Among all the landmarks that one can see today in the campus of University of Santo Tomas, none perhaps would be as more well-known and beloved as the structure known as the Main Building, the first and the oldest structure that was built in UST’s current campus in Sampaloc.
Plans for its construction began in 1920, but its actual construction began 4 years later as its architect, a Dominican priest-engineer named Roque Ruaño was fine tuning its details so it would be able to withstand any powerful earthquake that may occur, as inspired by events, earthquakes in particular, in Japan during that period. Thus it became also known as the country’s first earthquake-proof structure when it opened its doors to the students in 1927.
Then came the Second World War, as Japanese forces took over the country by 1942. The Japanese then rounded up the non-Filipinos, Americans and other nationalities allied with the US in particular and were brought to UST, thus becoming known as the Santo Tomas Interment Camp. Most of these prisoners were taken to the Main Building; the rest were spread out to other buildings existing in the campus during that time.
Thus it was important for the Allied forces to free these prisoners in UST. The opportunity to secure their freedom came in February 3, 1945 as American troops and Filipino guerillas launched an offensive at the UST ground as Japanese artillery tried to fight the enemy that came with battle tanks that broke through the campus gate. In the end, Allied artillery overcame the Japanese forces, leaving the Japanese no choice but to let go of UST in exchange for allowing them to return to their units based in the southern part of Manila.
After the war, the Dominicans were looking into giving some more character to the concrete edifice. They turned to one of their faculty in the College of Architecture, an Italian sculptor who has made a name sculpting figures like the ones in Metropolitan Theater: Francesco Monti. Monti then proceeded to adorn the top of the main buildings with sculptures of various figures, symbolizing the school’s intellectual and spiritual aspirations, in the same manner that his sculptures gave an exciting look to the Metropolitan Theater. Between 1949 and 1953, a total of 15 statues were installed on top of the Main Building.
It is interesting to note that the original plan was to have 30 statues in total to be installed on top of the main building, but it was scrapped in 1953. Thus, as you can see, there is some sense of incompleteness as not all branches of discipline have not been represented, like for science, music, and visual arts.