Rich history of Escolta

Escolta is the oldest street in Manila. Amidst the city’s embrace of moder­nity such as prolif­eration of laptops and cell­phones, Escolta still exudes a vague European feel.

Escolta – exactly 1.159 kilometers long – is an old thoroughfare in Manila’s Binondo district, running parallel to the Pasig River from Plaza Sta. Cruz to Plaza Moraga and Quentin Pare­des Street.

The former British Commander-in-Chief and other government officials used to pass through Escolta on their way to Intramuros in the 1760s during the oc­cupation of Manila with full escort; hence the name “Es­colta” which is Spanish for “to escort”.

Calle de la Escolta was Manila’s main business and commercial center in the 1800s to the late 1990s and location of the country’s ear­ly skyscrapers.

The Burke Building – named after William J. Burke – had the Philippines’ first elevator, built in the 1920s. It was designed by Tomas Ar­guelles. First tenants includ­ed movie production offices of Fernando Poe, Jr. and Jo­seph Estrada.

In 1935, the Capitol Theater was built, designed by National Artist for Ar­chitecture Juan Nakpil in the Art Deco style. Occupy­ing an area of 1,100 square meters, the theater had 800 seats. A bas-relief designed by Francesco Monti was on the building façade with the Muse of Tragedy on the left side and the Muse of Com­edy on the right. National Artists for Painting Victorio Edades, Galo Ocampo, and Botong Francisco created the mural on the theater lobby called “Rising Philippines”. It was allegedly destroyed during the Battle of Manila in 1945.

The Don Roman Santos Building was built in 1894 following the design of Juan Hervas. Initially occupied by Monte de Piedad – the first savings bank in the Philip­pines – the building is cur­rently occupied by the Bank of the Philippine Islands Sta. Cruz branch.

The building is an aug­mentation of an original design by Andres Luna de San Pedro (son of painter Juan Luna), in 1937 and was done in neoclassical style. It became a Red Cross hospi­tal during World War II. In 1952, it served as headquar­ters of Prudential Bank and was named after its presi­dent, Don Ramon Santos.

The El Hogar was in­augurated in 1914 and was designed by Ramon Irru­reta Goyena and Francis­co Perez-Muñoz. It was in the Beaux-Arts style with a liberal mix of reliefs and sculptures. The building was commissioned by Spanish Count Don Antonio Melian as a wedding gift to his wife, Margarita Zobel de Ayala.

The old Perez-Samanil­lo Building was built in 1928 in the Art Deco style. It was designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro and housed the Manila Post Office during the Spanish time. In 1968 it became the First United Building. It was the site of the Berg’s Department Store. Its tenants included the offices of Nora Aunor and Dolphy. It was also site of the Lyric Music House. Over at the P.E. Domingo piano store, a young Imelda Romualdez used to work and sang to at­tract customers.

The Uy-Chaco Building was designed by American architect Samuel Rowell for Mariano Uy-Chaco in 1914 in the Art Noveau style. The Regina Building, originally known as the Roxas Build­ing, was designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro in the neoclassical style and com­pleted in 1915.

The Calvo Museum, built in 1938, has a collection of vintage pieces and memo­rabilia of Old Manila. Other popular stores along Escolta included the Heacock’s De­partment Store, Walk-Over Shoe Store, Botica Boie, La Estrella del Norte, Lyric Mu­sic House, Syvel’s, and Agui­naldo’s.

Most of the buildings amazingly withstood the passage of time and the in­clement harshness of the past wars. They were built and fortified so that they do not look as if they may col­lapse.

Today, inside the First United Building is a coffee­house-cum-bistro with a band playing even on Sunday mornings.

On Sundays, vintage cars and motorcycles are parked neatly by the road­side. Remarkably, these cars and motorcycles have aged well, boasting their rugged vintage appeal – decades old, yet the ancient character still clings.

Escolta has become trendy despite its being rooted to a rich past. Some touches of recent develop­ments have slightly altered its face. There sprouted im­posing skyscrapers along the street, like new teeth coming in behind the baby teeth, and an essence of rebirth glides along it to sponge out old scars.

Escolta is a history les­son, a commemoration of rich heritage and endurance. Spend a Sunday wander­ing around the street, eerily hearing footsteps echoing the cadences of regiments of for­eign colonizers and the clip-clops of horse-drawn carro­matas.

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