City of Manila

A Visit to the First United Building Community Museum

So much has been said about Escolta Street and its glory days as a premier center of commerce in Manila, its eventual fall from grace after World War II, and the current efforts to revitalize commercial activity here again. With the state of things in the city these days, such efforts are admittedly a tall order. Nevertheless, the work continues with much vigor and passion, thanks to the various groups and individuals with their unceasing love for Escolta and their common dream to see it reclaim its glory as Manila’s “queen of streets.”

interior of Escolta’s First United Building

One of those stakeholders happen to be the owners of the First United Building, the Syliantengs whose have been deeply rooted in Escolta beginning with their patriarch, Sy Lian Teng, an entrepreneur who ran Escolta’s (and Manila’s as well) premiere department store, Berg’s. As a tribute to Escolta’s heritage, the Sylianteng family’s passion for Escolta, and to honor the legacy of the patriarch who has made an invaluable contribution to this street, a community museum was opened last May 16 this year in the premises of the building: the First United Building Community Museum.

Located on the mezzanine floor of the First United Building, the museum reflects the colorful history of Escolta through the story of the First United Building and of Sy Lian Teng through various memorabilia displayed in the museum, including the desk of Sy Lian Teng in his old office in the building and the things that can be found there, even the old equipment.

the story of First United Building’s architect, Andres Luna de San Pedro in a magazine article

Sy Lian Teng’s story by itself is an interesting story that the museum has been able to tell. Born in 1904, like many Filipino-Chinese he migrated here from his hometown in Fujian, China for a new life and made a mark in the city when he and his friends established Cosmos Bazaar. He eventually found love and started a family of 9 children. However, he suffered a tremendous loss when his wife and almost all his children were killed by the Japanese during World War II.

the Sylianteng family tree
the desk of Sy Lian Teng

Nevertheless, he managed to move on and start anew, reopened the bazaar, remarried, and eventually bought and managed the well-loved Escolta-based department store Berg’s until it closed in 1982. He also managed to purchase the building Berg’s was located, the First United Building (now being managed by his son Robert and Robert’s wife Lorraine) and managed to live until the age of 100, leaving behind not only a rich legacy, but also an appreciation of Escolta even in the midst of the challenges of the recent years.

Also on display are various articles and artworks depicting Escolta with more coming soon. It is worth noting that the museum’s layout was made possible with the help of the 98B COLLABoratory, an artists’ community based also in the First United Building.

The museum is open from Mondays to Saturdays, 9:00AM to 5:00PM with an entrance fee of P50. If you happen to be in the area, do check it out and learn more about Sy Lian Teng, the First United Building, and Escolta as a whole.


It is no coincidence that I am publishing this entry today which happens to be date this month of the monthly Saturday Future Market, also held at the First United Building. It is one of the projects held to promote the revitalization of Escolta and you can find various items like artworks, accessories, and even vintage items. So you now have 2 good reasons to visit Escolta today.

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