Rizal Avenue - A Street to Love
Look back and reminisce the good old days of Manila through a feature on Old Manila by Mr. Lou Gopal. With his permission, we are sharing his blog.
As many of you have read from my previous posts, I spent my formative years in Manila. Often times after school let out at 12:30pm (I went to the American School in Pasay), I would have lunch then take the jeepney on Taft Ave. heading north towards town. The route would take me by Vito Cruz, La Salle and onwards past the Brown Derby (delicious hot dogs), Philippine Normal University, the City Hall then towards the Post Office, go over the MacArthur Bridge (previously called Santa Cruz Bridge), into Plaza Goiti, make a little jog to the right and voila ! I found myself on one of the most interesting streets in Manila… Rizal Avenue. This was one of two of my favorite roads, the other being the Escolta.
Rizal Avenue or Avenida Rizal had everything you’d need. Shops galore, at least a half dozen movie theaters, side streets that beckoned, tempting you with more shopping and access to other intriguing districts like Quiapo. Rather than a historical thesis, I offer a pictorial essay of this rather wonderful avenue that has played an important part of Manila’s history.
It started out being built in 1911 by combining two streets, Calle Dulumbayan (meaning the “edge of town”) and Calle Salcedo. It grew to be the longest street in Manila prior to the EDSA being built. Back then it stretched from Carriedo past Bambang street (where I was born in 1945) and San Lazaro Race Park through to Grace Park, Caloocan. It is now part of the Pan-Philippine Highway.
The historic Manila Grand Opera was located on Avenida Rizal. It was where the First Philippine Assembly was inaugurated on Oct. 16, 1907. A hotel with the same name now stands at the original site.
Rizal Avenue was the perfect street for parades. It was a fairly wide road with streetlights running down the middle. The strip between the drab dirty-white Capitan Pepe Building and the equally drab dirty-white Priscilla Building on the Avenida Rizal-Recto Avenue intersection, southward to Carriedo Street and Plaza Lacson (Plaza Goiti), was the most popular part of downtown where one could eat, shop and see first-run movies. [source: Remembrances and the streets of Manila, Luis R. Sioson]
For a time the avenue was blocked off by the La Campana, Salon de Refrescos. The Kneedler Building is on the right.
If the Escolta was considered to be the Rodeo Drive of Manila with its elite stores, Avenida Rizal catered to the masses with shops such as Bata, Otis Department Store, Good Earth.
Across the Ideal Theater was the Kneedler Building, a property of Dr. Harry Kneedler, a retired physician who came with the American troops in 1900, retired and became successful in real estate.
Below, the New Plaza Hotel which used to be the old Hotel de France owned by the Barrettos and where the famed Robert Dollar of Dollar Ships, the largest shipping line in the prewar era, used to stay on his visits.
The Japanese occupied the Philippines for only three years, but its impact was sudden and affected Manileños even to this day. The Japanese Army loved to show their might marching their troops and parading their tanks on Manila’s main street. They requested the Japanese civilians and even Filipinos to stand and wave paper flags with the red sun as a show of support.
The liberation of Manila left the city in virtual ruins. Restoration would take years and billions of pesos.
The war weary GIs needed relaxation and entertainment. There were several USO and canteens set up throughout the city. This was at Rizal and Azcarraga.
Remembering Avenida Rizal in the Fifties, I recall the movie theaters which I used to enjoy many afternoons (when did I ever study ?) like the Ideal, the State, Avenue, Dalisay for Filipino movies and the unique Cinerama at the corner of Azcarraga.
The newly rebuilt State Theater took on that 1950s modern look that we now look back fondly and remember as “retro”.
In the postwar days of pro-American sentiment, the whole country was primed for President Eisenhower’s visit in 1960.
It seemed each theater presented a separate production company, for example: the Ideal showed MGM movies with movies such as “Mogambo” with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner, “Jailhouse Rock” with Elvis or Paul Newman in the “Fine Young Cannibals”. The Avenue featured Paramount Pictures where I enjoyed the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis flicks.
By night, the lights of Avenida Rizal would rival many streets of other cosmopolitan cities in the world.
There were also streets running off each side of the avenue like esteros from the Pasig. The side streets such as Echague, Carriedo, Raon, and Azcarraga (C.Recto), to name just a few, all had a flavor of its own and would offer a specialized type of shopping.
Echague (Carlos Palanca street) wound its way around the Pasig, past the impressive Great Eastern Hotel, the historic La Quinta market and on to General Solano to the San Miguel district and Malacañang Palace.
Looking for cheap goods, from clothing and shoes to cookware ? Just around the corner from Plaza Goiti started Carriedo, gateway to the Quiapo district. Compare these two photos from the 1890s to 1958.
The street was named for General Francisco Carriedo, the Spaniard responsible for funding the first water system in Manila completed in 1882. The Carriedo Water Fountain was built in that year in commemoration of the Carriedo waterworks which has been moved a couple of times and is now installed in Plaza Sta. Cruz. Today the whole length of Carriedo is jammed with street vendors and dare I say, many pickpockets and magnanakows. Carriedo ran into R.Hidalgo towards Quiapo, which in the early 1900s was one of the posh residential areas of town and home to San Sebastian Church, the famed steel structure and also where distant relatives, the Aranetas, had their home on 1030 R. Hidalgo. Things have gotten a bit more crowded …
Continuing north, right across from the State Theater was Calle Bustos on the left. It wasn’t much of a street, almost a large alley and gateway onto Plaza Sta. Cruz and of course the famous and venerated Sta. Cruz church. Calle Bustos is shown here right after liberation.
