Saving Rizal Memorial
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 16, 2017 - 12:00am

Saving the much storied Rizal Memorial Stadium is not just preserving another historical heritage site. It is another story in the unceasing struggle to preserve another reminder of our history and to enhance the remaining parts of Manila that once made it the crown jewel of the Pearl of the Orient. It is a tragedy that while cities like Paris, Rome, and Athens consider it a crime to deface and destroy the architecture of their past, Manila seeks to replace the few cultural heritage sites with malls and shopping complexes.

Historic preservation are often overlooked because there is no direct and short term benefit to owners and developers. But the preservation of historic properties preserve irreplaceable cultural resources. Architecture is the most visible aspect of our heritage which represents our history.

Society has an obligation to preserve and make these heritage sites a living part of our social environment. One of the best example is the transformation of the old Senate Building into a National Museum. Led by Ramon del Rosario, Jr. the once legislative building has not just been preserved but transformed into a museum site visited by thousands of Filipinos and foreigners every week. It has not only become a cultural site but also generated economic benefits for that once economically decaying area.

Every historical heritage site has a story to tell that  serves to inspire people. The Rizal Memorial stadium has an inspiring and fascinating story that makes it our obligation to preserve this relic for future generations of Filipinos.

Rizal Memorial Stadium

The Rizal Memorial Stadium was the first multi-purpose sports complex in Asia. It was conceived in 1921 as a national stadium in honor of Jose Rizal. The man responsible for conceiving and constructing the Rizal Memorial Sports complex was Antonio de las Alas who was then president of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation.

 In 1925, Alas collaborated with Jorge Vargas to raise the funds for a sports complex. The site chosen was the same location as the former Manila Carnival Grounds. In 1932, the PAAF was allowed to conduct sweepstakes to raise money for the construction of what would then be the biggest network of playgrounds and stadia in Asia. The whole complex was finished in time for the 1934 Far Eastern Games.

The Far Eastern Games is also a fascinating story. It was multi-sports competition participated by only three countries – China, Japan and the Philippines – then considered as the sports superpowers in Asia. In the 1934 games, Indonesia ( then known as Dutch East Indies) was the fourth nation to join the Games. This was also the first time that women’s events were officially included in the sports events.

Unfortunately, 1934 was the last time the Far East Games were held. The 11th Far Eastern Games was scheduled to be in 1938 in Osaka, Japan. It was cancelled because in 1937, the Sino-Japanese War broke out.

The Rizal Memorial Stadium was designed by the most famous architect of that time – Juan Arellano – in the Art Deco style. This was then the most popular architectural style. The other buildings of that era that used the same style are the Manila Jai Alai, Manila Metropolitan Theater, Saint Cecilia’s Hall (St. Scholastica), Galaxy Theater, and the Chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament (De La Salle University) and the Bonifacio Monument.

Art Deco was a style of architecture, visual arts and design that first appeared in France in the 1920s. It influenced the design of building furniture, jewellery, fashion, cars, movie theatres, trains, ocean liners and even radios of that period. It was influenced by the art of that era like Cubism blended with the exotic styles from Asia like Persia, India, Egypt and China.

It was one of the first truly international architectural styles. That is why there are examples of Art Deco architecture in Europe, Asia, North America, Latin America and Africa. The popularity of the  Art Deco style came to an end as the dominant global style when it was replaced by the strictly functional and unadorned modern style of architecture as exemplified by skyscrapers and shopping malls. In many countries of the world, there is a conscious effort to preserve this architectural style as part of a campaign to preserve cultural heritage sites.

Saving Rizal memorial is not just saving a sports arena. It is preserving a cultural heritage that we can leave as an inheritance for future generations as a reminder that we share a common cultural and historical identity as Filipinos.

Heritage sites in Manila

There are many heritage sites, aside from Fort Santiago, in the city of Manila that are worth visiting. I would strongly recommend visiting the National Museum which is actually four different museums located in the vicinity of Rizal Park of Luneta. The four are National Museum of Fine Arts, National Museum of anthropology, National Museum of Natural History and the National Planetarium. The museums occupy old buildings that have been preserved. These buildings are the former Legislative Building, the former Department of Finance and Department of Tourism buildings.

Other sites worth visiting are the Ayuntamiento de Manila at the corner of Andres Soriano Ave. And Cabildo Street in front of Plaza de Roma in Intramuros; the DLSU Chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament located along Taft Avenue: Bahay Nakpil-Bautista in Quiapo;  and the old Escolta.

Historic sites are living monuments to our past and the visual evidence that the Filipino people have a rich cultural heritage.




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