Despite the rise of more modern, taller “city halls” with more modern amenities, especially the city halls of some of the cities in the metropolis, there is this certain appeal and charm whenever one sees the city hall building of Manila. Maybe it’s partly because it is the city hall of the nation’s capital city. Maybe it’s because of its classic architecture that it has been able to maintain. Whatever the case may be, the Manila City Hall is itself an iconic structure that has managed to become the symbol of the city it represents, something that not all local government office buildings have managed to achieve.
The city hall we see today was first constructed in the late 1930s during the Commonwealth period, a product of a campaign by then Mayor Juan Posadas for Manila to have a new city hall building. The 4-storey structure was built in the neoclassical style architecture designed by Antonio Toledo, who also helped design other neoclassical structures along with Juan Arellano the present National Museum building, the provincial capitol buildings of Cebu and Leyte, among others. It was inaugurated in 1939 by President Manuel Quezon, albeit only the southern portion was fully completed by then. It would take another 2 years for the building to be fully completed. By that time, Mayor Posadas, the one behind the building of the Manila City Hall already died in office. (he died in 1939, shortly after the inauguration) The building suffered some damage due to shelling in the Battle of Manila in 1945 but was reconstructed after the war, faithful to the original architecture of the building.
Unlike the buildings seen in the cityscape during the time, the Manila City Hall was a different kind of structure. So different, perhaps somewhat “avant-garde” for its time, that it was a source for much criticism. For one, it’s shaped in an irregular hexagonal shape that people at the time derided for it looking like a shield or worse, a coffin. Then, there is its clock tower that was added on the northern end of the building, the tallest clock tower in the country that was meant to emulate London’s Big Ben, that has become the landmark feature of the building, not to mention a landmark itself in the city. But during the time it was built, it was a source of derision as well as some found such tower unnecessary for a city hall building. One can say Manila’s love for the City Hall clock tower was a love that grew over time.
During the term of Mayor Arsenio Villegas, he gave a new name for City Hall, the “Maharnilad,” a portmanteau of the words “maharlika” or noble person and May nilad or “there’s nilad” (nilad is a type of mangrove shrub that used to be abundant in the area) the phrase that gave Manila its name. This could perhaps be a callback to the city’s title bestowed by the Spaniards: “most noble and ever loyal city.” While Maharnilad is not used much these days, Villegas himself is immortalized in city hall with his name given to the hall holding the mayor’s office, the Bulwagang Villegas, which is also prominent for the presence of a famous work by National Artist for painting Botong Francisco. Called “The Filipino Struggle Through History,” it details in art the history of Manila from the pre-Hispanic era until the 1960s, the time the painting was made. As a bit of trivia, it is from this painting that we get the famous art of Andres Bonifacio leading his men to battle.
Currently, the city hall is due for much needed renovation, especially the interiors. The work done for the session hall is a start as it also has the added functionality of it being powered by solar energy, one of the recent initiatives for use of renewable energy. The court offices on the upper floors of the building are due to be relocated to the planned Hall of Justice complex in the old GSIS Manila building, (which itself is part of a more complex story that was partly relayed here) so we may see some additional work to be done there soon.
With a new administration in Manila forthcoming, let this be a start of new and better things to come, not only in the confines of City Hall, but in the city as a whole.
Maligayang Araw ng Maynila sa lahat!
© The Urban Roamer