As her zacate business flourished, Doña Ciriaca Santos de Gorricho purchased land across the Pasig River from Intramuros, where she could grow the zacate she supplied to the cavalry. Years later, urban development fortunately sprawled to that particular stretch of Gorricho land, which eventually became the Escolta, the premier commercial district of Manila.
One of Manila’s famous streets, the Escolta, could also be the oldest outside the old walls. For the most part, it has lost its gilded edge and glory as Manila’s downtown area. But it certainly has a rich history dating back to the early Spanish colonial days; but I’m not going to go back that far.
To me, it started to get interesting after the American colonization of the Philippines. Not only were the times moving Manila into the 20th century, the Americans influenced the modernized “look” of the city. With the influx of a large number of American investors, American companies clearly dominated the economy, with most of them establishing their headquarters around the center of business activity, the Escolta.
During the Spanish era, the Escolta, less than a kilometer in length, was a sleepy, awning-covered street, which during the traditional siesta time, looked like a path between two rows of tents.
The coming of American troops after the Spanish-American War ended transformed it almost overnight into a wild, noisy jumble of honky-tonk establishments. Governor Taft soon changed all this when one of his earliest official acts was to ban all saloons from the Escolta, and it became a respectable shopping thoroughfare once again.
Salon de Pertierra, established in March 1896 by a Spaniard named Pertierra, was the first movie-theater in the Philippines. Initially built as a phonograph parlor beneath the Casino España building along Calle Perez in No. 12 Escolta, this theater was designed in preparation for Pertierra’s first movie show in Manila in time for the Christmas season in 1896. However, it was not until January 1897 that the first four movies (French) were shown. They were subtitled silent films accompanied by a piano or orchestra.
My grandmother, Aurora Zaragoza y Busto, was a piano and voice teacher who subsidized her meager earnings by playing the piano at some of these silent film houses.
The photographs of the time show a distinctively American look. On the west side at the foot of the Bridge of Spain (later replaced by the Jones Bridge) was Clarke’s Ice Cream Parlor, founded by M. A. Clarke.
“Met” Clarke came to Manila as an early American entrepreneur, who started on a shoestring but soon became fabulously successful. His soda fountain and restaurant quickly became the principal gathering place of the emerging business community.
Clarke was also heavily invested in Benguet mines. In 1910, heavy rains flooded the expensive 60-ton mill Clarke had financed. He mortgaged most of his holdings only to experience a severe typhoon that struck Baguio a year later, which demolished the site. The blow wiped Clarke out, and the restaurant was sold in auction. Clarke returned to California where he died shortly thereafter.
The photo below shows Clarke’s on the west side of the Bridge of Spain. This was before the Jones Bridge--built just about a block west of this location--replaced that bridge. It gives you a good idea of the previous entrance into the Escolta.
The American Bazaar was Manila’s first American-style department store. It was founded in 1898 by Isaac “Ikey” Beck on the Pasaje Perez and later moved to the Escolta and renamed Beck’s at 91 Escolta.
The department store on the Escolta also distributed the Crosley and other brands of radio receivers. Always the entrepreneur, Beck purchased a radiophone transmitter, antenna poles and insulators and installed Manila’s third broadcasting station, KZIB, a 20-watt station atop the Farmacia San Fernando in Binondo. The radio operation was later upgraded to a 1,000-watt station located within the Crystal Arcade, with a crystal transmitter and broadcasting service strong enough to cover the entire Philippines.
KZIB programming included music and radio shows from its affiliate, Columbia Phonograph Co. in America as well as newly discovered local talent in Manila. Harry Naftaly, KZIB president proclaimed, “We have a number of surprises for the Philippine radio public. We endeavor to put life into our announcing. We get away a bit from the stereotyped manner of announcing and report social news, arrivals and departures from Manila, and other items of momentary interest to our audience.”
The Japanese later interned both Naftaly and Beck at Santo Tomas Internment camp. I. Beck died there on August 14, 1944.
Beck’s would soon be surpassed by Heacock’s, an upscale department store that carried clothing, shoes, cosmetics, jewelry, sporting goods and gifts.
