Yesterdays in Ermita (Part 2)

Charles Foster’s office in the Red Cross Building at the corner of Isaac Peral and Gral. Luna (Source:

Ed. note: Catch up with the first part of this series: "A Neighborhood Of Yesterday: Malate/Ermita District Part 1"

My family lived in Malate on Remedios Street in a duplex from when I was about seven, around 1952. I was the typical young lad in bare feet and shorts, running around the neighborhood, playing marbles with my friends and patronizing our local sari-sari store at the corner of Remedios and Dakota (Adriatico).

I loved that neighborhood. The owners of the duplex, the Tamayo family, lived next door. Their children, Tina and Marco, were my best friends. Their dad was a ship’s captain who frequently sailed to Cebu.

Charles and Clifton Forster with Pres. Manuel Quezon-c.1943 (Source:

Here’s the “six degrees of separation” story. When we were doing interviews for our Santo Tomas documentary in 2004, I talked to Clif Forster, an ex-internee whose dad, Charles Forster, was the head of the American Red Cross in the Philippines before the war.

When the Japanese started bombing Manila in December 1941, Clif and a ship’s captain arranged to evacuate the military wounded from Manila to Australia on the ship, Mactan. The ship’s captain was the same Capt. Tamayo that became our landlord 15 years later. Some say there are no coincidences in life.

 Clif Forster and Capt. Tamayo aboard the Mactan, c.1941 (Source:

Red Cross Building, the same perspective after the Battle of Manila, 1945 (Source:


We discovered TV!

My father used to go to the U.S. to buy jewelry for our store, Gem Gift Shop, on the Escolta. In early 1953, on one of his trips, he brought back a console TV and Hi-Fi set. It was a beautiful piece of furniture that included a turntable and radio. Well, all of us marveled at this new invention! 

Young Lou in front of the TV console, c.1958 (Source:

The only problem was, there were still no TV shows being broadcast, not until a few months after our set had arrived. At least once a day, we’d turn it on and watch the snow. Then in 1953, my mother’s former boss, James Lindenberg, started broadcasting on DZAQ-TV Channel 3, and we would watch “I Love Lucy” and “Father Knows Best,” “Tawag ng Tanghalan” and “Student Canteen.” Many of our neighbors would look in through our windows and watch the shows with us.

Bolinao Electronics Corporation party. My mom is in the last row on the right, second from the end with her head sticking out. (Source:

DZAQ-TV starts broadcasting, 1953 (Source:

ABS Studio on Dewey Boulevard, 1961 (Source:

In 1961, Bobby Ng hosted a show on DZAQ similar to “American Bandstand” that would feature local talent. One evening was called “American School Night” and my group and I—Danny Marquez, Rick Catala and Bob Franklin – were invited to play along with R.J. (Ramon Jacinto) and The Riots. Danny, who played piano, was the most talented in our group. Here’s a photo of our band that included Ronnie Davis (far right) who wasn’t even part of our group, but when he saw the picture being taken, he grabbed a guitar and sneaked into the shot. So … another six degree of separation story: 60 years later as I started writing this blog, Bobby’s brother, Larry Ng, contacted me and is now helping me write stories for Manila Nostalgia. Small world, indeed!

American School Night at DZAQ-TV, 1961 (Source:

Band Picture (left to right): Bobby Ng, Danny Marquez, Rick Catala, Lou Gopal, Bobby Franklin – and sneaky Ronnie Davis. (Source:

Anyway, when I went back to Manila in 2004 after an absence of about 40 years, I felt the need to revisit my old Malate neighborhood just for old times’ sake. Of course, it had changed, but overall it was still recognizable. Together with my wife and friends Judy and Skip Haven, we hunted down the old duplex... and found it! Or at least half of it. The landlord’s half was there, but the half we lived in was now a crab restaurant. The irony? I don’t like crab.

The crab restaurant is painted red, the other half of the duplex on the right. (left to right-Judy, Skip, and my wife Michelle) (Source:


Dewey Boulevard (Roxas Boulevard)

It’s hard to imagine Manila without our famous boulevard. Until 1941 Dewey Boulevard went from the Luneta south to Cortabitarte, passed the hotels, clubs and apartments, the American High Commissioner’s office, the Plaza Militar, large residences of corporate executives and the rich and famous. It also passed the famous Manila Polo Club, entering from F.B. Harrison and opening up to a large, grassy field that included the horse stables (see photo below). Dewey was also used as an airstrip by both the Japanese and U.S. forces and then extended up towards Baclaran during the Fifties.

