The Ayala Center Story: Part 2 – Greenbelt rises

In the previous chapter of this series, we looked at how Ayala Center as an emerging shopping destination in the 1960s-1970s with the Makati Commercial Center. Now, we go across Makati Avenue to learn about the rise of what would become an important component of today’s Ayala Center: the area known as Greenbelt.

Beginnings as a park

Unfortunately, the information available on Greenbelt’s history is, at the very least, vague and has some missing parts. What we do know is that the development of Greenbelt began only in the 1970s, more or less 10 years after the completion of Rizal Theater, the first structure to rise in the neighboring Makati Commercial Center.

“Double Reclining Form” by Arturo Luz

Even then, this “development” was not originally going to be a commercial development but more of an ecological one, the name alone should give enough of a hint. It is unknown (to this Urban Roamer, at least) is if the existence of commercial spaces was something that was originally intended or was added later on to complement the open park, though they were clearly not envisioned to be as massive as the ones in the Makati Commercial Center, at least in the beginning.

A museum’s home

One of the first, if not the first, to rise in this area is a museum, the Ayala Museum which opened in 1974. We have touched upon Ayala Museum’s history before but to recap, here’s what the Urban Roamer wrote: “The museum was originally located at the Insular Life Building at the corner of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas where it remained until 1974, when the museum moved into a building of its own along Makati Avenue near Greenbelt Park, designed by no less than Leandro V, Locsin, the National Artist for Architecture, As can be expected from Locsin architecture like the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the first Ayala Museum building was all concrete, or what some would call “brutalist architecture,” with the appearance of geometric shapes stacked on each other.”

The presence of Ayala Museum can be seen as an important step not only in Greenbelt’s development but also in bolstering this part of Makati as an important commercial and cultural hub in one. It was an important step towards the building of what would become Ayala Center. But first, some important developments would have to be done in Greenbelt.

A chapel in the middle

Development continued during the 1970s and 1980s, during which time Greenbelt would have an aviary and a few retail establishments, some being standalone like a Shakey’s Pizza branch there. Sadly, there are little to no photos of what they looked like but they were there.

The McDonald’s branch in Greenbelt has been around since the 1980s and stands as the last remaining standalone retail establishment in the area as the rest were either demolished or integrated into the original Greenbelt mall.

But one of the more longstanding structures to arise in the area during this period is a Catholic chapel, the Sto. Niño de la Paz Chapel or known more popularly as the Greenbelt Chapel. Completed in 1983, the chapel was designed by architects William Fernandez and Jess Dizon, with glass sculptor Ramon Orlina crafting the elements found there such as the tabernacle altar, the ceiling art, the cross found on one of the entrances among others. Its circular dome design evokes similarity to the Catholic Church of the Holy Sacrifice in UP Diliman and it can be said that the curved design of the chapel complemented the brutalist block design of the old Ayala Museum.

Interestingly, the chapel was not part of the original plans for Greenbelt. It was a private initiative but not by the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila but of one Fanny del Rosario-Diploma, an educator who was inspired by the sight of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the middle of New York City to have such a Catholic abode in the heart of the bustling Makati central business district. It was built thanks to an initial lease agreement she and her husband Nordy made with the Ayala Corporation. The lease originally was for 30 years but when the agreement was nearing its end, Ayala decided to retain the structure and turned over its management to the archdiocese, thus making the Greenbelt Chapel one of the oldest surviving structures in the Greenbelt area.

The first of many

Throughout this period not in Greenbelt’s but in the Makati CBD’s history, the Ayalas were content to be landowners who get to earn from leases by various businesses who have set up shop there. And with Makati’s exponential growth during this time, the Ayalas were, and still are, earning huge revenues from these leases.

But in the 1980s, the Ayalas saw both threat and opportunity as Henry Sy was beginning to build his shopping mall empire. To meet this new challenge and in anticipation of the changes it brought, the Ayalas decided to no longer be just landowners. They were going to build and develop shopping malls themselves. And one of their first projects in the shopping mall business was in Greenbelt.

As was mentioned earlier, there were a number of retail establishments found in the Greenbelt area, many of them concentrated in the area’s western section, at the corner of Legaspi Street and Paseo de Roxas. The Ayalas saw this part of Greenbelt as the nucleus of their Greenbelt mall project as they saw how easy it was to build a mall there since it was just a matter of integrating these structures together into this one large building and they get to save costs too from having to build a mall from scratch. Pretty clever, I must say.

The original Greenbelt mall, now known as Greenbelt 1

The “new” Greenbelt mall would be opened by 1990, boasting retail establishments both within and outside the mall area, 3 movie theaters, and 3 floor levels. It was not a big mall by any means but it was a start, both for Greenbelt’s transformation into this massive mall complex but also for Ayala as it was bracing to transform the retail landscape right at the Makati Commercial Center where massive changes were already taking place.

To be continued…

Acknowledgements as well to Greenbelt Chapel, ABS-CBN News, and Wikipedia

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