Here in this part of Manila called Lawton, or Liwasang Bonifacio as it’s officially called nowadays, you simply cannot miss this imposing edifice proudly standing along the banks of the River Pasig.
Yes, I’m referring to the grand old Manila Central Post Office Building, the head office of the Philippine Postal Corporation who is the by itself sadly one of the few remaining landmarks of American-influenced neo-Classical architecture in the country. Having risen after a devastating war and an in the midst of an ever-changing (and sadly deteriorating) landscape that Manila experienced over the years, it’s good to know that the Post Office Building is still standing proud and has somehow retained the grandiose architecture as it was originally envisioned.
To get to know more about the building and its history, last Sunday, I joined the Postal Heritage Tour conducted by the Filipinas Stamp Collectors Club (FSCC) with club member Mr. Lawrence Chan acting as our tour guide. He has actually been doing this tour for free for the past 12 years, every third Sunday of the month, coinciding with the club’s monthly meeting. So apart from the tour, we also got to witness the club’s activities. More on that later.
Back to the building’s history, this structure was designed by Filipino Architect Juan Arellano way back in 1926. It is considered part of what is known as the “Arellano triangle” since it was also Juan Arellano who designed the nearby Jones Bridge and the Manila Metropolitan Theater which is right across the Post Office Building.
During the Second World War, the building was used as a shelter by the fleeing civilians who were escaping the skirmish and shelling that was happening in Intramuros and south Manila. Unfortunately, the building itself was to be a casualty itself in the midst of the heavy fighting bombing by the Americans from the north and the Japanese from the south during the Battle of Manila in 1945. By the end of the battle in March, only the outer shell of the building remained and the people who took shelter there, perished. Our guide has said that to this day, it is said that ghosts still roam around the Post Office building, perhaps souls of those who died there during the war.
Thankfully, the building was rebuilt to its old glory, safe for some aspects in the building that have not been maintained that well, though not as bad as the case of other heritage structures in the country. It is also a testament to the structural quality of a number of buildings here that were built during the American period: the thick walls (some of them made of adobe) as well as the type of steel used in the staircases and window grills, not to mention the intricate artwork you can find throughout the structure.
Despite the advent of instant communication like email, SMS, and social sites like Facebook, competition from private companies like Air21, DHL, and Western Union who sends mail and money faster than the PhilPost, (thanks in no part to the negative reputaion of the company over the years) the building is still bustling with activity on weekdays as it handles hundreds of transactions each day sending and receiving mails, parcels, and money orders.
So you can just imagine the dark and kinda spooky atmosphere of the building on a weekend like this. And all that talk of ghosts earlier would somehow make you feel uneasy. But our guide explained that some photographers are more at ease taking pictures around the building when there are no people around.
Currently there are plans to move it to the upper floors of the Post Office Building itself.
For now, it holds office at the 3rd floor of the Security building located on the right of the Post Office Building the Security department, which by itself is not that big of a space.
Despite its size, the museum has some interesting things to offer, like old mail equipment, as well as a collection of stamps from here and abroad. You also get to see a lot of commemorative stamps issued by Philpost during the past couple of years, some of which have been sought after by collectors due to their scarcity these days.
As I mentioned earlier, the Filipinas Stamp Collectors Club which our guide is part of holds a monthly gathering every Third Sunday of the month. The highlight of this monthly activity is an auction, not only of stamps but also of other old items: coins, books, toys, even old documents like lottery tickets and documents dating back to the Spanish era. Every month, there’s always something new that’s available for auction, thanks to the enterprising members who manage to find something valuable somewhere.
So to those who have time to spare, you are invited to drop by the Post Office Building every third Sunday of the month and discover the joys of philately or some antique item you might be interested in.
for details on the monthly Postal Heritage Tour and FSCC meetings, you can contact Lawrence at 09193901671 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
© The Urban Roamer