PanAm Clipper flying over Manila (Source:

Dewey Blvd. used as an airstrip, 1945 (Source:

The boulevard concept was conceived by Daniel Burnham who was charged with designing a plan to beautify and update Manila from the restrictive and old-fashioned style of the Spanish colonial period. He envisioned wide-open spaces with palms and quick-growing acacias lining the sidewalks; something on the order of other cosmopolitan cities such as Buenos Aires or Paris. 

The original design was to build the boulevard on reclaimed land to about as far south as the Old Fort San Antonio Abad in Malate, with a possible extension all the way to Cavite.

Dewey Boulevard became the showpiece of Manila, not only because of the fabulous Manila sunsets, but also for its nightclubs and casinos. Many a late night was spent at the Nile, Bayside, Viceroy, D’Wave, El Mundo and La Playa. Apparently considering one night to be a father-and-son evening, my dad took me to a casino (I don’t recall the name) on Dewey, handed me a roll of coins and let me play the slots while he engaged in more serious pursuits at the dice table. I was about 12 years old.



Rizal Park’s history began in 1820 when the Paseo de Luneta was completed just south of the walls of Manila on a marshy patch of land next to the beach. Prior to the park, the marshy land was the location of a small town called Nuevo Barrio (New Town or Bagumbayan in Tagalog) that dated back to 1601. It was cleared during the short British rule in 1762 to prevent sneak attacks by patriotic natives. The area later became known as Bagumbayan Field where the Cuartel la Luneta (Luneta Barracks), a Spanish Military Hospital (which was destroyed in an earthquake) was located. It was known as the Luneta (lunette) because of its crescent shape. A moat surrounded the walled city of Manila. 

Luneta at sunset, 1900 (Source:

The following is a journal entry about two young lads who toured famous landmarks in prewar Manila. It is taken from “Old Manila with Sammy” in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal, 1933:

“There is a tennis club inside the park in the area also known as Bagumbayan, the place where the Spanish colonialists executed Filipino rebels, the most famous being Jose Rizal.

Bagumbayan (Luneta), 1930s (Source:

Manila Public Tennis Courts, c.1913 (Insular Ice Plant smokestack in the distance) (Source:

Reaching the corner, we could go left onto the west boundary of Wallace Field along the unfinished extension of Calle M. H. del Pilar. This is the Ermita district of Spanish residents. Arriving at Calle San Luis if we looked to the right we would see the Luneta Hotel.

Luneta Hotel on the left next to the University Club apartments, 1932 (Source:

University Club Hotel / Apartments – 1941 (Source:

Next to the Luneta Hotel is the University building and it advertised: “44 Rooms With Bath And Electric Refrigeration, Single Or En Suite, American Or European Plan Operated By The Luneta Hotel.” Daily rate for a single is $1.50 and the suite is $3.00.”

Legaspi Garden by Pier 7 (Source:

Across Dewey Boulevard we would come to the Elks’ Club and next to it the Army & Navy Club. The renowned Manila Hotel lies to the north across the grassy expanse of Luneta Park. On the west bay shore side of Manila Hotel is the Legaspi Garden with its famous fifty-centavo one-liter “Largest Beer in Manila.” A U.S. Navy jetty is conveniently located at the bay side of Legaspi Garden. A steady run of navy craft deposit immaculately uniformed sailors onto the dock. It is something to watch the dressy sailors landing and later see the change when they return still inebriated, soiled, worn and weary."

Legaspi Garden advertisement (Source:

Legaspi Gardens, located next to Pier 7 on 25th Street and owned by the Schober family, was the famous hangout of the American military, its jukebox playing all day and into the night. Tenders came and went bringing new sailors to enjoy their hours of shore leave and taking others out to their ships, the mariners sometimes a little worse for wear. (Source: On the Road Home, John Russell Frank)

Legaspi Gardens, view to Manila Bay (Source:

It had a small boat landing on the bay for the U.S. Fleet to disembark upon. Sailors, soldiers and marines landed on that small platform and walked through the middle of the restaurant and garden complex that boasted the best tenderloin steaks and seafood in the Far East. Within the interior on the right was the longest bar in the Orient and to the left, the restaurant. Upstairs was the massive dance floor and very obvious small cubicles where some clients would enjoy the seedier nightlife entertainment.

