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A visit to China Bank Binondo Museum |


A visit to China Bank Binondo Museum

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star
A visit to China Bank Binondo Museum
I immediately fell in love with the charmingly antiquated elevator at China Bank Binondo Center.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun shone brightly, telling me it would be warm all day. I was decked out in one of my favorite outfits that always made me feel light and airy. Since my husband and I gave up sleeping with air conditioning and since I also hardly go out, I had forgotten all about air conditioners.

My cousin picked me up to go to Chinatown to visit the restored China Bank Binondo Center. We – the few remaining descendants of Jose Rizal – were invited by Gemma Cruz Araneta. When we got out of the car, I looked down to where I was going to put my feet – you know how old I am and how careful I must be about falling at this age. I was impressed by the tidiness and the prettiness of the sidewalk. A most courteous gentleman met us and told us we could park right on Dasmarinas Street. He directed us to the entrance where we had to sign the guest book.

We were escorted into an elevator. I immediately fell in love. It was so charmingly antiquated. It looked genuinely old but sparkled like new. When I was small, shortly after World War II, our family lived at North Sy-quia apartments for a while. There the elevators were – and I suspect continue to be – old. It had a heavy door that you pulled open. Then it had one of those accordion-type doors that you had to pull shut or the elevator would not move. This was the same but it looked so much better. Maybe because it was older or maybe because the people who restored it dedicatedly took it apart, replaced the broken pieces by recreating them, then polished it painfully until it shone. It was to me even more impressive than the beautiful arches they also restored.  To me their restored elevator spoke of their labor of genuine heartfelt love.

Alex Escucha, our host, quite apart from being one of China Bank’s senior vice presidents, was the Binondo Heritage Restoration Committee chairman, an impressive long title, a mouthful that all the work of the committee deserved. Architect Manuel Noche, once secretary of the Heritage Conservation Society, was commissioned by China Bank to do the restoration project. “He began by doing forensics on the old building,” Alex explained. “Then we studied old photographs. That’s how we got to know how it was built and how we could decide on alterations where necessary.”

China Bank was founded in 1920 by Dee C. Chuan, to serve Chinese immigrants who weren’t served by other commercial banks then. They loaned out money to entrepreneurs to get their businesses started. They loaned the young Henry Sy, Sr. P500,000 to set up his first Shoe Mart. Over the years, to celebrate the support China Bank had given him, Mr. Sy bought more and more stocks until he became the biggest stockholder of China Bank.  Today, his son Hans T. Sy is the bank’s chairman.

At the bank’s museum you see many luminaries. Albino Z. Sycip, father of David, Paz and Washington Sycip. John Gokongwei. Ricardo Chua, who looked like a mestizo to me, just like Dee C. Chuan also looked very mestizo. I must say the the Casas de Acuzar has contributed tremendously to our advertising productions and to our movies. For the production, it became the setting of China Bank’s ad to celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2020, where they had to locate the exact model of Rolls-Royce that Dee C. Chuan disembarked from once upon a time.  This was shot at the Casas de Acuzar that looks so historically perfect. I also remember the movie Quezon’s Game, about President Manuel Quezon’s opening our doors to Jewish immigrants, was shot there. It was a wonderful movie, too.

The morning spent at the China Bank Architectural Heritage Restoration and Museum Project was well worth it for us, the few Rizal descendants who were present. Alex Escucha told us that he had read somewhere that Jose Rizal had recommended China Bank to one of his sisters. I think it might have been because they cared then and now about helping the people who are their customers. That’s part of their policy – to help people always.

After the museum tour we walked to 1919 Grand Café for lunch.  It was a short walk away to the old headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank then. Now it has become a café with an international menu at the heart of Binondo. I was sort of disappointed we didn’t go to Toho Antigua, which was Rizal’s favorite restaurant in Binondo and which is still alive until now. But we ordered pasta with truffles and it was delicious. I have nothing to complain about.

Except that I felt frozen from the cold of the air conditioner in the museum. So now I am down with a bad cough and cold. But it was well worth the trip.

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