In Rizal Park Hotel the original design of the Army and Navy Club was kept intact. Photos by FERNAN NEBRES and JUN MENDOZA

Rizal Park Hotel: Bringing back a grand historic icon
SLICE OF LIFE - Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - June 21, 2017 - 4:00pm

If Rizal Park Hotel looks like it has leaped out of the pages of history, it’s because in this exact same spot used to stand the Manila Army and Navy Club, an 1898 icon of a charmed past. In this American social club, the first in Manila, wives of Army and Navy officers in their ornate hats and petticoat dresses gathered perhaps for afternoon tea or cocktails and endless chatter. It was, in fact, the center of Manila’s social life. If only the walls could speak, it would tell many an interesting tale.

The building itself was designed by William Parsons, an American architect and city planner who, with his French training from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, gave the Army and Navy Club his trademark copious use of arches. Under a team of US Army Corps of Engineers, the building was completed in 1911 at its present site near Rizal Park overlooking Manila Bay. The Club was originally located in nearby Intramuros, Manila. Among its presidents are familiar names in history, like Admiral George Dewey, Gen. Arthur MacArthur Jr. and his son Douglas MacArthur, and Leonard Wood.

A stately white structure, it stood nearly shrouded by grand old acacia trees and guarded by a wrought-iron fence. 

“Yes, the vintage iron fence and the lovely age-old statues that adorned the courtyard are still around,” Rizal Park Hotel general manager Juan Paolo Sumera points out as we stand in awe in front of the restored building.

Simon Lee Paz’s passion

The owner of the hotel, Simon Lee Paz, a businessman, was so fascinated with the history of the Army and Navy Club that he wanted to preserve as much of it as possible. He read up and went deep into research with regard to how to restore the culture and history of this national heritage site that was abandoned 30 years ago and quickly fell into decline.

 “That’s why when we were hired, one of the things the owner emphasized to us was we had to know the history of the place,” relates Paolo.

He stresses, “The original design was kept intact. Because it’s a project where the preservation of history and culture was really put into context. Restoration takes twice the effort and triple or quadruple the price. As you can see, it’s as it was from the old Army and Navy Club days.”

A beauty inside out

Restoration started four years ago and phase 1 is nearly complete with 76 (34 rooms in phase 2) elegantly furnished guestrooms in colonial-era design and replete with chandeliers ready for occupancy. Take your pick: Standard Room, Deluxe Room, Junior Suite, Premier Suite, Premier Suite with Ante Room, Army Navy Club Suite.

Something old, something new

So, how much of the past Army and Navy Club will we see in the present Rizal Park Hotel? In a book, the Army and Navy Club was described thus: “The club has a reputation of being among the best of its type in the world with excellent food, a superb staff, and a swimming pool. It also boasted a bowling alley, tennis and squash courts, and a huge officer’s bar.”

“Even if it’s restored, the hotel has no old, gloomy feel to it,” says Paolo. “We use light, nude, earth colors for the rooms as well as tiles for the flooring instead of carpets.”

Yes, there will be a swimming pool — an infinity pool — to be located on the fourth floor of phase 2 of construction, just like the Army Navy Club, which had a beautiful swimming pool area with a view of the sea wall where the officers and their wives in their shimmering evening clothes drank and toasted the night away on New Year’s Eve.

The swimming pool will have a gym next to it. There will be a lifestyle membership club and members can have access to the facilities of the hotel.

Rizal Park Hotel will have a sky bar and coffee bar in its open penthouse — a great place for a drink or two with friends. In the 1930s, the Army Navy Club had a large verandah on the second floor with a long line of bunks across it, known as “drunk’s row.” This was where officers would sleep off a hangover after having had one drink too many, until they were awakened in the morning from their bunks by some 20 officers.

As it was with the Army Navy Club, the lobby lounge at the Rizal Park Hotel is a cozy place to have freshly brewed coffee after checking in, while waiting for one’s room to be ready.

While the Americans had their fill of big, fat burgers and steaks at the Army Navy Club (you’ll soon see old photos of officers dining in their Navy uniforms), guests at the Rizal Park Hotel can enjoy dining at its all-day dining restaurant or al fresco courtyard.

The all-day dining restaurant offers a la carte dishes starting at P280.

Restaurant manager Hansel Nahlen describes the menu on the buffet: “For breakfast (at P850+), we have an egg station, cereals, hot items like tapas, Japanese sushi and maki, and dim sum. For lunch (at P1,450+), we have Filipino food like binusog na lechon (pork belly stuffed with paella), international cuisine, Mediterranean, Chinese dishes. For dinner (at P1,900+), we have rib eye, prime rib, more carvings like turkey, poached prawns, different types of cooking crabs.”

Wait, there’s more. “We will have a fine-dining Chinese restaurant,” Hansel adds. “We already have our two chefs from China and some food tasting. People want authentic Chinese food.”

When the kitchen’s completely staffed, there will be around 38 chefs, excluding the banquet, which can seat 1,200 persons.

The hotel will also have its own bakeshop downstairs for freshly baked pastries and maybe a kiosk for takeout orders.

Hotel with a social responsibility

Simon Lee Paz feels that to be different, you have to offer something unique. Rizal Park Hotel will fulfill its social responsibility by cleaning up the shoreline and making it into a fish sanctuary.

In addition, the third phase of the hotel’s development will have either a third building or a fisherman’s wharf type of dining with rows of restaurants offering fresh seafood and more.

Of course, the hotel will have a spa. But for now, the spa services will be offered to guests in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

“One thing about not being too big or too small is that you get a niche market,” Paolo notes. “It’s more intimate, more personalized, more private.”

And it offers a lot more as you relive the past while living it up in the present.

 

 

 

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Rizal Park Hotel is located at South Road Drive, TM Kalaw Extension, Ermita, at the heart of Manila’s business and entertainment districts. It is just across Rizal Park and adjacent to the Quirino Grandstand, Museo Pambata, Manila Ocean Park, and the Embassy of the United States of America. Call 804-8700 to 99; email sales@rizalparkhotel.com.ph,info@rizalparkhotel.com.ph; visit www.rizalparkhotel.com.ph.

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