It was in 1940 that the government-owned Manila Hotel forced the Legaspi Gardens, its bitter rival around the corner on the bay, to yield in a decade-long, silent but bitter and costly battle for (mostly American) patronage. William J. Schober of the “democratic and unpretentious” Legaspi Gardens threw in the towel and left, leaving the field to the “aristocratic and swanky” Manila Hotel. Still, the Manila Hotel faced competition of a sort from the Bayview Hotel and rooftop dining at the University Club, each of which offered comparable views of the fabulous bay sunsets. (Source: The Manila Americans, Lewis Gleeck)

The photo below is rather interesting. It shows the Army Navy Club, Elks Club and the Luneta Hotel. The University Club apartments had not yet been built. I’m guessing this was taken in the late 1920s. Note that the area to the right of the breakwater was later filled in and taken over by the American Embassy property.

Overhead view of the Army Navy Club, Elks and Luneta Hotel, Bel Air Apartments (Source:


Luneta Hotel

The hotel has an exceptional Belle Epoque facade reminiscent of French renaissance architecture. Designed by Spanish architect Salvador Farre, it was completed in 1918 on 38 San Luis (T.M. Kalaw) street during a more genteel era as Manila emerged from Spanish colonialism. The tenants had a gorgeous view of the famous Manila Bay sunsets and Bagumbayan (Luneta Park) from its functional balconies, perhaps savoring coffee with their meriendas.

According to one U.S. Army doctor who stayed at the Luneta Hotel before war broke out, “The hotel was very old, and hardly luxurious by American standards. There was a bath on every floor, which at times was taxed to serve several men at once. Fortunately, all the occupants of the Luneta were men, so we did not stand on ceremony as we entered and left the bath. My floor, the seventh, had a bath with four showers, five basins, and five commodes.” from Parade of the Dead, John R. Bumgarner, M.D.

In July 1941 the army decided to convert the Luneta Hotel into a non-commissioned officers’ club.

Luneta Hotel ante-chamber of a suite (Source:

The following describes the hotel after postwar renovations: “The hotel was described as a quietly elegant and attractive family style hotel with a charmingly continental design. It used to boast of 60 rooms with private bath, two suites, telephone in all rooms, a restaurant, coffee shop and spacious lanais. It is the only building in Manila in the French Renaissance style. If you are observant, you will espy the whimsical gargoyles in the form of lions, crocodiles, griffins and other mythical creature as decorative supports of its balconies. The balconies themselves have delicate filigreed railings that add a touch of lightness to the solid concrete façade. The French-style mansard roof, the full length and dormer arch windows, the classical ornamentation gives a distinction and elegance sorely lacking in Manila today.”  (Methods and Strategies in the Rehabilitation of the Luneta Hotel, John Joseph T. Fernandez, MSArch).

 I’ve been unable to find any other pictures of the interior of the hotel. 

The Luneta Hotel has been restored by the Beaumont Holding group and designated as a National Historical landmark. Their website advertises that it is soon to open but alas, even the website doesn’t work.

Luneta Hotel and University Club Hotel/Apartments, 1930s (Source:

Later version of the University Club building

The neighboring high-rise was known as the University Club Apartments and was built some time prewar. I can’t seem to find when it was built but I’m guessing in the early 1930s. It housed many American families and servicemen. It suffered some damage during the war but was restored and later became the Shelbourne Arms and then the Hotel Otani and finally demolished in the 1990s.


Mehan Botanical Gardens

Mehan Gardens (Source:

Next door to the stylish art-deco Metropolitan Theater once stood a finely kept park of about ten acres. Originally created as a botanical garden by Governor Norzagaray in September 1858, it was named for John Mehan, an American officer who played a significant role in the system of Manila’s city parks. It contained a large variety of trees and plants as well as a small zoo. The photo below was taken in 1945 showing war damage to the Metropolitan Theater. However, it clearly shows the wooded area behind it, which is where the Mehan Gardens was located.

Aerial view of the Metropolitan Theater. The wooded area behind it was the Mehan Gardens and Zoo. c.1945 (Source:

Laid in crushed coral, glistening white paths meandered through the garden. You could see young lovers strolling hand in hand under the shady trees. Wooden park benches were spaced at regular intervals throughout. The ten-acre garden was bounded on the north by Calle Colgante, on the east by Arroceros Street, on the south by Concepcion and on the west by Calle Padre Burgos. The section of Padre Burgos that borders the park merged into Taft Avenue.

