The faces and facades of Rizal
CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren () - July 2, 2011 - 12:00am

I’m still getting a lot of feedback from the last two articles on Jose Rizal. These have come to me via e-mail and Facebook, which I figured Rizal would have used if the technology were available in his day. He was a prolific letter writer and he also had numerous pictures of himself posted not on FB but by snail mail — you know, the post office (hence the term post).

An old album from the 1961 centennial celebrations of Rizal’s birth that I bought at an antiquarian’s yields many different portraits of Rizal throughout his short but eventful life. The images show a fairly good looking young man… quite a dandy, in fact, when he reached his twenties. His hairdo (not that I’m an expert) is shown to have evolved from a geeky part down the middle to the semi-Beiber cut he sported till his famous farewell.

The images of Rizal that are burned in our collective memories are those of his profiles on our one-peso coins and in the old P2 bill. Then there is the stock portrait of him reprinted in the hundreds of thousands, to be hung on school walls, and printed in textbooks. This has today been sampled into a popular T-shirt (by Team Manila) showing Rizal looking really cool with sunglasses.

The Rizal Theater had Rizal’s signature on its fly tower.

There were, of course, no colored pictures of Jose Rizal, although some bright person may “colorize” existing portraits using some software or app soon. To see him in color may not be the best way to remember him. In any case, most male fashion in his day was in black and white. Women’s clothes then had a little more choice — three or four — mostly shades of mauve, or local dyes.

The memory of Rizal was intended to be kept forever with monuments and buildings named after him. There was, however, a period of commercialization with Rizal cigars, Rizal cigarettes and a number of other merchandize sold taking advantage of his Pacquiao-like popularity. This died down after a few decades, only to be resurrected in the run-up to his birth centennial.

I had written about the un-built Jose Rizal memorial theater being resurrected in Makati after failing to make it to the centennial of 1961. The Rizal Theater served the residents of exclusive subdivisions in and around Makati for over three decades before it fell to the wrecking ball.

The theater did not have a statue or even a bust of Rizal. It did, however, have his signature on its fly tower. It served as the theater’s logo. The theater was also well known for Leila’s Cafe. My favorite dish there was arroz a la Cubana. After the theater disappeared, the memory of it carried on when its café re-opened at in Greenbelt with a new name — Café Rizal.

The theater was not the only building in the complex that was to sport the name of our National Hero. The original name of the planned hotel at the corner of Ayala Avenue and Highway 54 (now EDSA) was the Rizal Inter-Continental Hotel. A press release in 1958 uses the name and lists the Rizal Development Corporation and Pan American Airways as the partners in the development.

The hotel took another 10 years to be finally built. By 1969 when it was inaugurated the name chosen was Inter-Continental Hotel Manila. This, despite the hotel’s location in Makati, then a town under the province of Rizal.

The perspective of the hotel shows it as using the international style of architecture with touches of Le Corbusier. The main mass of glass and concrete, with metal brise soliel, rested on angled legs or pilotis. The design, I suspect, was by Juan Nakpil, the same architect of the theater.

The hotel’s 1958 design was not followed as the project was apparently shelved till the mid-sixties. Nakpil then apparently re-used the design for the SSS building in Quezon City! Lindy Locsin was to design the Inter-Con when the hotel plans came back on line.

Like the various faces and portraits of Rizal, the facades of the buildings connected with him saw many incarnations. Like Rizal’s likeness these buildings were appropriated in the name of commerce or expediency.

The Intercon was orignally intended to be named after Rizal.

It is a testament to the robustness of Rizal’s name and memory that we still find currency in his face and fame (albeit mostly when his anniversary comes along). One wishes, however, that the facades that bore connections to our hero had lasted as long.

Even the province that still bears his name has seemingly succumbed to the onslaught of urbanization — the citification of all the towns that used to be under its jurisdiction.

It is a marginalization that calls for reconsideration of the basis for naming regions.

In today’s reality of natural hazards and climactic concerns, a flood of real change in disaster risk reduction may start by giving the national capital region a new face with an old name.

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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at

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