City of Manila

Memory and modernity in San Nicolas District

Located right along the north bank of the Pasig River near the mouth where the river meets the Manila Bay, one can find the district known as San Nicolas. But for the regular city-dweller, the mention of San Nicolas may not ring as it is overshadowed by its neighboring Binondo district and that shopping area called Divisoria, an area that is actually part of San Nicolas but has grown more prominent than the district itself.

the San Francisco or Blanco (as it was formally called) Bridge, one of the oldest bridges in Manila that links Binondo to San Nicolas

Regardless of its diminished stature as of late, one cannot discount the important role San Nicolas has played in Manila’s history and development, thanks in part for its role as the city’s business and commercial hub, a natural extension for the Filipino-Chinese based in neighboring Binondo to do their day-to-day trade. Its location is also a favored factor given its proximity to the Pasig River and the Manila Bay as trade at the time was being carried out by the boats delivering goods to and from the port.

in the olden days, street signs were etched in the walls of houses or buildings. San Nicolas has numerous examples of such signages still intact
a row of houses which served as warehouses or camarins
Ides O’Racca Building, a prewar building in San Nicolas which has suffered from damage in a recent fire and in danger of being demolished

With the city’s economic development in the 19th century, many have come to take up residence as well in this district, and San Nicolas became a bustling commercial business, as well as residential district as many families stay and do their businesses under one roof. Those residences that have managed to survive until today gives one a glimpse of San Nicolas’ colorful heritage which help provide the district a unique character. Some of these structures can be seen standing side by side with modern buildings, providing an interesting contrast of sorts in the way the district has developed.

Birthplace of Gen. Antonio Luna in Numancia St.

Unfortunately for these surviving structures, their continued existence is imperiled thanks to creeping and rapid urbanization the district has gone through in recent years. Then there are also the problems of decay and neglect they face which can attributed to lack of funds or know-how in preservation or being indifferent to whatever happens to the structure especially if they prefer building a new one instead.

the old Casa Tribunal de Naturales, the tribunal house catering to the “natives” of Manila
still standing: the house of Hilario Sunico, one of the foremost bell-casters of the 19th century and prominent San Nicolas personality
the Sunico foundry where the bells made by Hilario Sunico are casted. built in the 1870’s, it is a strong contender to be declared a National Cultural Treasure
San Nicolas Fire Station, one of the surviving pre-war fire station buildings in Manila

Given the proper attention and planning, San Nicolas has the potential of becoming a destination of its own right. Granted the structures are not lined up as nicely as the houses in Vigan are, they nevertheless provide a link to the city’s past that must be preserved for present and future generations to appreciate. It will be an utter shame if one day we wake up to belatedly realize that the link to the city’s past was there all along right under nose but failed to recognize and protect that link  until it has disappeared.

the former site of the printing press of the Katipunan newspaper Ang Kalayaan (Freedom) as the original house was destroyed during World War II


Acknowledgements to the volunteers of Heritage Conservation Society for their inputs that were used for this entry


© The Urban Roamer

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