Heritage endangered: the old MERALCO Building at San Marcelino Street, Manila

Last weekend, the Internet and Manila’s heritage community was rocked with a shocking development: the demolition of a heritage structure along San Marcelino Street in Ermita, Manila near Adamson University. The structure in question being the old headquarters of MERALCO, or the Manila Electric Rail and Light Company as it was first known.

First established in 1903 from the franchise given by the American government to an American businessman named Charles Swift to operate the city’s planned electric tramways or tranvias, MERALCO established its first offices in San Marcelino 2 years later, serving as a depot of sorts for the tranvias they operate.

The MERALCO Head Office in San Marcelino during its heyday (courtesy of www.ivanhenares.com)

A bigger and grander MERALCO structure was built in 1936 that was designed by the Urban Roamer’s “suki” architect: Juan Arellano. Like his other famous work, the Metropolitan Theater, the MERALCO building would be designed and built in the art deco style.

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taken circa 2010

But perhaps the most notable feature of this building would be the tall sculptural relief by Arellano’s same partner in the Metropolitan Theater, the Italian immigrant sculptor Francesco Monti with his work called “The Furies”: the mythical Greek deities of vengeance.

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Apart from the architecture, the MERALCO Building is also known as for being home to the first air-conditioned office space in Manila, as it served as the home of Carrier, the US-based maker of air-conditioner units.

MERALCO would eventually move to its present headquarters at Ortigas Center. With its tenant gone and no clear plan for its future was put in place, the existence of what is now the former home of MERALCO in San Marcelino was now in danger, with the structure left abandoned and neglected in its decayed state, with a few businesses and some vagrants using the building for their own purposes. Yet, like a buried treasure, there was still a glimmer of beauty that this building still possesses, which can be tapped in order to revitalize the structure as a heritage landmark of sorts.

Fortunately, the fear for its disappearance was abated, thanks to the efforts of the Heritage Conservation Society, which as we speak is currently working on preserving at least the façade and the towering sculptures for conservation through what is called “adaptive reuse” or the utilizing of an existing structure as a way to enhance the appearance of a new structure..

We can only hope that with this development, it would serve as a wake up call among the people to value the remaining heritage of the city, as a way to remind ourselves of our past and our culture, not to mention to save Manila’s dying soul that is being killed in the name of unchecked overcommercialism that has threatened the metropolis.

Besides, destruction of such heritage structures is now forbidden thanks to the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.

© The Urban Roamer

3 thoughts on “Heritage endangered: the old MERALCO Building at San Marcelino Street, Manila

  1. What about the Condo Units (My Space Tower) to be built by the Major Homes, Inc. there? Is the construction of the My Space Tower will not pursue? I am one of the buyers of these units. Please update me po. Thank you.

    • I’m not privy to these developments so better ask the developer about this. what I can say is that the old Meralco office in question is not on the same site as My Space Tower. from what I heard, they plan to build a fastfood restaurant over the site

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