Continuing from last Saturday’s piece on “25 Things You Did Not Know About Quezon City,” one lost plan for the city was the holding of a world’s fair to celebrate independence in 1946. Yes, it was to be an international exposition much like the great one hosted by Shanghai in 2010. We would have been the first in Asia!
But first, the backstory: In 1938 President Manuel L. Quezon made a decision to push for a new capital city. Manila was getting crowded and his military advisors (reportedly) told him that Manila, being by the bay, was an easy target for bombardment by naval guns in case of attack — and that possibility was high in the pre-war years of the late ’30s.
Of course, military advisers did not anticipate bombing from the air. Nevertheless, Quezon railroaded the idea of a totally new city at least 15 kilometers away from Manila Bay (beyond the reach of naval guns). He contacted William E. Parsons, American architect and planner, who had been the consulting architect for the islands early in the American colonial period.
Parsons came over in the summer of 1939 and helped select the Diliman (Tuason) estate as the site for the new city. Unfortunately he passed away later that year. His partner Harry Frost took over. Frost collaborated with Juan Arellano, engineer AD Williams and landscape architect/planner Louis Croft to craft a grand master plan for the new capital — Quezon City.
The plan was approved by the Philippine authorities in 1941. The core of the new city was to be a 400-hectare central green, about the size of New York’s Central Park, and defined by North, South (Timog), East and West Avenues. On one corner of the proposed Diliman Quadrangle was delineated a 25-hectare elliptical site. This was to contain a large capitol building to house the Philippine Legislature and ancillary structures for the offices of representatives.
On either side of the giant ellipse were supposed to have been built — the new Malacañan Palace and the Supreme Court Complex. The three branches of government would finally and efficiently be located close to each other. (Unlike today where they are tens of kilometers apart and an hour’s wang-wang-less travel time in between.
The Diliman Quadrangle was bisected by Quezon Avenue and a highway we now know as EDSA. One key element planned by Quezon and his consultants was a large national exposition grounds. The 15-hectare site selected was opposite the corner of EDSA and North Avenue.
If the location seems familiar, it is because SM City North now stands on the site. It appears that the destiny of that corner of the city was always as the best place for people to come and see the best of what the Philippines and the world had to offer.
The plan was for the site to be quickly developed and used from 1941-1945 as a national exposition first; much like the Manila Carnivals held in previous decades. This exposition was actually designed by Harry Frost and possibly Juan Arellano. A number of young Filipino architects assisted the two.
One of those who helped out in the project was Felipe Mendoza, who would eventually become a successful architect (he designed the Batasan Pambansa, the DAP building, several Makati towers and the Assumption School in Antipolo, among others). I interviewed Mendoza shortly before he passed away 10 years ago. He had wanted me to write his colorful biography.
One of the stories and perspectives (architect’s sketches) he gave me was the planned world’s fair in Quezon City. The pictures of the planned fair are now a key feature of the exhibit I put together called “SM&QC: Vision of a City” now on view at the atrium of The Block at SM City North — the very site of the planned world’s fair.
The Philippines has had a long history of participation at world’s fairs. The most famous of these involvements were the St. Louis fair in 1904, the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and the Expo’70 in Osaka, Japan. The ’64 and ’70 fairs were the last times we had iconic Filipino architect-designed pavilions (Otilio Arellano and Leandro Locsin respectively). The 2010 Philippine Pavilion was an off-the-shelf box that architect Ed Calma was hard-pressed to cover up (small budget) so most of the design was budgeted for the interiors.
In line with this fact and the exhibit at SM City North, SM and BluPrint (for which I am editor in chief) have launched a design competition for a hypothetical Philippine Pavilion for a possible world’s fair in Quezon City in the future. The competition is open to professionals, students and the general public (please visit the sites of SM Malls and BluPrint, www.bluprintmag.com)
The 1946 fair was a grand opportunity lost for the Philippines (Manila held a small world’s fair in 1953 at the Luneta with less than 10 foreign countries participating). The popularity of world’s fairs has now come back and we should not miss the chance to project our new destiny. It may be a good idea for Quezon City as well as Metro Manila to think about hosting one — after it has solved all its urban problems. In the meanwhile, you can come to the exhibit and see what could have been — for the world’s fair and the rest of Quezon City.
* * *
Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. The exhibit “SM&QC: Visions of a City” is at the SM City North’s The Block until Aug. 26. It will move to SM Fairview next, and from there to SM Sta. Mesa. I will hold a lecture on QC and its history at 2 p.m. that day, Friday, at SM City North.