the Battle of Manila occurred. The building became a Japanese fortification because of its massive size and thick walls. Artillery from the American forces bombarded the Post Office until the Japanese had retreated towards the Walled City of Intramuros.

The Post Office's facade during the Battle of Manila in 1945. Manila was the second most devastated city after Warsaw. © Flickr/John Tewell 

Aerial view of the ruined Post Office Building from the Pasig River. The Metropolitan Theatre can also be seen. © Nostalgia 

 The liberation of Manila in March 1945 had cost more than one hundred thousand civilian deaths and eighty percent of Manila's buildings were destroyed. Government edifices such as the Legislative Building, Manila City Hall, University of the Philippines and the Post Office Building were either burned or obliterated. Manila's reputation as the 'Most Beautiful City in the Far East' was completely wiped out within a month of fierce fighting.

The Post Office Building during the Philippine Independence Day Parade in July 1946. © Nostalgia

The United States aided the Philippines with some $400,000,000.00 of war damage payments, another $120,000,000.00 for public works and left a total of $100,000,000.00 of war surplus. 

The Post Office Building after its reconstruction, c.1950. © Nostalgia

In 2012, a government official said that there are plans for converting the Post Office Building into a five-star hotel. The group behind the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore, which was also a post office, is in talks with the Department of Finance. The Philippine Postmaster General explained that the maintenance cost of the building is too much and due to advancing technology, fewer people are sending mail the traditional way.

The Post Office Building in the present time. ©