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Makati City: The old and the new |

Modern Living

Makati City: The old and the new

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren - The Philippine Star
Makati City: The old and the new
The two sides of Makati contribute to its identity, culture and character.

Makati is known as home to the country’s premier Central Business District. Most people know Makati as this modern invention sprung from swampland, with no historic urban fabric, old church or plaza complex from the Spanish period. But, as we find out in our continuing series on Philippine plazas and parks, this is not so.

Makati has a long history that dates back to a pre-Hispanic settlement that grew from what is now Santa Ana, Manila. That original town covered areas downstream of the Pasig, where missionaries established two churches, the churches of Saint Peter and Paul, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The two churches were key stops for pilgrims from the 17th century onwards. Devotees of the Virgin Mary traveled east of Manila seasonally to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Antipolo. This led to the development of a settlement on the riverbank and the establishment of a town by 1670.

The small town was named San Pedro de Makati after its patron saint. In the next century or so, the town was dependent on its pottery and brick business, the entry of the Jesuits, as well as the quarrying of adobe, which supplied much of the building stone for Manila.

The Jesuits developed a hacienda inland from property donated to them. They were also given money to build a”‘house of probation.” The site, called Buenavista, was an elevated plateau overlooking the river. The Church San Pedro y Paul Viejo was built here.

The church was designed with a rectangular nave as its main space, as was typical of colonial churches. The stone and brick used were from the area. The façade is an interesting composition with curved sections between columns and balanced by a single tower, which today still contains the original bells. It was damaged heavily in 1762 during the British invasion and was rebuilt in the 1800s.


The façade faced the Pasig River and pilgrims made their way up via stone steps to a clearing in front of the church. This space eventually was developed as the church’s cemetery framed by low walls.

This extensive property was eventually sold to Don José Bonifacio Roxas in 1851 when Spanish authorities expelled the Jesuits from the country. The Hacienda de San Pedro de Makati was the basis for the development of the Ayala Corporation’s modern business and residential district, more than a century later.

In the Philippine-American war the elevated area was used as a campsite by American forces. In the American period a large cemetery (South Cemetery) was established inland and so the space in front of the church became a de facto plaza. The plaza is today the Plaza del Rey (Christ the King Plaza).

Beside the landing that led to the stone steps (the area is still known as Hagdang Bato), the Ayalas built their Casa Hacienda. The large bahay na bato was headquarters for the family’s nominal agricultural business in the town (most of their business concerns were in Manila). Their holdings covered over a thousand hectares inland.

The 1920s expansion of the town and a small neo-classic municipal hall was built across from the Casa Hacienda but there was no town plaza per se in the pre-war era.

Post-independence, as the Ayalas turned their land holdings into high-end residential and commercial enclaves, the old hacienda structure and grounds were donated to the town. The house eventually was cleared and the area served as an open space. In the 1960s Makati town built a new city hall down the street and eventually the old city hall and the area in front were turned into a museum and park.

The other landmark church is at Guadalupe. It evolved from an early 1600s monastery built also on a plateau. Stone steps were also built to access the church from the river. Pilgrim’s contributions generated funds that eventually led to the completion of the complex by the 1700s. The church eventually became a school, orphanage, and printing house in the mid-1800s.

A strong earthquake in 1880 almost brought the church down. It took two decades to rebuild it only to have it burn down in the fighting during the Filipino-American war.  The Japanese turned the site and the ruins into a temporary garrison but after the war, it fell into disrepair once more.  After the war, the remaining stones from the convent were salvaged to help rebuild the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros.

In 1970 the Agustinian Order recovered the property after an agreement with the Archdiocese of Manila. The complex has since been rebuilt following its last incarnation in neo-classic style of the turn-of-the-century. The earthquake buttresses were kept from the older form but the Gothic-style bell tower of the 1890s was never rebuilt.

The post war era also saw the rapid urbanization of Metro-Manila. The area around Guadalupe became denser and by the ’70s the stone steps leading up the church had long disappeared. The church’s large forecourt has thankfully been kept intact. The complex and church is today a popular wedding venue.

Makati is more than its CBD, exclusive residential enclaves, and lifestyle centers. The original Makati settlement, known as Poblacion, with its two main historic landmarks still exists. A half-dozen homes and structures from the last century and a half are also still standing. The two church plaza or forecourts are among the few open spaces still left in the old town, the rest being the grounds of religious complexes beside EDSA, along with the South Cemetery’s greenery.

Makati is both its old and new fabric. The two sides contribute to the place’s identity, culture and character. More, in terms of urban design and landscape architecture, could be done to weave both layers and acknowledge the roots, spaces, and structures of the past. This would then ensure a diversity and specificity that could give Makati a vibe truly its own.

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