One’s perspective changes when you walk along a street instead of pass through it while riding in a car. You take a slower pace and begin to notice more details in your surroundings. A few days ago, I slowed down and took notice of Escolta.
When my friend Mike invited me to join a walking tour of Escolta, I happily signed up. I met up at Mike’s place with our friends Adri and Trinket and proceeded to pick up Rache who would be guiding us for the morning. Mike parked his car and we started our tour in an almost-empty Escolta Street. It was the Eid’l Fitr holiday and the usually busy and crowded streets were quiet.
Our first stop was the First United Building which houses a small Community Museum and the HUB: Make Lab (more on the HUB later!) The building’s main entrance made of heavy black grills contrasted nicely with its white walls. The First United Building used to house the Berg Department store and was formerly called the Perez Samanillo Building. It is an art deco building designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of renowned painter and sculptor Juan Luna.
We entered the building and entered the Community Museum which was opened in memory of the patriarch of the family, Siy Lian Teng, who owns the building now. The museum is a single room that houses photographs and memorabilia from the Berg department store.
We headed back out the street and took notice of the adjacent building, the Burke Building. I had to take a look past the ugly tangle of wires crisscrossing the streets and the contrast of the modern signage and let the original architecture pop out at me. We also stopped briefly outside the Madrigal Building and reached our next stop: the Calvo Building.
We entered the Calvo Building and proceeded to its museum on the second floor. There are basically two rooms in the small museum: one housing old newspaper clippings and another with various memorabilia. The old newspaper clippings in Spanish and also in Filipino.
The other room had interesting collections of old movie posters and music sheets as well as old soda and beer bottles. Some where familiar to me and my friends but there were others that were so old they were new =)
After browsing through the displays, we made our way back to the street and passed by the old Capitol building which used to be a theater. It was designed by National Artist Juan Nakpil and the relief sculptures on the facade were by Italian artist Francesco Riccardo Monti. Monti’s works also include the statues atop the UST Main Building and the angels crowning the Quezon Memorial in Quezon City.
We continued our walk and entered Yuchengco Street where we stopped by the Po Chuan Am Temple. As we exited the elevator, we were not prepared for the beauty of the small temple.
After we offered our incense, we went back on the street and continued our walk. We headed towards Dasmarinas Street and stopped to talk about the Yutivo Building at the corner. Standing outside the Ying Ying restaurant on the other corner, we took in the old architecture of the building which still bore the name “Yutivo Sons Hardware Co.”
We walked on towards Gandara Street (Sabino Padilla Street) to look at the Go Hoc & Sons building. It isn’t as “flashy” as the art deco buildings along Escolta but upon closer inspection, you can see the smaller details: old wood and glass doors, metal grills and signage, materials used in making shoes.
Tomas Pinpin Street was our next stop and soon we were standing in front of a nondescript restaurant. As if not wanting to reveal it’s true identity and history, the New To Ho Food Center looks like a regular street-side eatery with its plastic signage and carinderia-like feels. In truth, the restaurant is more than a hundred years old and was even mentioned by Dr. Jose Rizal in Noli Me Tangere! I have yet to open my copy and find it there so I know the context of its special mention. Rizal used its old name in his novel, To Ho Antigua.
We decided to eat in the air conditioned area which was in the second floor. Through the swinging doors and up a flight of steps, we entered the dining area where a big family was already seated for their lunch. We let Rache do the ordering and soon, we were photographing our lunch and eating.
Since it was a holiday, the restaurant had earlier closing hours and our chatty group had to be informed very nicely by the friendly waiter that we had to go. We walked back to the Estero dela Reina and came face to face with another art deco building, the Regina Building which stood opposite the First United Building.
We went back to where we started, at the First United Building, to check out the HUB: Make Lab which was now open. The HUB is like an “incubation space” for artists and entrepreneurs who would want to test out the market with their products on a shorter term than usual. Read more about them on their website here.
Not all of the stalls were open but those that were had lots of interesting stuff! From pretty trinkets and artsy notebooks to witty reusable bags and handcrafted leather products, I was half glad and half sad I did not bring a lot of cash with me that day 😉
After going around the stalls and chatting with the sellers, we made it back to the car and drove away from Escolta. There was a lot to take in from those few hours and yet I’m sure we only really discovered a small portion of what the area really had to offer.
We dropped Rache off and before Mike, Adri, Trinket, and I parted ways, we made a quick stop at the Chinese Cemetery. I’ve only seen it from the LRT and it was very interesting going around and listening to Mike’s stories about the place.
There is still a lot to see and I do want to go back again to Escolta soon. Maybe a full day next time and more time at the HUB too. This initial trip was such an interesting learning experience even if it was only for a few hours. Mike and Rache are still firming up their Escolta tours and I’ll update this page with more info when they are ready =)