How the fame of Manila faded deviating from the 1905 Burnham grand plan
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2018 - 12:00am

America sent her best planner, architect Daniel Hudson Burnham to design Commonwealth Manila as the capital of the country. He designed the major cities of Washington D.C. including its picturesque Union Train Station, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Known as the original builder of skyscrapers, he was the director of the 1893 Columbia Expo of Chicago, which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. This “imported” genius used the esteemed site of Spanish Fort of Intramuros as the starting point of his plan.

Vision of 1905 Manila 

“Possessing the bay of Naples, the winding river of Paris, and the canals of Venice, Manila has before it an opportunity unique in history of modern times, the opportunity to create a unified city equal to the greatest of the Western world with the unparalleled and priceless addition of a tropical setting.” Thus said American architect Daniel Burnham when he presented his grand plan for Manila in 1905. Before the war, Manila was one of the fabled cities of Asia. It was the crown of the whole country, which had then only 18 million Filipinos and for the first time, she was free from deficit.

Reminiscense of the Burnham city plan

I was a preschooler then so fascinated by the spacious Luneta Park surrounding Intramuros. It extended to a grandstand where colorful Independence Day parades thrilled me yearly. Two major roads framed the city, Dewey Boulevard and Taft Avenue. Later in high school, riding the double deck tour bus, “motorco” along Dewey, Manila Hotel, Bayview Hotel, Aristocrat restaurant, Silahis Hotel, Holiday Inn etc. became more familiar. It ended at the Baclaran Redemptorist church. Between Dewey and Taft Avenue were the major government buildings, the massive Legislative and Finance buildings and the National Library facing the Mini Golf Links by the Intramuros walls. Taft is intersected by the streets of Padre Faura (where the Justice and Finance buildings and UP  Manila are), United Nations, Calle Remedios, Herran, San Andres and Vito Cruz. Surrounding these are the old uptown residential areas of Ermita, Malate, Singalong, San Marcelino, Paco and Sta. Ana. Further down along Taft is the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and the UP College of Nursing built by architect William Parsons in Neo Classic style together with Manila Hotel and the Army and Navy Club. 

On the other side of Taft are the Philippine Normal University (PNU) done in California Mission style  also by Parsons, Sta. Isabel College founded in 1932, Philippine Women’s University and the Manila Union University. La Salle and St. Scholastica’s College and Conservatory of Music (designed in Art Deco style by Andres Luna San Pedro) are located by Vito Cruz. The Rizal Memorial Coliseum complex (Art Deco buildings designed by Juan Arellano, 1934) is close by leading towards Dewey Boulevard.

The impressive Manila Post Office framed by Jones, MacArthur  and Quezon bridges

Across Taft Avenue is the diminutive Manila City Hall lacking in aesthetic significance. Close by is Plaza Lawton encircled by the Manila Post Office, the Insular Ice and storage Plant, the Manila Metropolitan Theatre. The crowning point of Plaza Lawton is the magnificent Manila Post Office with 16 massive Greek Ionic pillars in front, designed by Architect Tomas Mapua and Ralph Doane. The Manila Metropolitan Theatre (Art Deco style designed by Juan Arellano, inaugurated Dec. 10,1931) had an adjacent Botanical Park. The plaza renamed Liwasang Bonifacio, has been dishonored as the site for student radical activities.

 The Manila Post Office is set against the Pasig River dramatically enhanced by three bridges fanning out to downtown: Jones Bridge, MacArthur Bridge and Quezon Bridge. Ayala Bridge is further down Taft by Philippine Normal University (PNU) and leads to Malacanang Palace. Jones Bridge connects to Chinatown Binondo, Escolta (main haunt of the fashion set) with shops like Oceanic, Walkover, Bergs and Heacocks department stores. Capitol and Lyric Theatre (Designed 1930 by Italian Francesco Riccardo Monti) features a geometric tower façade with Art Deco grill work with relief figures of two Filipina muses wearing “traje de mestizas” holding a mask and lyre set against local fauna with carabao head. 

MacArthur Bridge links to Avenida Rizal (old Shoemart), Sta. Cruz and Carriedo (fabric stores) where Mama and I shopped frequently for RTW that was not in fashion then. It crosses the university area of Claro M. Recto Avenue, Next to it is Quezon Bridge which starts from Plaza Lawton opens up to Quiapo church and market district. At the bottom of the bridge starts the Insular Ice and Storage, an ice production and storage facilities. Styled “Mission Revivalist” by Edgar Bourne it was built in 1902, inspired by the NY Grand Central Station and the Paris Grand Palais Museum. War-damaged and never restored like its ‘neighbor’ the Metropolitan Theatre, it was demolished to give way to LRT Line 1.

These neo-classic and art deco style buildings add an appealing historical stratum to our cities. It is unfortunate that the city of Manila has had the bad luck of having mayors who does not appreciate its tangible heritage.

Roadblocks in restructuring urban planning of Metro Manila

More than a hundred years later, only a few parts of the Burnham 1905 plan were completely followed. Today, Manileños have to live in an “urban planning mistake” according to architect Felino Palafox Jr. during a lecture at the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines in Makati City in October 2014. Palafox added, “One of the biggest mistakes of Manila’s structure was not following Burnham’s plan. It started when the Philippines became a republic and threw away the grand plan; the uglification of Manila began. There are also roadblocks in attaining a better, more liveable city. Without foresight and a sensible town plan, the Philippine post-war presidents allowed any unskilled country folk to resettle in Manila which had around 46,000 squatters in 1946; rising to 98,000 in 1956 and to 283,000 in 1963. The legal residents were hemmed in by squatter colonies which became the lairs of criminals and caused disease outbreaks. The government must use state power over land instead of leaving it to real estate magnates who overbuild for the upper middle class.

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