The attack on Philippine heritage sadly is not letting up. Latest reports suggest of a possible demolition of yet another heritage building in Manila, the El Hogar Filipino Building (more popularly known as the El Hogar) at the corner of Juan Luna and Muelle de la Industria Streets in Binondo.
Even if you would not know at first the name of the building, its architecture is something that has surely caught your attention, especially whenever you are at that part of the city, with its unique Beaux-Arts/neoclassical style architecture and its peculiar look of having a fourth floor penthouse sticking out. Indeed it has become a Manila landmark since it was built more than a hundred years, a landmark that we may soon lose.
Making things more unfortunate is the fact that the building has just turned 100 this year in the midst of all this uncertainty. Whether it will at least make it when it turns 101 is anyone’s guess at the moment as the identity of the building’s new owner has yet to be known and no information exists as to what will be done with the building or the site where it is at.
The building itself has an interesting story to tell. Apparently, it was built as a sort of a wedding gift in celebration of the marriage of Antonio Melian, a Spanish businessman and a Conde de Peracamps and Margarita Zobel of the illustrious Zobel-Ayala clan.
Designed by Ramon Irureta-Goyena and Francisco Perez-Muñoz, the building became such an attraction not just because of its unique facade. Apparently, its interiors boasted of intricate details like the carved griffins on the staircase as well as not one, but two garden courtyards. Its location along the Pasig River near the Jones Bridge made it a more strategically important edifice that rose in downtown Manila in the early 20th century, not to mention it being as being touted as a showcase of progress Manila was experiencing during the American colonial era.
As the name implied, the El Hogar Filipino Building served primarily as the head office of Sociedad El Hogar Filipino, a financing cooperative founded by Antonio Melian himself. In addition, the building also served as head office for other companies, like the Smith, Bell, and Co., as well as the one Melian co-founded with his Zobel in-laws, the Filipinas Compañía de Seguros, the first locally-owned fire insurance company in the Philippines.
The building was fortunate to survive the destruction of World War II, but not perhaps of what was come after it. As with many sad stories we have about a number of heritage landmarks, the El Hogar Building fell into neglect and decay as the Melian companies ceased operation and creeping urbanization made it no longer a viable business address. It was left abandoned for many years until recent mysterious developments came about.
Early 2014, there have been rumblings of something going on in the building as there was security now put in place in the building and news that its commemorative marker and time capsule were now removed from the site. Apparently, the building’s ownership went into new hands earlier that year or perhaps a bit earlier than that. Details are still murky at this time but what can be ascertained is there are some “things” being done in the building that the public has no idea yet as to what they are.
Thus there is a sense of vigilance being felt these days, especially among those who have a deep affection for Manila’s heritage. Whether this vigilance will pay off in the end or not remains to be seen. With the crazy things that have happened in the past, one cannot express a profound sense of optimism or pessimism regarding the fate of the El Hogar. The best that can be done at this time is utmost vigilance with whatever developments that may happen.