Sam Gaches was largely responsible for Heacock’s success. He joined the company in 1910 as a treasurer then went on to president and general manager. Under Gaches’ helm, Heacock’s moved into its new million-peso, eight-story building on the corner of Escolta and David in September 1930. The Heacock retail store occupied the main floor with the jewelry department and Denniston’s photography department. The cafe was located on the mezzanine, which gave customers a pleasant overlook of the entire store. The offices and stock rooms were located on the second and third floors. The remaining floors were rented out as offices and suites. In addition, parking for 75 cars was provided in the basement.
Sam Gaches was also interned by the Japanese at Santo Tomas and died shortly after internment.
The Escolta Ice Cream Parlor at #69 Escolta pictured here around 1935, which became M. Y. San Restaurant founded by the Mar family. The Crystal Arcade would later replace that whole section. The restaurant is gone, but the company still makes its famous crackers and biscuits. Our store, Gem Gift Shop, was located next door to the M. Y. San in the Fifties. Our driver picked me up from school (American School in Pasay) and I’d have to wait at the store until closing and ride back home with my parents. So, every day I’d have merienda at the M. Y. San and usually see a movie at the Lyric or Capitol. I put on a bit of weight during those days.
Heading up towards Sta. Cruz and the little Visita Bridge over the Estero del Reina, The Walk-Over Shoe Store was THE place to get shoes. Seeing Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” at the Ideal (I think I saw three showings that day), I recalled that he wore a pair of very cool black and white loafers. Being a huge Elvis fan, I just had to have those. Naturally I found them at Walk-Over.
One of the most memorable stores for me in the Fifties was the Botica Boie. Oh, I loved that store. It smelled clean—disinfectant clean—I guess because it was primarily a drug store. But it also had a soda fountain where you could order chocolate ice cream sodas. Also, it was the only store to have electric eye doors. I remember going in and out just to watch those doors open magically. Although the original store was founded in 1830, it went through a series of owners, claiming the name Botica Boie.
Actually started by a Spaniard in 1830, the Botica went through a succession of German pharmacists until it Reinhold Boie and Paul Sartorius incorporated it into what we knew as Botica Boie. For 86 years, Botica Boie used to be located on 81-87 Escolta, where the Lyric Theater later stood. In 1916, it moved to 95 Escolta, running back to Calle San Vicente. The two-story building was remodeled and another two stories added in 1920.
In 1925, the San Vicente building was torn down and a five-story concrete building was erected on the site for office, laboratory and other departments. Some time in the 1960s, the venerable Botica Boie closed its doors. Luxury goods were also found in the area—at La Estrella del Norte, Oceanic, La Perla del Oriente and Heacock’s. The windows usually displayed the most elegant shoes and apparel imported from the United States and Europe.
The Escolta of the Thirties and Forties were not exclusively “American. ” The Levy Brothers (Levy Hermanos) founded La Estrella del Norte.
In 1873, brothers Adolf, Charles and Rafael Levy arrived from Alsace-Lorraine by way of San Francisco, fleeing the Franco-Prussian War. They brought with them five crates of religious medals, statues and gold chains that they were unable to sell in California but were quite popular in Catholic Manila. Their first store was in Iloilo, named Estrella del Norte. They were quite successful and later expanded their businesses throughout Manila including their store on the Escolta. They also secured the Packard dealership with their “Estrella Auto Palace. ” Leopold Kahn, also from Alsace, arrived in 1909 and joined them in business. The Levy Hermanos also owned the Oceanic Jewelry store. (Source: Escape to Manila by Frank Ephraim)
In addition, there were also a handful of Indian merchants such as Assandas, Bombay Silk Supply, B.I. Sehwani and of course our jewelry store, Gem Gift Shop. My dad, F. Gopal, immigrated to Manila from India back in 1935 after being offered employment by a friend of the family. He worked at Bombay Silk Supply for a few years, but his entrepreneurial spirit motivated him to start his own business. He had an import-export office in the Crystal Arcade before the war and a nightclub and restaurant during the Japanese Occupation where he met and married my mom, Carlota Busto y Zaragoza. He started his jewelry store on the Escolta in the early Fifties.
