Modern Living

Jones Bridge Diary: The link to a romantic past

CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren -
My favorite postcard of pre-war Manila is a classic scene of three of the city’s greatest structures and two of its most beloved landscapes. The composition features the elegant Post Office building and the jazzy Metropolitan Theater with the verdant Mehan Garden in the background. The pristine Pasig River flows in the foreground in all its vibrancy, spanned by what arguably was the most beautiful bridge in Asia – the Jones Bridge.

The William A. Jones Memorial Bridge was built to honor the American lawmaker who championed the Filipino cause. Jones sponsored a law that sought to grant autonomy to the islands. Signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 29, 1916, the act eased out American influence in the colonial government by turning the formerly American-dominated legislature into a completely Filipino body (actually two houses). Although the Governor General was still the chief executive it was a giant leap for the emerging body politic of the Philippines and for Manuel L. Quezon who fought for its passage.

The city celebrated on Quezon’s return later that year. Manileños even named one of the gates at the Intramuros after him. The jubilation of Filipinos was understandable because aside from the change in the composition of the legislature, the Jones Act had promised that the United States would "…withdraw their sovereignty …and recognize the independence of the Filipinos as soon as a stable government can be established." This independence was eventually granted in 1946. (Though stable was not a word that could easily be used to describe the state of the war-torn nation then …nor for much of our political history since then.)
Bridge through time
Stepping back… in time, that is, Manileños were still jumping up and down for joy so much in 1916 that they also decided to honor the distinguished Mr. Jones by naming a new bridge after him. The new Jones Bridge would link Old Manila with the new Business District of Binondo.

Of course, Binondo was not a "new" business district. It had developed slowly ever since the 17th century, gaining momentum after the Spaniards opened the country to foreign trade in the mid-1800s. The "new" bridge was also not the first to span the Pasig. The Spaniards built a stone bridge in the 17th century called the Puente Grande to replace a ferry that had previously serviced the spot. The bridge stood for over a century until the temblor of 1863 brought it down.

Citizens had to do with a pontoon bridge for a dozen years or so after that until the Spaniards scrounged enough money to build a replacement. In 1876, the Puente de Espana opened to pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic. The Bridge of Spain, as the Americans called it, survived the change in Imperial masters. It functioned splendidly until increasing wear and tear from traffic and the load of frequent tranvias weakened the bridge beyond repair. A new bridge was in order.
Paris, Venice and Manila
New bridges were part of the master plan of Daniel H. Burnham that was being vigorously implemented by the architects and engineers of the Bureau of Public Works led by William E. Parsons. Burnham had laid out a plan that gave emphasis to the River and esteros of Manila. Burnham had likened them to the River Seine in Paris and the canals of Venice. He sought to turn Manila into a combination of the two.

Parsons was a prolific architect who designed the Manila Hotel, the PGH, the Army and Navy Club, the Elk’s Club, numerous schools and government buildings. He was aided by a few other Americans and a growing number of Filipino architects who trained in the United States as government pensionados. The Jones Act, however, ended the direct supervision of American architects and Filipino architects eventually and competently took over by 1918.

Two Filipino architects, Juan Arellano and Tomas Mapua, took over as supervising architects of the BPW in 1918. The two Filipinos were responsible for most of the designs of public buildings until the war (with Antonio Toledo filling in as the ’40s approached). The Congress building, Post Office, the University of the Philippines and numerous town halls and provincial capitols were designed by Arellano, the more prolific of the two.

Arellano was a graduate of Drexel Institute and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. He was trained, as were most architects at the time, in the neoclassic style of architecture. Neoclassicism was the perfect vehicle for expression of civic architecture given the context of the era; the emergence of America as a world power and the formal ordering of its own capital Washington as well as those of its colonies …in that same image.
The Arellano masterpiece
Arellano first worked on the plans for the Legislative Building (later the Congress). At the same time, he started work on the first of the three structures that is immortalized in that classic postcard scene – the Jones Bridge. Arellano designed the bridge in the style of Parisian bridges of the Napoleonic and Haussman eras. The bridge had three arches resting on two heavy piers. The internal structure was of steel with the piers, cladding and ornamentation in concrete and pre-cast faux stone.

It was the ornamentation of the bridge that set it apart from the previous one. Arellano embellished the piers with a statuary of boys on dolphins, similar to the embellishments on the Pont Alexandre III in Paris (which he visited on the way home from America). The lampposts, balustrades, finials and moldings were similarly treated.

Like that famous Parisian bridge, and others in Washington D.C. and Chicago, Arellano marked both ends of the Jones with statuary on immense plinths. The sculptor Martinez was commissioned to create four allegorical tableaus in cast stone. These four carried a matriarchal theme: motherhood and nationhood.

Construction was in full swing in 1919 under the auspices of the City of Manila but the city faltered and the national government, under the BPW, had to step in and complete the job in 1920. For a while, there were two bridges side by side as the Bridge of Spain was kept open as construction progressed on the new bridge.
A Bridge In Pieces
The Jones Bridge was inaugurated in 1921 and quickly became a landmark even before the Post Office and Metropolitan Theater, also by Arellano, were completed a decade later. In the 1930s, the trio and the plaza that fronted them formed one of the defining social and civic spaces of "modern" Manila. Tragically, war intervened and all three were damaged. The bridge suffered the most damage as the Japanese blew it up just before the Americans reached the city.

Upon liberation a Bailey bridge served to temporarily span the Pasig. The Jones Bridge was eventually repaired, using large and deep steel girders. Sadly, none of the original embellishments on either the piers or the balustrades were restored. In the rush to repair the bridge, functionality was chosen over style. The neoclassic was also on its way out as buildings and structures opted to carry the spartan face of modernist architecture.

Of the four statues that guarded the bridge, three survived but were strewn around the city. One of them, the piece "La Madre Filipina," spent its purgatory as a rest stop between holes on the Intramuros golf course. It was rescued in the 1960s and reinstalled at the Luneta (it was repaired by the sculptor F. Caedo) during the park’s renaissance. Two other sculptural tableaus now guard the Court of Appeals. (I cannot seem to locate the fourth tableau, which may lie in pieces in the murky depths of the Pasig.)
Picking up the pieces
The damage of the war was largely repaired by the early 1950s. But historic core lay too damaged physically and psychically (over 200,000 Manilas were injured or killed in the "liberation" of Manila) to heal. The flight to the suburbs left old Manila slowly exposed to urban decay. The slow descent into oblivion went on unimpeded for the last half-century until the centennial fever caught on in 1998.

The Jones Bridge, along with several others up the river, was given a face-lift under the Clean and Green/Peso Para sa Pasig program of then First Lady Amelita Ramos. Architect Conrad Onglao was tasked to revive the Jones Bridge. Despite a limited budget, some of the bridge’s old glory was restored. Onglao was hampered, no doubt, by the lack of documentation of the old bridge.

One wishes that the country (and the world) were in better shape to be able to afford to revive the romance that once was exemplified in structures of artistry and robust construction of that lost era. The terrors of war have caused the loss of life and the destruction of many landmarks in the histories of cities and of nations.

We all face a new era, but we must not forget that civility, peace and graciousness can rise out of the ashes. Today, we must be vigilant and protect what we have left of our heritage and humanity. We must continue to persevere to find ways of resolving the conflicts that threaten to tear our cities and our world apart. We must build new bridges to span the turbulent waters of intolerance, ignorance and inequity.

The romance of a better world still awaits us on the other side of this nascent century. It is a romance that can only come after remembrance, recovery and reconstruction …along with hefty doses of prayer and faith; in whatever form peaceful form we choose to express that faith.
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