As far as streetscapes go in Manila’s historic and busy Binondo district, the most popular and most visited are the ones in Ongpin in the north and Escolta in the south, both offering sharp contrasts that helped form Binondo’s character as a district. But between the busy Ongpin and quaint Escolta, there are a few other overlooked streetscapes worth checking out, like the one of Dasmariñas Street.
For us to truly appreciate the street, we have to know the story behind its name. Sure, it’s name is quite familiar thanks to a Makati village and a Cavite city sharing its name but what or who is Dasmariñas anyway? It actually came from two people who bear this surname, father and son actually, with both having left a bloody mark in Philippine history.
A name of bloody legacy
This story begins with Gomez Perez Dasmariñas who became the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines in 1590. Under his tenure, work continued and intensified in transforming Manila into a Hispanic fortress city. He also established relations, and sometimes ran into conflict, with neighboring Asian countries on behalf of the Spanish crown. The latter aspect is of most importance considering what was to come.
In 1593, Dasmariñas launched an expedition aimed at capturing the Muslim stronghold of Ternate (yes, that’s where the name of another Cavite town comes from, but that’s another story) in the Moluccas (now part of Indonesia). The Spaniards long wanted to conquer this area for the sake of religion and spices and Dasmariñas intended to “finish the job”. However, a day after the expedition left Manila and the ship he was on was off the coast of Luzon, the rowers, all of whom were Chinese in origin, launched a mutiny, supposedly to protest the poor conditions of the ship, They ended up killing many of the officers on board, incluñding the governor himself.
His son, Luis Perez Dasmariñas, would succeed him as governor-general through a decree he prepared before his death. The younger Dasmariñas would turn his ire on the Chinese immigrants, whom he probably saw as belonging to the same people that were responsible for his father’s brutal death. As a result, he made efforts to further drive away the migrants, who by then were already living outside the city walls in the Arroceros ghettos. Particularly aimed at those who were baptized as Christians already, the younger Dasmariñas “encouraged” them to settle in a recently-organized Catholic suburb north of the Pasig River called Binondo, where a church has been already built. While the purpose was to further the policy of segregation by Spanish authorities, on the other hand itmarked the beginning of the Fiilipino-Chinese community there which would help shape the Manila we know today. Luis Perez Dasmariñas would step down as governor-general in 1596 and faced a bloody death in 1603, killed by rebelling Chinese forces during the Sangley rebellion. The rebellion itself would end with a massacre of 20,000 Chinese, fulfilling yet another tragic cycle.
A street in Binondo, which was named before as Olivarez, would be renamed Dasmariñas in honor of the father Gomez Perez Dasmariñas, but it can also be taken as a legacy of the son who helped shape Binondo into what it is today, despite the less than noble intentions for doing so.
Evolution into a commercial hub
Unfortunately, there are little to no records as to when the street we now know as Dasmariñas was constructed. Nor were there records as to when the street got its present name. What is known is before the 1920s, the street was a narrow two-lane inner road, with very few, if any, landmarks along the street that would have made it a favorable address in the city.
From architectural records and what not, Dasmariñas Street would rise to prominence in the 1920s coinciding with the construction of two prominent buildings, the Yutivo Hardware building completed in 1922 and the China Bank building at the intersection of Juan Luna Street. Interestingly, both buildings were designed by the same architect, Arthur Gumbert and both still standing to this day.
Research indicated that Dasmariñas Street was widened to the present four lines around this time in the 1920s. Whether the widening was a response to the rise of the aforementioned buildings along that street is anyone’s guess but what could be ascertained was that more businesses were being established along this particular street from the 1920s up to at least before World War II, coinciding with Binondo’s growth during that era as the country’s premier business district. Many of these businesses were selling hardware supplies and industry equipment, riding on and competing with Yutivo which were the first in the area.
Balancing legacy and modernity
The Dasmariñas streetscape of the prewar era managed to survive the war at least mostly intact. But with the decline of Binondo as a business district, the old overlooked street that rose to prominence was in danger of being overlooked anew. Still, the businesses that went and came along this stretch of a road strived to keep the balance of growing their businesses while keeping the legacy of this storied street.
For one, the hardware and heavy equipment store business itself that rose in this street is still around. Though the businesses may not be the same ones as the ones that were around in the prewar years, their spiritual successors helped keep the street alive as a hardware and heavy equipment hub.
Surprisingly, there are quite a good percentage of buildings built before the war that are still standing and being utilized for business space. There were also some remnants of old buildings that were adaptively reused, albeit in weird ways, like keeping the base level facade and building a contemporary structure on top of it. One building has its entire facade left intact but its interiors gutted out as a high rise will be built around and above it. Let’s just see how this building would look like.
There are some notable contemporary buildings there as well that dot the streetscape. The building at the corner of Quintin Paredes is a nice example. Then there is the tallest in the streetscape, the 47-storey Noble Place by Megaworld which is being marketed as a luxury condo in the heart of Manila.
I’m glad to have rediscovered Dasmariñas Street and its heritage that has long been overlooked. Here’s to discovering more kuwentong kalyes in the metropolis.