The Capitol Theater, designed by Juan Nakpil in 1935 in the art deco style depicts Filipinas in native garb set within a tropical landscape. It sat 800 and had an unusual double balcony. It must have contracted to run Columbia Pictures because I remember seeing a lot of “B” westerns there. On the other hand, the Lyric was more of a Warner Bros. venue. The side of the building connected to the Crystal Arcade. Unfortunately, what the destruction of the Battle of Manila did not do, the years of neglect did. This beautiful example of art deco later became an eyesore.
The Lyric Theater sat 1,600 people and was designed by Pablo Antonio, the foremost Filipino modernist architect of his time, who also designed the Ideal, Life, Galaxy and Scala theaters outside the Escolta.
Frank Goulette, a former policeman acquired the Lyric in 1913 and went on to start a chain of movie houses throughout the Philippines. He died in 1933. The Lyric was taken over by Eastern Theatrical Inc. (Rufino family).
The honor of having made the very first talkie properly belongs to Jose Nepomuceno. His Film “Punyal na Guinto” (Golden Dagger), which premiered on March 9, 1933 at the Lyric theater, was credited as the first completely all-talking picture. (Source: History of Philippine Cinema, Arsenio Bautista)
The first, and by far most memorable full-length animated feature from the Disney Studios, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, ” premiered at the Lyric Theater on May 1, 1938.
The Lyric Theater underwent a makeover sometime in 1937. As you can see the facade had changed.
These two photos show a striking change from the architecture of the previous Spanish colonial period to the American era. Note how “modern” the buildings became in just a decade. Puerta del Sol moved to the south side of the street probably to accommodate the Crystal Arcade building.
During the Japanese Occupation, the Escolta continued to be the main shopping center of Manila. The world war impeded the importation of manufactured goods, especially from America, but stores remained open for the most part. Traffic thinned as the Japanese Army confiscated gasoline, and transportation was mainly by calesa (horse-drawn cart), tranvia, charcoal-powered buses and a jerry-rigged contraption called a “dokar, ” which was a horse-powered part-automobile and part-calesa configuration.
“On the Escolta, we saw long lines of Jap soldiers waiting to eat in the former American Hardware building, which had been changed into a serviceman’s cafeteria. Heacock’s Department Store had been converted into a gallery with propaganda pictures, art-display [exalting] the Japanese war effort, and children’s exhibits. There were photographs of the various war fronts in the window with large signs in Japanese.” (Source: Gods, Angels, Pearls, and Roses, Sofia Adamson)
The utter destruction of Manila in March 1945 caused ruination of this once beautiful city and the showcase that was the Escolta. Reconstruction started immediately, but the glory of the Crystal Arcade was not resurrected and the excitement of the premier street of Manila would never again be as it once was.
I left Manila in 1962 to settle in Seattle and didn’t return until 2004, when I filmed scenes for my documentary about the Americans interned at Santo Tomas during the war. I was eager to see the Escolta again, hoping to perhaps identify where our store used to be. I was saddened by the decay and the neglect.
Of course nothing stays the same—I guess that’s what we call progress. But there have been efforts to revitalize other important historical sites such as Intramuros. I’m so proud of the fact that my cousin, Ramon Zaragoza, helped restore portions of the old walled city. I hope some remaining buildings such as the Metropolitan Theater can be restored to its former glory and not fall victim to idiotic mayors who seem to have no respect or admiration for the past and let icons of art deco like the old Jai Alai building go. Let’s not give up hope, not just yet.
Some of the other buildings on the Escolta in 1931 were:
- Masonic Temple
- Heacock Bldg.; Escolta and David
- Meralco Bldg.; Escolta and David
- Philippine Education Co. ; Escolta and Pinpin
- “34 Escolta”; Escolta and Nueva
- Roxas Bldg.; Escolta and David
- Samanillo Bldg.; Escolta and David.
- Philippine Education Co.
There were many other stores such as Aguinaldo’s, Syvel’s, Kairuz, Berg’s, Soriente Santos, and Philippine Education Co. that will need to wait for another article.
Lou Gopal's father was an East Indian, his mother a Spanish mestiza from a long line of Zaragozas. He was born in Manila, and raised at the American School, so he feels quite multi-cultural. He's 68 now and a retired Boeing software engineer living in Seattle with his wife, 4 sons and 3 grandchildren.