I have been dying to do a walking tour of Escolta, Manila’s historic version of High Street. During the Spanish era, this short (less than a kilometer long) stretch was linedwith rows of camarines (1-storey Chinese shops). On his way to his office in Intramuros from Malacanang, the Spanish governor-general would usually pass here with his escolta (official escorts), hence the derivation of its name (from the Spanish word escortar meaning “to escort”). Later, these camarines along Calle Escolta were replaced by bahay-na-bato (stone houses) adorned with Neo-Classical elements such as Greek columns and caryatids and, towards the end of the Spanish regime, by European establishments, the only ones permitted to do business along the cobblestones (imported from Hong Kong) of this narrow, historic thoroughfare.
|Escolta – A shadow of its former self|
|The First United and Regina Buildings|
Needing to buy some lighting fixtures along nearby Soler St., I decided to include a visit to Escolta in my itinerary. From Gil Puyat Ave., I took the LRT and dropped off at Carriedo Station. The first notable piece of architecture I encountered was the Neo-Classical-style Don Roman R. Santos Building, fronting Plaza Lacson (formerly Plaza Goiti). When the Japanese bombed the city during World War II, only 3 of its 5 floors were finished. Luckily, it survived and the building was finished in 1957. The building once housed the headquarters of Monte de Piedad and Prudential Bank and, later, a shopping mall (South Super Mart). When the mall closed, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) took over the building. Its entrance has Ionic columns with a triangular pediment, within which is a big clock flanked by bas-relief sculptures.
|Don Roman R. Santos Building|
Both ends of Escolta open into impressive open spaces (Plaza Sta. Cruz and Plaza Moraga). Though no longer the premier shopping district it used to be, strolling along Escolta is still a rewarding experience as one could still find traces of its glorious past. Uponcrossing the little Visita Bridge spanning Estero de la Reina, at the Sta. Cruz entrance of Escolta, I was attracted by 2 impressive, eye-catching (though marred by entangled electrical cables) buildings facing each other – the fancy, Art Deco-style First United Building and the elegant Beaux Arts-style Regina Building.
|First United Building|
Further out was the Burke Building, with its simple balance lines. Built in 1919, it was named after the cardiologist William J. Burke who introduced and installed the first electrocardiograph in the country. Also a philanthropist, he donated the land for the street (Calle David, renamed W. Burke St. in 1990). The first Otis elevator in the Philippines was installed in this building.
The charming, Beaux Arts-style Natividad Building, one of the most beautiful landmarks in the area, is one of the oldest buildings along Escolta. It was burned during the 1945 Battle of Manila (leaving only its exterior shell) and was later restored. In the 1950s, this building housed the office of the Insurance Commission. Its alluring, ivory and white-colored facade, evocative of a French café in a Parisian neighborhood, has four levels alternately decorated with arched and square windows with cornices with tooth-like dentils underneath it.
The stunning, Beaux Arts-style Calvo Building, built in 1938 by Mr. Edificio Calvo, was also designed by Arch. Fernando Ocampo. The richly-decorated facade at the second level has arched windows (except at the truncated corner) flanked by Ionic pilasters, above which is a cornice embellished by garlands and gracefully broken, in alternating sections, by cartouches supported by corbels above the window’s arch.
|The truncated corner|
This 4-storey building once housed the Philippine Bank of Commerce, the popular MV Villar Records Store and the original radio station of Robert “Uncle Bob” Stewart’s Channel 7. On its roof deck was Luisa, a popular soda fountain. Today, Mercury Drug and Tropical Hut flank the entrance to the building, with Wah Yuen Hot Pot and Seafood Restaurant in its Calle Soda side. Its mezzanine is home to the little-known Escolta Museum.
|Cartouche above the arched window|
Across the street from the Calvo Building is the decaying and dilapidated shell of the majestic, Mesopotanian-inspired Art Deco-style Capitol Theater. Built in the 1935, this theater, designed by National Artist Arch. Juan Nakpil, had a seating capacity of 800 and an unusual double balcony. Its lobby once mounted a beautiful wall mural by the late Filipino modernist and National Artist Victorio C. Edades. Now abandoned, it ceased operations in the late 1980s.