The Ayala Center Story: Part 1 – The Makati Commercial Center

After having written the story of the SM supermalls through chronicling the stories of North EDSA, Megamall, and Mall of Asia in 2018, the Urban Roamer feels its time to write another miniseries in the same vein, this time focusing on the development of Ayala Center: Glorietta, Greenbelt, and everything in between. But in order to understand how the Ayala Center became what it is today, it is important to know its story. For that, we have to go all the way back to the beginning when part of this area was known before as the Makati Commercial Center.

Map of the Makati Commercial Center in the 1970s (image via Pinterest)

The pioneers

When the development of the Makati business district went into full steam in the late 1950s, plans were being drawn to develop the commercial area of this growing business hub. As such, the Ayala landlords offered a piece of land surrounded by EDSA, Ayala Avenue, Makati Avenue, and Pasay Road (now known as Arnaiz Avenue) for retail space.

The first to built in this area is a movie theater: the Rizal Theater which opened its doors in 1960. Designed by architect Juan Nakpil, who designed a number of buildings in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus, the Rizal Theater was originally supposed to be built in the area of Rizal Park as one of the planned structures to be inaugurated by the time of Dr. Jose Rizal’s birth centennial in 1961. However, due to lack of funds, the government was not able to push through this Rizal Park project.

Juan Nakpil and a model of the planned theater in Rizal Park (image courtesy of Philippine History and Architecture)

Despite the setback, Nakpil’s Rizal Theater would be realized with the help of the Ayalas, who decided it would be built in a strategic location, right at the corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues. While Nakpil had to scale back on the size and design of the theater, it still bore a unique, mid-century modern look which helped put Makati Commercial Center on the map, so to speak.

courtesy of Eduardo de Leon via Flickr

In 1963, a new structure southeast of Rizal Theater would be opened: the Sulo Restaurant which would become the go-to dining place for Filipino cuisine. It also helped define the character of the Makati Commercial Center, thanks in part to the restaurant’s standout design courtesy of its architect Francisco Mañosa, who would later on design the Coconut Palace and EDSA Shrine. Around the same year, Henry Sy would expand his shoe business outside Manila with the opening of his ShoeMart branch in the Makati Commercial Center. But we’ll talk about that a bit later.

(image courtesy of Philippine History and Architecture)

1969 was a pivotal year for Makati Commercial Center with the opening of Hotel Intercontinental Manila, Makati’s first 5-star hotel. The following year, the upscale retail store Rustan’s would open its first branch outside Manila. Both establishments would help cement the Makati district as a business and tourist destination.

Hotel Intercontinental Manila, taken in 2015 before its closure by New Year’s Day 2016
Rustan’s Makati in the 1970s (image via Pinterest)

Expansion and evolution

The 1970s saw Makati Commercial Center’s continued growth as more retail structures began to prop up and fill the former barren space. Makati Supermarket at the southwest area rose to become the center’s premier supermarket. Arcade buildings that were built around the period such as Maranaw Arcade on the west, and Mayfair Center, Bricktown, and Lising’s Commercial on the northeast were known as shopping destinations. Automatic Center and sister establishment Blims opened their own showroom building beside Rustan’s in 1977, as well as appliance rival Anson’s in the southwest end, while Philippine handicrafts store Tesoro’s had a store just beside ShoeMart. Speaking of…

Makati Supermarket with Sulo Restaurant in the background, 1973 (image via Pinterest)

Around this time, ShoeMart would expand from being a shoe store to a department store. Thus, ShoeMart Makati was expanded and became SM Makati by 1975.

Another hotel in the area would be built the following year, the Manila Garden Hotel, which would eventually survive the changes that lay ahead in the area (spoiler) though undergoing a few name changes before becoming what we now know as the Dusit Thani Manila.

Despite the frenzy of development, Makati Commercial Center still had some scenic greenery and open space available, where visitors would get to relax in gardens curated by eventual National Artist Ildefonso Santos.

Today’s Glorietta 4 Park, one of the few, if not the only, remaining open gardens that date back from the Makati Commercial Center days

Surrounding the area were various sculptures by various artists like Jose Mendoza and, reportedly, Napoleon Abueva.

A turtle sculpture formerly located in front of Sulo Restaurant (image via NoliSoli)…
…now located in Greenbelt
The carabao herd sculptures were also a prominent landmark in the Makati Commercial Center, also relocated to Greenbelt

The nucleus of the future

The 1970s also saw the opening of the Quad Theater at the southeast corner. With a more contemporary design and more state-of-the art facilties, Quad would eventually overshadow the older Rizal Theater in terms of patrons. It would also be in Quad, alongside the open space park near it, right at the middle of the Makati Commercial Center, called Glorietta, where the nucleus of what would become Ayala Center would arise, changing forever the landscape of the area.

Quad Theater and the Glorietta (then known as the open park in the middle of Makati Commercial Center) in the foreground (image via Ayala Malls)

To be continued…

Acknowledgements as well to, Esquire Philippines, Philippine Daily Inquirer, SM Investments Corporation, and Arkitekturang Filipino by Gerard Lico,

One Comment

  • Teresitavelleman

    You brought back my youth. Worked at paseo de Roxas where the bank of America had a branch, housed as well were Ford Foundation, TransAsia, Office Interiors, Inc., etc.
    It was my hang out, Laila Coffee shop, lumpiang ubod at sulo, intercom basement discotheque. there as was a bowling alley there too, Coronado Lanes? The Plaza Hotel, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

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