As someone who grew up and eventually studied around the University Belt area of Manila, the Laperal Building along Claro M. Recto Avenue in Manila’s Sampaloc side was an all too familiar sight. I can still remember the line of stores located along the building’s arcade, many of which are printing businesses. The businesses, and the building overall, looked as though it had seen better days. And indeed, it had at that time.
If the building’s name sounds familiar, that’s because its original owners were actually cousins to the ones who once owned the Laperal Mansion in Arlegui street in nearby San Miguel district. It is also one of the first buildings to be completed after World War II, in 1946 to be exact, and served as one of the symbols of a city striving to recover after the war.
Sporting the Art Deco architecture that became popular before the war, it harkened back to that time of bliss and progress that the prewar period became known for. Perhaps the choice of architectural style was intentional, if only to provide Manileños a sense of relief and hope thanks to the nostalgia that Art Deco never fails to exude.
Beyond the architecture, the Laperal Building served to address the growing need for housing in the city which had become an emerging issue after the war. At that time, real estate prices have doubled more than what it was before the war. As such, Laperal was one of those properties that were attractive options not only for buyers but for budding entrepreneurs as well.
The opening of the Laperal Building coincided as well with the growth of Manila’s University Belt in the postwar era. As more students were coming in and more schools opening and expanding their operations in this part of the city, the building was right at the center of the action with students forming a huge part of its tenant base. However, as time went on, the building, as well as the rest of the city, fell into urban decay. While the businesses were still there and the University Belt still as busy as ever, the Laperal Building fell behind with the times as it faced an uncertain future, no thanks to the demolition of a number of decades to centuries-old properties in the city.
It seemed to be the case in 2012, when the building was put up for sale and eventually sold to Stephen Cheng, a businessman who made a name by managing Henry Sy’s SM Appliance Center along with Cheng’s wife. Fortunately, he is also an ardent heritage advocate so he made it a point to preserve the building which he envisioned be a modern student dormitory and community hub at the heart of the University Belt.
Cheng tapped the services of architect Patrick Apacible to spearhead the restoration endeavor, a difficult challenge that was nevertheless accepted. In the process, the facade was preserved, as well as a number of the the building’s original elements. Everything else was built from the ground up, all while striving to stay true to the building’s original Art Deco character. Work was eventually completed in 2016 with the opening of the shared apartment facility called the Youniversity Suites, which rose up to 14 storeys from the original 4-storey Laperal Building. Soon after, the commercial area called L.A. Village, which boasted a German World War I Fokker plane hanging at the top. Despite the competition, especially from many budget dormitories in the area, YOUniversity Suites is enjoying brisk occupancy, especially from students. It’s been highly regarded for its security and amenities, which include a gym and an indoor pool as well.
With its growing patronage, especially by students, YOUniversity Suites is not resting on its laurels. Apparently, there are plans to expand the complex as it’s been said that they’ve already acquired a neighboring building which was also built in the postwar period. It just goes to show that there is value in preserving our heritage, as long as there are people passionate enough to advocate this endeavor.
The Laperal Building has come a long way but managed to stay true to being a symbol of hope and renewal in the midst of war’s destruction and neglect by urban decay. Now it serves as a landmark that has become more important than ever, an ideal and inspiration of what Manila can become.
Long live the Laperal Building indeed.
Acknowledgements as well to YOUniversity Suites, Tulay, BluPrint, ABS-CBN News, and Real Living