Mehan Gardens monkey cage (Source:

“We have visited the garden many times to watch the comic behavior of native rhesus monkeys caged in a high enclosure blanketed with wire mesh. Besides the monkeys, the small zoo contains a few wild civet cats, an American black bear, a Russian brown bear, some wild deer, wild pigs and a tamaraw. The tamaraw is a wild buffalo indigenous to the Philippines, not found anywhere in the world except on Mindoro island. We had heard that placing a zoo in the garden came as an afterthought to the planners. That is why it had such a small collection of animals. It does have a magnificent collection of plants and trees. A metal tag identifies each tree by its native and scientific name.” (Old Manila with Sammy” in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal, 1933)

Unfortunately, most of the animals were eaten by the starving population during the end of the Japanese Occupation and the park itself was destroyed during the Battle of Manila.

Bay View Hotel, late 1930s (Source:

Advertisement for the Bay View Hotel(Source:

The Bay View Hotel was built in 1909. It wasn’t known for its cuisine or comfort, until Dr. Kneedler took over ownership around 1934. It still stands at the corner of Isaac Peral (UN Avenue) and Dewey Boulevard. My family used to have a small branch of our jewelry store in the lobby. The taller building on the far left is the Bel-Air Apartment building, designed and constructed in 1937 by National Artist Pablo Antonio.

“Dr. Kneedler’s Bay View Hotel, newly (re)opened, offered the “first real cocktail lounge” with whiskey sodas at 55 cents and Martinis at 60 cents.” (The Manila Americans, Lewis Gleeck) It was the first real competition to the government-owned, Manila Hotel.


The Hilton Hotel (By Larry Ng)

One of the prime examples of the postwar modernity in Philippine architectural styles, the Hilton was designed by architects Carlos Arguelles and Welton Becket who had also designed the Beverly Hilton Hotel and numerous other Hiltons, as well as the classical Jai Alai building on Taft Avenue. The well known architect Arguelles had just completed the Philamlife Building across the street from the Hilton project. 

The Hilton Hotel Ermita (Source:

Welton Beckett assigned his best interior designer Scollard Maas for the Manila Hilton. When he arrived, Maas was overwhelmed when he discovered that our local designers, contractors, artisans and suppliers were equal to the best in the world. Like Daniel Burnham and countless other visitors who came to Manila, Maas was struck by “the beauty of the city, the tropical atmosphere, the harbor, and most of all the sunsets which were indescribable.” The alignment of the hotel was such that one could view the sunset from almost every room on the western side.

The owners of the hotel were the Delgados. When inaugurated in the 1960s, the Manila Hilton became the centerpiece of Manila society. It became the talk of the town, such that there was even a restaurant in the hotel named Talk of the Town. Other establishments were Cafe Coquilla, Port Orient, Rotisserie, Barrio Hilton and cocktail lounges Sultana, Harana and 1571; but the most famous venue to see and be seen was the Top of the Hilton. One of its cafes even had an aviary where native birds would fly and chirp while you had breakfast. My sister Jane Ng owned and operated the lobby shop that featured native handicrafts and souvenirs.  Those were the glory days of the Manila Hilton. 


Army and Navy Club

On the opposite side of the boulevard were the former Elks Building and the fabled Army and Navy Club where members of the elite hosted parties or watched plays staged by members of the American community. They both had their heyday during prewar and Fifties eras. The Elks Club now houses the Heritage Conservation Society’s headquarters on the ground floor of the Museo Pambata.

For over 75 years, the Army and Navy Club of Manila played an important role in the social life of the city. It was the scene of significant events in the history of Philippine-American relations.

One of the first clubs established after the American regime, it began its existence inside Intramuros in 1898, then moved twice before entering its location at Luneta Park. The picture below is from its location occupying the block between Potenciano and Palacio streets, diagonally across from the St. Augustine Church.

Army Navy Club close to the St.Augustine Church, 1900 (Source:

In an article in the Cablenews American, April 11, 1911:

Aerial view of the dinner held at the Army and Navy Club during the radio broadcast of the anuual Army-Navy football game, Manila, Philippines, November 29, 1941. (Source:

“On the night of April 12, at six o’clock, the members of the Army and Navy Club will march from the old club site, which has been occupied for many years out Calle Palacio to Bagumbayan to the magnificent clubhouse on the Luneta extension. Magnificence characterized the big reception and hop to commemorate the official opening of the club. After the reception, the guests filled the corridors flashing with myriads of electric lights and decorated with flags and palms.”

Army Navy Club, 1940 (Source:

Army Navy Club – by the pool – 1950s (courtesy Gunter Prittwitz; Source:

A & N Club Pool c.1957 (courtesy of Skip Haven; Source:

The photo above, submitted by my buddy Skip Haven, was during a swim meet. You can see the Luneta and the Manila Hotel in the background.

Army Navy Pool, 1976 (Source:

My wife and I visited the Army Navy Club in 2004. It was operating as a restaurant. The pool was still being used. The main building seemed to be deserted and in disrepair. Things change.

