Saturday, December 20, 2014

A.M. Shorts: Michel Apartments

The Michel Apartments at its splendor. Ⓒ Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

Long before the rise of multi-storey residential apartments in post-war Manila such as in Makati, there were already numerous apartments that were as elegant, if not, more elegant, than those of today's, in pre-war Manila. Manila, being the capital of a prosperous Philippine Islands, was once home to many expatriates of different nationalities, such as Spanish, American, British, and German. And within the confines of the modern residential section of Ermita and Malate lies the Michel Apartments, one of the city's top residential apartment.

The Michel Apartments was an art-deco, mid-rise apartment building designed by Francis 'Cheri' Mandelbaum, whose other work was the Rosaria Apartments nearby. Mandelbaum was an American architect trained in Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He also spent some time in the Philippines, coming to the islands in 1904 to work in the Bureau of Public Works with William Parsons, urban planner and architect of the Paco Station of the Philippine National Railways. Also, he worked as a professor of architecture at the University of Santo Tomás in Manila. 

At some time, the Michel Apartments was the tallest apartment building in the City of Manila. 

The Michel Apartments lay in ruins after the liberation of the city in 1945. © Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

The Michel Apartments stand nine storeys high on a 1730-square meter lot along Calle A. Mabini in Malate, the residential section of the city where many of the country's pillars in social, economic, and political institutions resided. The Michel was commissioned by Don Pedro Sy-Quia y Encarnacion, a scion of the old and landed Sy-Quia family from the north. The Michel was said to be named after his wife, Doña Asuncion Michels de Champourcin y Ventura, a mestizo from Pampanga.

This year, 2014, the Michel Apartments was hounded with a demolition permit, despite of it being a protected structure under law. The demolition of the Michel Apartments was stopped by heritage conservation activists and citizens alike through the "cease-and-desist order" from the court. But, the demolition of the Michel had already started when the court ruling came out, so it would be of no use.

Destruction of heritage structures should be given the highest priority, as physical heritage is rapidly declining because of irresponsible governance of local leaders. If the government continues to act in a way like they do not give importance to the country's heritage, then these structures will be prey to money-hungry developers.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A.M. Shorts: Admiral Apartments

The Admiral Apartments back in the day, photo probably taken after the war. Ⓒ Manila Nostalgia/John Harper

The grandeur of pre-war Manila makes people of today reminisce about the past, the past that has been prosperous and plentiful. Manila, being the finest city in the Orient proves its stately grandeur through the representation of the city's finest homes, shops, and imposing structures. Sadly, many of the structures that Manila boasts and had boasted is now being turned into fine pieces of powder as they are being demolished to pave way for the so-called "progress".

Along the scenic Dewey Boulevard, where the pride of the City of Manila, the Manila Bay, is located, there were numerous stately homes and apartments that stood in front of its glowing waters. One of them is the Admiral, located at the corner of Dewey Boulevard and Cortabitarte. The Admiral Apartments had been home to numerous historical figures, both local and global, and had been a witness to the gruesome days of the Second World War.

Admiral Apartments during the post-war years. © Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

The Admiral Apartments along Dewey Boulevard, now Róxas Boulevard, was a work of the eminent Fernando H. Ocampo, whose other works include the Calvo Building along Escolta, Angela Apartments in Malate, and the post-war rehabilitation of the Manila Cathedral. Built in 1938 and completed in 1939, the Admiral Apartments was commissioned by Don Salvador Araneta Zaragoza and his spouse, Doña Victoria López de Araneta.

Salvador Araneta Zaragoza and Doña Victoria López de Araneta. 

The Admiral Apartments, after its opening in the late 1930s, was one of the tallest residential building in the city, with eight storeys high living quarters. Because of its height, the Admiral became the focal point of sailors and ships anchoring in Manila Bay. 

Modern-day Admiral Apartments-turned hotel. Ⓒ Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

According to Manila society legends, the Admiral was conceived by Doña Victoria's mother, Doña Ana López Ledesma. It was said that Doña Ana was responsible for financing the construction of the Admiral to please and impress the Aranetas, specifically Don Salvador's father Don Gregorio Araneta Soriano, because it has been told that Don Salvador had married Doña Victoria without their knowledge.

The Admiral was designed in the art-deco style, designed by the eminent Fernando H. Ocampo. According to an architectural historian, he described the Admiral of having "an air of quiet elegance with definite Spanish touches in the design of its façade. The apartments were pleasant spacious, airy, and bright rooms. The Spanish feeling became more pronounced in the reception room that opened directly to a side street. Both the furniture and the metal chandeliers reflected a Spanish Gothic style, rather forbidding in its formality." (excerpts from a PowerPoint presentation by Isidra Reyes. Retrieved from Manila Nostalgia)

The features of the Admiral's interiors, such as the main dining halls, were designed with different themes and motifs. "The main dining room, called the Malayan Court, was so-called due to the strong Malayan motif of its design and an imposing mural painting by Antonio Dumlao. The Spanish Room was a reception room while a small dining room called the Blue Room was done in royal blue, old rose, crystal, and silver. A cocktail lounge called the Coconut Grove was decorated with a coconut trees with green light bulbs as fruits, inspired by the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles." (excerpts from a PowerPoint presentation by Isidra Reyes. Retrieved from Manila Nostalgia)

During the war, the couple's own home, the Victoneta I, was seized by the Japanese and made it their headquarters. So, the couple and their family moved to the Admiral to seek refuge, along with other members of the López-Araneta families. It has been said that Doña Victoria personally did the washing of the dirty linens and taking phone calls as the Admiral Apartments was understaffed. In the last days of the war, the Japanese took control of the Admiral Apartments. With that, the Araneta couple moved out of the Admiral and sought refuge in Baguio along with other members of the López-Araneta family. 

The Admiral Apartments (top center), during the liberation of Manila in 1945.Ⓒ Manila Nostalgia/Andi Desideri 

The battle for the liberation of the City of Manila left most of the city in ruins. The Admiral Apartments was not severely damaged in the fight for the recapture of the Philippine capital. Shortly before the capitulation of the Japanese forces in the Philippines, top commanders of Allied nations in the Pacific stayed in the Admiral Apartments. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army Douglas MacArthur has made the Admiral his temporary home after his home in nearby Manila Hotel was bombed out during the liberation. The British supreme commander, The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, formerly Prince Louis of Battenberg, uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, also stayed in the Admiral Apartments.

Construction workers demolish the Admiral Apartments. Ⓒ GMA News/Danny Pata

This year, in 2014, news regarding the Admiral Apartments sparked when it was reported that it is being demolished to pave way for a new development, the Admiral Hotel by Anchor Land Holdings. Petitions have been made throughout social media by heritage conservation activists and ordinary citizens alike, saying that the capital city of Manila has already had too much "massacre" of heritage buildings. The petition for the stopping of the demolition had reached the Manila City Hall, but took a blind eye on the issue. So, the developer, Anchor Land Holdings, continued the demolition, much to the disappointment and frustrations of heritage conservationists.

The year 2014 has already been a roller-coaster ride for Philippine heritage. No concrete plans and actions have been laid out by the government for the protection of heritage structures. As long as there are no concrete and stricter laws regarding the destruction of heritage structures, they will fall prey to greedy developers whose aim is to destroy the country's physical heritage.