5 old Metro Manila buildings with a new lease on life
MANILA, Philippines – The cities of Metro Manila are dotted by old houses and buildings just waiting to be revitalized.
One only needs to pass by the once glorious now decrepit El Hogar in Escolta Street or the forlorn and moldy Manila Metropolitan Theater on Padre Burgos Avenue – both in Manila – to see the sad state of heritage in the megacity.
Though our heritage law protects structures that are more than 50 years old, the government lacks the funds and manpower to adequately restore them to their full glory.
Heritage advocates have called for adaptive reuse: renovating old buildings for modern use in a way that preserves their character.
Sadly, restoring old buildings often comes with a hefty price tag that scares investors or families who own the buildings.
Thus, most old buildings are simply torn down and replaced by cheaper but modern facilities.
But some ingenious and determined businessmen have gone down the more difficult path.
More and more entrepreneurs are realizing that old buildings have a unique charm and compelling history that no new building on the block can match.
That charm and history can tickle curiosity, drum up interest, and eventually drive good business.
Here are 5 buildings in Metro Manila that have been brought back to life, to the pleasure of visitors and customers looking for something different but familiar; old but new.
1. The Henry Hotel Manila
Imagine quaint houses from the 1950s surrounded by plush gardens but with modern furniture and all the creature comforts of 21st-century living and you get The Henry Manila.
This 32-room boutique hotel in Pasay City is a dream-come-true for heritage lovers who appreciate the aesthetics and architecture of the 1950s, an era relatively "new" in a country where 400-year-old churches are common.
The hotel is actually spread over 5 houses in a large compound of similar-looking houses. Some of the compound's houses have been home to famous creatives like fashion designer Jojie Lloren, art curator Albert Avellana, and furniture designer Eric Paras.
But its gardens, welcoming guests with an acacia-tree-lined driveway, is its main attraction. They were designed by National Artist for Landscape Architecture Ildefonso Santos.
2680 Compound, F.B. Harrison Street, Pasay City
2. The Blackbird at the Nielson Tower
Relish contemporary European and Asian cuisine inside the tower of the country's oldest airport. The Blackbird restaurant is right inside the Nielson Tower of the old Manila International Air Terminal, built in 1937.
The tower was used as a library before its transformation into one of the hippest restaurants in Makati by Swiss Chef Colin Mackay, famous for running fine dining restaurant Sala.
Paying tribute to the building's Art Deco roots, Blackbird's furniture and interiors feature tasteful smatterings of geometric patterns and an elegant black and white color scheme that goes well with its aviation theme.
Nielson Tower, Ayala Triangle Park, Makati Avenue, Makati City
3. Luneta Hotel
US President Dwight Eisenhower, one of this hotel's most famous guests once wrote, "To this day it [The Luneta] lives in memory as one of the most pleasant, [sic] indeed even one of the most romantic spots, I have known in this entire world."
If that doesn't convince you to drop by this unique hotel, perhaps its history will. First opened in 1918, the Luneta became one of the most popular hotels in its day accommodating the elite of Philippine society and foreign dignitaries.
It was of the few buildings to survive the bombing of Manila during World War II.
Today, the revamped Luneta Hotel retains much of the charm imbued in it by its designer, Spanish architect-engineer Salvador Farre.
Its 27 boutique-style rooms still boast French windows, carvings, and elaborate grillwork. Guests can also enjoy Spanish-Filipino cuisine in its two restaurants Cafe Yano and Ristorante Filomena.
414 Teodoro M. Kalaw Avenue, Ermita, Manila City
4. Casa Tesoro
Modern art meets a heritage house in Ermita, one of the oldest districts in Manila.
Casa Tesoro, a colonial mansion built in 1901 in Mabini Street, is now home to modern art gallery 1335 Mabini and a tribal art and antiquities showroom.
It Casa Tesoro's early days, Ermita was a neighborhood for the rich. Casa Tesoro itself was built as a vacation house.
But the mansion was helpless against the tide of history: becoming a headquarters for soldiers during the war to a postal station to housing a spa, night club, employment agency, and money changer.
But through the efforts of tribal art and antiques dealer Maria Closa and Austrian art collector Rudolph Kratochwill, Casa Tesoro has a new lease on life.
1335 Mabini St, Ermita, Manila City
5. La Cocina de Tita Moning
How about dining a few steps away from Malacañang Palace inside a lovely ancestral home in the heart of a historic residential district?
La Cocina de Tita Moning is as quaint as it sounds. Also known as the Legarda Mansion, it was built in 1937 becoming one of the first Art Deco houses in Metro Manila.
The restaurant is named after Doña Ramona Hernandez, wife of Alejandro Legarda who used to throw grand parties in the house, putting to good use her culinary skills.
The food isn't the only attraction. Visitors can check out the library of antique books cherished by Alejandro Legarda Sr.
An impressive display of antique camera equipment are left over from Legarda's days as a photography enthusiast. At one ppint, he had been the oldest living member of the Camera Club of the Philippines.
For more eerie fare, look into Legarda's clinic where he practiced his profession as a gynecologist. On display are his antique medical tools (including an x-ray machine) and a human skeleton.
Arlegui St, San Miguel, Manila City
What other examples of adaptive reuse can you spot in Metro Manila? Share them with us by commenting below!
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