City of Manila

Heritage and some Kapuso history: the Calvo Building at Escolta

Long before Makati’s Ayala Avenue, Manila’s premier street business for any business or commercial establishment would be that one street in Manila’s Binondo district known as Escolta.

1930’s Escolta (from the web)

From the late 19th century to the 1960’s, Escolta was a thriving street of trade and commerce. At its height in the 1930’s the whole street was lined with elegant buildings from end to end, most of them sporting classy architecture that dominated and beautified Manila’s skyline. One of those buildings that rose during that period was a little building near the corner of Escolta and Calle Soda called the Calvo Building. (or to the Hispanics like the Calvo family who had it built, Edificio Calvo)

Erected in 1938, was an example of beaux arts architecture designed by Fernando Ocampo, who built the UST Central Seminary, and, much later, the 8th Manila Cathedral. It was one of the few lucky structures in Escolta that have managed to survive the onslaught of the Second World War which was to come a few years later after it was built, especially the Battle for Manila in 1945 which significantly decimated most of Manila to the ground.

the destruction of Escolta after World War II as documented by these photographs

While Manila recovered, the activity in Escolta began to dwindle as businesses began to move elsewhere to start anew. Those who remained had to deal with the challenges of downtown Manila’s downturn (pun somehow intended) after the war. The Calvo Building was no exception.

plaque installed during the building’s 50th birthday

In the midst of these challenges, it is a testament to the resilient spirit of this structure that it has managed to hang tough and even managed to make a bit of history at the same time. Most especially such is true for the tenants who have made this building their business address over the years.

One such tenant was a former US war correspondent for United Press who eventually fell with a Filipina and the Philippines as a whole. As a legacy, he set up an AM radio station with the callsign DZBB on March 1, 1950 on the 4th floor of the building. The man was Robert “Uncle Bob” Stewart and DZBB would evolve into a broadcasting giant known today to many Filipinos as GMA Network.

preserved: a letter from DZBB’s General Manager John McLaughlin to the Calvo Building adminstrators requesting for repairs of the windows at the floor where DZBB was at (dated November 11, 1954)
fullpage ad for GMA Network’s 60th anniversary; the Calvo Building documented here as part of GMA history

Today, some remnants of Calvo’s history, and that of Escolta can be witnessed at along the building’s walls, as well as a little museum at the mezzanine which is not that well advertised nor quite known. Called the Escolta Museum, this little space holds some interesting tidbits from Escolta’s and downtown Manila’s glorious past through photos, advertisements, (mostly of businesses that used to hold address in Escolta) business correspondences, and some scale models of some of the notable structures that used to stand or are still standing in the area.

Curiously, this museum is also home to a sizeable collection of bottles of all shapes, types, and sizes. Trivial as they may be, these bottles serve as a glimpse of the day-to-day life of early 20th century Manila in boom.

The Escolta Museum is open on Sundays with a P50 admission fee. Just ask the guard on duty for the museum.

© The Urban Roamer


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