Army Navy pool today (courtesy Skip Haven; Source:

High Commissioner’s Office (American Embassy) was originally the office of the U.S. High Commissioner during the period of the Commonwealth from 1935 to 1942.

American High Commissioner’s Office (American Embassy) (Source:

Pres. Manuel Quezon and Paul McNutt (Source:

“On April 1, 1937, the U.S. High Commissioner, Paul McNutt, arrived in Manila with his wife and sixteen year old daughter. Since the relinquishment of Malacañang to President Quezon, there was no official residence for the High Commissioner, so McNutt moved into El Nido, the sumptuous Dewey Boulevard residence of Attorney E.A. Perkins, which had been the setting for the tragic domestic quarrels of the Perkins family a few years earlier.” Source: The Manila Americans, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.

El Nido mansion owned by E.A. Perkins (Source:

The High Commissioner finally got a home of his own in 1940. Designed by architect Juan M. Arellano, it was built on reclaimed land next door to the Army and Navy Club, which had been donated by the Commonwealth Government. It was a rather severe and solid structure in modified colonial style that squatted between the seafront Dewey Boulevard and the Bay. Those seeing it for the first time in the Fifties and Sixties could not imagine how stark and ugly the side facing the Boulevard looked. Whatever its esthetic quality, the High Commissioner had a house to live in—for a year and a half. The Japanese would then enjoy its borrowed luxury for three more years before General Yamashita was tried and condemned there. The next American representative would not move back in until late 1947.

The Manila Chancery has been designated a historic property by the National Historical Institute of The Philippines.

American Embassy, 1960 (Source:


Plaza Militar

Map of Ermita showing Plaza Militar (Source:

Just about opposite of where the Gaiety Theater used to be was a beautiful large residence called Plaza Militar. It’s gone now, the site filled with large buildings, shops and restaurants. But before the war, this was a large tract of land leased to the U.S. military as a residence of the Department Commander, U.S. Army.

It was used as the residence of the Commanding General of the Philippine Department and the members of the General Staff of the U.S. Army. It was formerly the headquarters of the Spanish Army staff, a sandy stretch containing the parade grounds and homes of the presiding Spanish oficiales. The later transformation into attractive homes and beautifully kept lawns and shrubbery during the American occupation was quite a great contrast.

Plaza Military-1935 (Source:

Plaza Militar residence (Source:

“The Plaza Militar originally occupied both sides of M. H. del Pilar Street from Remedios Street to the Gaiety Theater, but later was reduced to only one side between M. H. del Pilar and Dewey Boulevard. Among the occupants of one of the homes in the plaza was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, before he was granted the penthouse of the Manila Hotel as a residence. The Zobel estate occupied the land between Plaza Militar and almost to Remedios Street. It was bounded on the west by Dewey Boulevard, and often their horses would be taken for an early morning trot along the Manila Bay shore.” (Source: Larry Ng)

In the picture above, you can see trolley tracks along M.H. del Pilar and an oncoming streetcar trundling beside a calesa. The tranvia operated from downtown to the Luneta and southwards to M.H. del Pilar, crossing Remedios Street and the Remedios Church. The fares were five centavos for first class and three centavos for ordinary class.

Plaza Militar showing Tranvia (Source:


Fort San Antonio Abad

Located on Dewey between San Andres (Quirino Ave.) and Vito Cruz (P.Ocampo) stood a mute sentinel overlooking the bay, divested of all its past color and glory. It was the target of much of the attack in the city by both US naval and land forces in the battle of August 13th, 1898, which led to the American Occupation. It was built in 1854 to defend the rear approach to the city. The British had earlier occupied it during their attack of Manila in 1762. It was subsequently damaged during the Battle of Manila. The triangular fort has been restored with the construction of the new Central Bank complex and now serves as a venue for the bank and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

Ft. San Antonio Abad , west side, 1898 (Source:

The capture of the fort, 1898 (Source:

Fort Abad interior, 1898 (Source:


Manila Hotel

Some people say that if Manila had its “golden era” it would be during the Commonwealth period, from 1935 to 1941. Albeit a short span, it was a lighthearted time of change from the old Spanish era to the more modern American period of infectious high spirits, when lavish entertainment, great balls and constant partying prevailed among the elite. Both wealthy Americans and Filipinos used the Manila Hotel’s grand facilities that were tailor-made for these functions.

Manila Hotel in the 1960s (Source:


To be continued. Posted with permission from

Lou Gopal

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.