City of Manila

an introduction to Santa Mesa

I’ve decided to start this with a place that is close to my heart. I actually grew up and spent most of my life as a resident of this area, so you can somehow sense the sentimentality here.  Besides, having been in this place for so long should at least make me more familiar of the place, thus not get easily lost in the process, hehe…

Welcome folks to the geographical district of Santa Mesa, located on the eastern portion of the City of Manila. Surrounded by rivers of San Juan on the southeast and Pasig on the south, Nagtahan Road on the west, Ramon Magsaysay Boulevard on the north (which was known before as Santa Mesa Boulevard) and the Manila-Quezon City boundary on the northeast which is just a block away from SM City Sta. Mesa. (which technically is not a part of Santa Mesa)

Santa Mesa has long been considered as one of those “under the radar” areas of the city unlike Quiapo, Ermita, or even nearby Sampaloc. People are familiar (at least) about the place but they don’t talk about it that much. Maybe it’s because of its perceived lack of history or the lack of attractions to see, being not as commercial compared to the other parts of the city.

Or maybe it’s just an effect of Santa Mesa not having a distinct identity for a long while, having existed for so long as a part of Sampaloc before it fully “broke away” as a consequence of the redistricting of the legislative districts of the City of Manila in 1987. So for a long time, people were writing their addresses (which some oldtimers still do today) on their postage envelopes as Sampaloc, Manila. More so, much of Santa Mesa’s early history has been intertwined at times with its larger neighbor throughout their “union.” That is not to say however that Santa Mesa does not have a colorful history.

It evolved from a large property owned during the Spanish colonial era by a social workers group known as the La Hermanidad De La Santa Misericordia. (Sisters of the Holy Mercy) But they were popularly known by their nickname (probably because their full name is a tongue-twisted frustration esp. for the tongue twisted Spaniards) as La Santa Mesa, thus the name became now associated with the place. (that throws out all the inane “origins” of Santa Mesa like the one which said it came from the table that saved one or more lives during a flood)

Santa Mesa came into prominence in 1880, when a hippodrome was constructed there to be the venue of the horse races, a sport growing in popularity at the time among the affluent members of Manila society. It was to be held there for the next 20 years before moving up north in the Santa Cruz area.

Being near San Juan where the first battle of the Philippine Revolution broke out in 1896, the people of Santa Mesa soon joined in the uprising against Spanish rule.  The coming of the Americans only added the tension already present, especially when news broke out of the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1898, giving away the Philippines to American sovereignty.  Two months later on February 5, 1899, the first shot of the Philippine-American War was fired near the area of Santa Mesa, on what is now known as the corner of Silencio and Sociego streets.

Eventually, the Americans emerged victorious in the war and were soon establishing their own brand of government in the country, particularly in Manila. Santa Mesa found itself under the jurisdiction of the district of Sampaloc for the next 75 years. Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Manila found it prudent to create a separate parish for Santa Mesa which was then under the Parish of Our Lady of Loreto in Sampaloc. In 1910, the new parish dedicated to the Sacred Heart was established along Old Sta. Mesa road, the old “town center” or “poblacion” of Santa Mesa.

Sacred Heart Parish in Old Sta. Mesa

Today, Santa Mesa has been quietly and continuously carving its own colorful identity in this myriad environment of Manila. Being serviced by two rail line services (traditional and electric) and a flyover network, it is home to a number of government offices, (NSO and the MMDA Traffic Engineering Center) a state university, (PUP) full-service supermarkets, (SM Save More and Puregold) and…ehem…a stretch of motels. I hope to be able explore these “interesting” aspects of the area in future posts.

Santa Mesa Rotonda (AKA Plaza Avelino)

Polytechnic University of the Philippines main campus

For the meantime, thank you for dropping by and keep roaming.

©2009 The Urban Roamer


  • Plop


    Nice article 🙂 I’m also a resident from Sta. Mesa, and I’m planning to gather some local history regarding our town. I stumbled upon your site and I’m just curious… How accurate are your sources on this?

    • urban roamer – I have nothing much to say, I'm the quiet one...which may be why I wander, write, take photographs, and get into social media too much

      urban roamer

      my sources seem reliable. you can check out Luning Ira’s “Streets of Manila” at the National Library for additional info. thanks!

  • Ronald

    ako kelan lang ako naging resident ng santa mesa, mga 2012 lang nung mag bf-gf pa lang kami ng asawa ko, kasi madalas ako sa bahay, ngayong mag asawa na kami ito pa rin ang home para sa amin, gustong gusto ko ang santa mesa lalo na yung playground/park sa hipodromo, sm sta mesa, lrt 2 pureza station, teresa, simple lang ang pamumuhay ng mga tao sa sta mesa kaya ang sarap sarap,pati PNR at busina niya namimiss ko na

  • Jerr Holcomb

    Where is the old Santa mesa out of manila ? Has a gate to get in the private residential community at least 20 miles out of the area . It has a market and a knife shop just inside the gate as well as several motorcycle transports.

  • Grace Balbon

    Hi, i’m a public school teacher here in Sta. Mesa, and one of the lessons we have in Araling Panlipunan (i am currently handling Grade2) is ‘Ang Pinagmulan ng Aking Komunidad”, and i came upon your article. Thank you so much for clarifying where the name came from and i was wondering where was the original hipodrome located here, and if its true what i read about the perfume makers using the flowers of ilang ilang being one of the business here in the time of the Spaniards??? was it? thank you so much and more power to you.

  • Lourenella De Leon

    Hello! I stumbled upon your blog while searching for the history of Sta. Mesa for a course that requires us to write about our local history. I just wanted to ask if there is any way that I can acquire your sources in writing this article? It would be very much appreciated. Thanks!

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