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The way we wore

CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren () - April 20, 2002 - 12:00am
The planned relocation of the Bonifacio Monument is still being hotly debated. The pros and cons are flying from all directions, making me feel that eventually, the decision that will be made may be a regrettable one. In Manila’s recent urban history, it’s a fact that infrastructure wins over heritage. One wishes it isn’t so.

Caloocan, most people say, has little heritage to start with. Of course, this isn’t true. Aside from the Monumento, Grace Park in Caloocan was the site of one of the first airports in the country (the term park used to refer to an airfield). Here, too, was the site of one of the most modern factories in pre-war Philippines – one of the most modern, in fact, in Asia right before the war. This was the Ang Tibay factory just off Rizal Avenue Extension.

Ang Tibay was the legacy of Toribio Teodoro, legendary Filipino industrialist. I remember as a boy that Ang Tibay shoes were renowned for their durability and looks. It took years to wear them out or they were passed on once outgrown. Ang Tibay shoes were so good that they were even exported. Most of them were made in that huge factory in Caloocan.
The Slipper King
Teodoro was the undisputed King of Slippers and Shoes in the Commonwealth era. His story was the quintessential rags-to-riches story that was an inspiration to generations of 20th century Filipinos. Toribio was born at Matang-tubig in 1887 to poor urban folk. He left school at an early age and sought work at a cigar-factory earning 80 centavos a week. But he had ambition.

Eight years later, at age 20, he switched to slipper making in a shop on Calle Juan Luna. A step ahead of his time, Teodoro figured that there was a future in footwear. For the next three years, he worked in several slipper shops, gaining experience and putting up capital. In 1910, he finally saved enough to go into the slipper business. He opened his first shop in a nipa-roofed structure on Rizal Avenue and called it Ang Tibay.

Within 10 years and after much hard work, his business boomed and he earned the sobriquet Manila’s Slipper King. By the early 1920s, he was exporting to Hawaii and by 1926, he had 15 branches all over Manila and two in the provinces.
Slippers To Shoes, The Big Step
Towards the end of that decade, Teodoro experimented with second-hand shoe machinery to increase his slipper production. It worked and his business expanded further. His business grew because he was a firm convert to modern advertising. His tagline: "Ang Tibay – the wear that lasts."

By the end of the roaring Twenties, Teodoro decided to go into shoes. He went to Europe and the United States to look at factories and scout around for equipment. By the early Thirties, his shop in Ilaya had several hundred employees churning out Ang Tibay shoes. He now needed a larger factory to expand even further. This was when Grace Park beckoned.

Caloocan was just a short distance away. It can be reached by tram from Central Manila. The site was also close to the railroad station, which ensured quick distribution (we should bring back railroad freight, as it is more efficient and could reduce traffic in today’s Manila). Teodoro finally chose Grace Park and a large site close to the then new landmark of the Bonifacio monument.

The factory was over 150 meters in length and was done in the Art Deco style that had swept Manila from the west. I cannot find any records of the architect but Mr. Teodoro personally supervised the construction of the factory and had a strong hand in its internal layout.

Teodoro wanted an efficient and modern factory with the latest machinery but he did not forget to provide for employee amenities. He was one of the first industrialists to offer a package for employee care, that even today, we would find generous. The Ang Tibay factory had well-lit and ventilated workrooms. A well-stocked canteen served nutritious meals. The factory even had bowling lanes and an employee lounge.

Teodoro spared no expense in the factory’s lobby. It was a masterpiece in Art Deco – from its floor pattern to the layered ceiling. On one end of the lobby was a decorative grille with the outlines of a man and a woman each holding an Ang Tibay shoe in their outstretched hands. On the second floor were the main administrative offices and conference rooms. Here, Teodoro met his chief executives every workday at 7:30 a.m.!

The Ang Tibay compound not only housed the factory but also the employees. Teodoro was one of the first employers to provide employee housing. There were several housing types: apartments, row houses and tenements. The compound was an integrated live-work-play district 60 years before New Urbanism brought it back in vogue.

The cornerstone was laid in 1936. The compound and its buildings took four years to complete. By the company’s 40th anniversary, Ang Tibay was the premier shoe factory in Asia and the model for modern industrial development in the Philippines. Teodoro was the toast of the town. He was providing most of the shoes for ordinary Filipinos, quality made-to-order shoes for the elite and even combat boots for the army.
Getting The Boot
It was in these combat boots that the Filipino eventually had to enter into war. Ang Tibay survived the carnage and despite a recovery in the 50s and 60s, the rest of the century was not as kind to the company. The Philippines itself failed to industrialize as businessmen like Teodoro had started to before the war. Japan, followed eventually by other "tigers," overtook the Philippines. We started on the right foot(wear) all right, but failed to follow up as we drowned in the deadly Philippine sea of politics, greed and corruption.

All landmarks, or sites of memory, tell a story. Filipinos need all the landmarks and monuments they can save or recover. These are symbols of past glories and direction markers for future aspirations. We need them to constantly be reminded that the ordinary Filipino can rise, like Andres Bonifacio and Toribio Teodoro, to seize the moment, take the initiative and write their own destinies – as individuals, as corporations and as a people.
* * *
HCS notes: The Heritage Conservation Society will hold its popular annual art auction on April 27, 5:40-8. p.m. at Le Souffle in The Fort. For reservations or inquiries, call 521-22-39 or visit our office at Museo Pambata, Luneta Park, Manila. Vsit the HCS website at www.hcsphils.org.

Feedback is welcome. E-mail the writer at citysensephisltar@hotmail.com.
ANG TIBAY ART DECO CALOOCAN CENTER FACTORY GRACE PARK ONE TEODORO TIBAY
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