Calle Ronquillo. named after Governor-General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa, was well known when seeking locksmiths. Another crowded venue offers Panciteria Ramon Lee. Founded in 1929 by Ramon Lee, a Chinese immigrant from Guangdong China. Lee was a former waiter in a Sta. Cruz panciteria. He soon established his own restaurant offering a variety of Chinese and Filipino dishes. Ramon Lee is now one of the oldest existing restaurants in the Philippines. [ Source: Dennis Santos-Villegas]
Ah, Raon was fantastic for a budding musician like myself. The street cuts through Rizal all the way to Quiapo. Dozens of music shops, many of which actually built their own local guitars or imported them from the States: Fenders and Gibson, which I could never afford. I bought my first electric guitar there. I started playing music at age 4 when my mom decided that I needed to study the violin. I played classical music until I was about 12 but my heart was into rock and roll. So, I quit the violin and took up the guitar.
I’ll say that I’m glad I never relied on music to support myself – I would have been broke a long time ago. These days, it’s called Gonzalo Puyat and abounds with shops featuring electronics, sports supplies as well as music.
Interestingly, I’ve found that Ramon Jacinto (RJ and the Riots) who used to play on Bobby Ng’s Jam Session owns RJ Guitar, started in the 1980s, is one of the top guitar stores in Metro Manila.
Soler street, named for Sebastian Vidal y Soler, a Spanish botanist and explorer and director of Manila’s Botanical Garden. His son established Rickart Soler on the Escolta.
“My great grandfather had a store in the Escolta and later on had extensive property on what is now Soler St.” [Source: Ricky Soler]
Also rich with history, Azcarraga (Recto Avenue) was named after the Spanish Prime Minister, Marcelo Azcarraga Palmero. On July 7, 1892, the revolutionary society Katipunan was founded at 72 Calle Azcarraga.
Residence of Deodato Arellano on Azcarraga (now Claro M. Recto Avenue), near Elcano Street, Tondo district, birthplace of the Katipunan.
In the early 1900s, Avenida Rizal was abounded with theaters and restaurants; Teatro Libertad and Zorilla Theater, attracting the well-dressed crowd to their zarzuella shows and operas on weekends. [Source: Wikipedia]
The famed publishing house, Carmello and Bauerman, located on 2057 Azcarraga, was founded in 1887 by a Filipino, Don Eulalio Carmelo y Lakandula, artist-engraver and William Bauermann, German lithographer and cartographer working with the Bureau of Forestry at the time. Don Eulalio was the father of Alfredo Carmelo, known as the dean of Filipino pilots, who continued to run the business presiding as president in 1938.
A familiar landmark to all is the Capital Pepe building designed by Juan Nakpil and built by Doña Narcisa Buencamino vda. De Pepe de Leon. Shown here soon after liberation. Capitan Pepe died in 1934 after thirty years of marriage but Doña “Sisang”, armed with an acute sense of business, continued to acquire real estate. After her husband’s death, the government appointed her to the board of NARIC, the rice distribution agency. Her continued success allowed her to invest in many side businesses, among them a small film company called Del Monte Pictures.
During the 1930s the Philippine film industry was in its infancy and Doña Sisang was not satisfied with her investment, so in 1938 at the age of 61, she decided to found her own movie production agency: LVN Pictures.
Alas, the theaters are gone. The last I saw of the Avenue , it was an empty shell with vendors in the lobby. It was demolished in 2006. The Ideal was demolished in the 1970s, the Scala was closed in the 1990s, the State theater also closed in the 1990s and demolished in 2001- they are all gone. The Odeon is now a shopping arcade. The Ever theater is closed and now a commercial arcade.
Manila’s politicians with seemingly no sense of urban planning, respect for environment and clearly deficient in taste, decided to add the LRT down Rizal Avenue. What was once a bright and sunny shopping area turned into gloom with the overhead trains. As if the ubiquitous jeepney was not enough to clog the streets, Manila citizens had to deal with the dark and dingy atmosphere under the LRT, many homeless living under the protective rails. Carriedo was pedestrianized (I’m unsure if it is today). I believe the only structures that can withstand the might of the politicians are our churches, schools and shopping malls.
The overhead railway was meant to ease traffic on Rizal and Taft avenues. It may have but it also killed business along the street. The construction of the LRT itself was a huge inconvenience for those who used to frequent the area. The place never recovered the
glamour it once enjoyed. [source: Katrice R. Jalbuena, Researcher ]
Standing at the corner of Claro M.Recto and Avenida Rizal, I could see the old Roman Cinerama which is now Isetann Shopping Mall. The Asia Chicharon Factory, original makers of chicharon bulaklak, had closed shop many years back. Same with Avenue and Ideal theaters. Madison Department Store is surprisingly still there but now on the other side of Avenida Rizal. [source: Tedsmakemyday.blogspot.com]
So, I leave you with this thought. Which photo depicts a lively, commercial street. The first one taken in the mid-1960s or this one ?
As always, I value your opinions and comments, your stories and photos. Please email me at: email@example.com
Cheers ! Lou
You can see more of his blogs at http://www.lougopal.com/manila.