The Crystal Arcade during its heyday. © Arquitectura Manila Photo File
The Philippine capital of Manila was a city of high stature, comparable to those fine cities of the Occident such as Paris, London, and Madrid. The pre-war years have given Manila to acclaim itself as the 'Most Beautiful City in the Far East' whilst Manila's neighbors, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore, were backwater outposts of their colonial masters. This is proven by the influx of European migrants and expatriates to the city in the first half of the 20th century. Germans, Spaniards, Americans, British, French, and Russians made Manila their home, at least, until the end of the Second World War. These migrants and expatriates mingled with the Philippine alta sociedad and had the city developed from a medieval Spanish city into a progressive capital of a semi-independent nation.
Shopping around the city is one of the best things to do in Manila. Long before the existence of modern Philippine shopping mall complexes such as Rustan's, Shoemart, Robinson's, and Ayala, the Crystal Arcade is considered the first shopping mall in the Philippines.
Façade of the Crystal Arcade. © Lougopal.com/Manila Nostalgia
The Crystal Arcade was one of the most modern buildings located along the Escolta, the country's then premier business district. Built on the land owned by the Pardo de Tavera family, an illustrious Filipino family of Spanish and Poruguese lineage, the modern building was designed by the great Andrés Luna de San Pedro, a scion of the latter. The Crystal Arcade was designed in the art deco style, a style prevalent in the 1920s to the 1940s. It was to be one of Luna's masterpieces, with the building finish resembled that of a gleaming crystal.
The conception of a construction of the Crystal Arcade started in the 1920s as a pet project of Luna. Luna wanted to have the same prestige in the arts and architecture like that of his father, the great revolutionary-painter Juan Luna Novicio. To make such thing possible, he infused the sleek and streamline art deco design with crytal-like glass in his design for the building.
Andrés Luna de San Pedro (1887-1952) © Lougopal.com/Manila Nostalgia
The Crystal Arcade was inaugurated in June of 1932, and was the first shopping establishment, or the first commercial establishment that was fully air-conditioned. Its interiors reminded the Philippine elite of the arcades that of Paris, with covered walkways, glass covered display windows and cafés and other specialty shops.
Crystal Arcade interior, adorned with a pair of grand staircases. © Manila Nostalgia/Carmelo Mosqueda
Inside the Crystal Arcade, one can find the home of the first Manila Stock Exchange, the precursor to today's Philippine Stock Exchange.
A typical trading day at the Manila Stock Exchange inside the Crystal Arcade.
According to sources, the Crystal Arcade was used to be owned by its architect, the great Andrés Luna de San Pedro, probably due to the land being owned by his maternal family, the Pardo de Taveras, but was foreclosed by its creditor, the El Hogar Filipino, due to the financial situation that came about during the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression in the late 1920s to the early 1930s. The Crystal Arcade was also planned to have more floors but was eventually scrapped because of lack of funds.
When the Crystal Arcade opened in 1932, it was the most elegant building in the area as it was constructed with glass which illuminates like crystal at night. Its interiors were also as elegant as the exterior, showing art deco lines and motifs.
"The Arcade had a mezzanine on both sides of a central gallery that ran through the length of the building and expanded at the center to form a spacious lobby containing curved stairways. Stairs, balconies, columns and skylight combined to create vertical and horizontal movement, as well as a play of light and shadow in the interior. Art deco bays pierced by a vertical window marked each end of the façade and complemented the tower over the central lobby. Wrought-iron grilles and stucco ornaments were in the art deco style featuring geometric forms, stylized foliage, and diagonal lines and motifs." (excerpt from Philippine Politics and Society in the Twentieth Century: Colonial legacies, post-colonial trajectories)
Escolta in 1937. The Crystal Arcade is on the left of the photo. © Lougopal.com/Manila Nostalgia
In 1941, the Second World War came to the Philippines only hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed. The capital city, Manila, was also bombed by the invading Japanese forces causing damage to the city. The following year, in January, triumphant Japanese forces entered the city despite of it being declared an open city. During the occupation years, the Crystal Arcade was home to Japanese occupation agencies such as the Japanese Government Railways and the Board of Tourist Industry.
The year 1945, for those who lived in Japanese-occupied Manila, was probably the most traumatic and devastating year. In the months of February and March saw the most bitter fighting in all of the Pacific. Sixteen thousand (16,000) fanatical Imperial Japanese Navy soldiers fought American and Filipino forces to the last man, bringing with them about one hundred thousand (100,000) civilians massacred. The effect of this bitter fighting resulted in the near-total destruction of the City of Manila. More than eighty (80) percent of the city's structures were obliterated, many of them into extinction. The Crystal Arcade, located along the Escolta, was one of the casualties of war, Escolta being one of the areas of fierce combat.
A heavily damaged Crystal Arcade taken immediately after the liberation for Manila. © George Mountz Collection
Shelled-out interiors of the Crystal Arcade. © Lougopal.com/Manila Nostalgia
Immediately after the liberation of Manila, businesses soon opened even its locations were in shambles. In the Crystal Arcade, businesses reopened and some new businesses found a home in the Crystal Arcade. Only the first floor was occupied with stores and the second floor being a bodega, or storage room of the tenants. Eventually, in the 1960s, the Crystal Arcade was demolished to pave way for the post-war revival of the Escolta. Its successor, the new Philippine National Bank Building, designed by Carlos Argüelles, replaced the Crystal Arcade, the Lyric Theater, and the Brias Roxas Building.