Rebirth of the Grand Dame

NEW BEGINNINGS - The Philippine Star

Just how much of Philippine history has Manila Hotel been witness to?

In the early 1900s, according to the hotel’s research, architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, the city planner of Baguio, created an urban plan for Manila. Very clearly, he saw in his vision a grand hotel at the end of a wide and long tree-lined boulevard that would begin at the park and end at the spit’s end of the bay.

On July 4, 1912, in time for the celebration of the American Day of Independence, The Manila Hotel was born. It was to become the prime venue for many a celebration, especially so that the hotel was the first building in the capital to have an air-conditioning system.

“The hotel is home to many wonderful stories,” begins Denise Tambuatco, Manila Hotel senior vice president for marketing, during a luncheon with a group of writers at the hotel’s Café Ilang-Ilang. After the sumptuous buffet, Denise and PR executive Kristine Factoas bring us on a tour of the hotel. First stop: the elegant MacArthur Suite. Inside the suite’s study room, Denise points to the two armchairs. “They are original reminders that during the Commonwealth period, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his family stayed in the hotel (from 1935 to 1941). These two chairs survived when the hotel was torched by the Japanese soldiers during World War II,” she says.

History has it that MacArthur was commissioned by Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon to help build the Philippine Armed Forces in the 1930s. The American general stayed at the Manila Hotel as its honorary general manager, feasting many times on his favorite native lapu-lapu dish.

The MacArthur Suite is still enveloped in the feel and vibe of an opulent bygone era. Denise continues: “When MacArthur and his family fled the hotel to Corregidor, their Filipino butler packed whatever pieces of memorabilia they left behind and buried them on the hotel grounds. Years after the war, he gave them to Jean, MacArthur’s widow.”

The hotel is also a repository of pop culture trivia. In 1966, The Beatles made Manila Hotel their home during their first and only visit to the Philippines. They reportedly did not want to pay a courtesy call on President and Mrs. Marcos that the Fab Four were sent back home — on the same day they arrived!

And for recent history, Deedee Siytangco, who is with us in touring the hotel, adds: “Manila Hotel was the venue where Cory Aquino answered Marcos’ alleged threat of ‘Isang bala ka lang’ with ‘Isang balota ka lang’ during the Snap Elections in January 1986.” Deedee became press undersecretary during the term of President Cory Aquino.


This time around, the 102-year-old Manila Hotel, touted as the “Grand Dame” of hotels in the Philippines,  is embarking on a transformation to rebrand the hotel as a luxury heritage destination.

The transformation plan, which, according to Denise, will be done in a period of two to three years by Manny Samson and Associates, will address the hotel structure, service standards, staff orientation, amenities and conveniences.

The grand entrance to the new experience, says Denise, will begin at the to-be-redesigned porte-cochere, the hotel’s traditional covered driveway. The baggage handlers, bellboys and receptionists in period-inspired costumes give guest a unique experience the minute they enter the Grand Lobby that evokes of Old-World charm, what with its original marbles floors, hardwood accents and remarkable chandeliers that are made of brass, crystal prism and seashells. 

The Presidential Suite, Denise excitedly intimates, is currently undergoing renovations with a larger lap pool replacing the small kidney-shaped pool. “Once it’s finished, it will be the biggest Presidential Suite in the country at more than 1,000 square feet,” she says.

Included also in the rebranding phase is the union between tradition and technology in the hotel’s function rooms. Being renovated at the moment is the Fiesta Pavilion to accommodate from 200 to 2,000 guests, making it the ideal venue for both intimate and big events. The venue will also have the state-of-the-art light-and-sound technology for events that call for drama and spectacle.

The promise of a relaxing staycation is what Manila Hotel is now embarking on. Guests will be embraced by the rare ambiance that harks back to a slower pace of life, “the era of gracious living, where services are solicitous, gentle, polite, professional yet unobtrusive.” 

The Old-World grandeur of the hotel has played silent witness to the country’s history. Its transformation promises to be a partner to history yet to unfold in the Philippines.


(E-mail me at [email protected] I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed Sunday!)










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