City of Manila

Museo Pambata: the children’s museum that was once an social club

In a metropolis where tales of gems neglected or lost to urbanization, the story of the old Elks Club Building along Manila’s Roxas Boulevard near Rizal Park is a story worth to be told and emulated in the field of what they call as “adaptive reuse” or making use of an old structure into a different purpose while maintaining its classic character.

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And the story behind this edifice gets more interesting. As the name suggests, it served as the home of the Manila Elks Club, a social club and fraternal organization that is under the Elks Lodge (or formally, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks) centrally based in Chicago. Founded in 1868, the Elks Lodge has traditionally been an exclusive club which boasted illustrious members like Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur, Frederick Funston, (the man responsible for the capture of Emilio Aguinaldo in 1901) baseball icon Mickey Mantle, and even Hollywood celebrities like Clint Eastwood and Ben Affleck.

The Elks Club in Manila (known as Manila Elks Lodge 761) was established in 1902 at the behest of American Elks Club member expatriates who wanted to have an Elks Club in the newly-colonized soil. But it would take about 9 years before the club would have a home of its own. Designed by American architect William Parsons, a Daniel Burnham partner in the Manila masterplan and architect for the Manila Hotel, the Manila Elks Club building was considered to be the finest American structure in Manila.

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Up until the breakout of World War II, the Manila Elks Club building was the social and entertainment hub for Americans in Manila. Moreover, it also offered serviced apartment accommodations for visiting American businessmen and other expats who were staying in the city for a while. It was heavily damaged during World War II but was rebuilt afterwards. The club would stay in the rebuilt facility until foreign ownership issues in the 1960s forced the club to sell the property, moving to Makati’s bustling business district in the Corinthian Plaza Building where it remains to this day.

The old Elks Club building in turn served as temporary home for the National Art Museum (before moving to the old Congress Building in Padre Burgos) and the Manila Overseas Press Club. But it would in 1994 that it would get a new lease of life with the opening of the country’s first children’s museum in its premises: the Museo Pambata.

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The Museo Pambata would not have been possible without the pioneering efforts of two women who dreamed of a children’s museum for the country’s youth: educator Nina Lim-Yuson and former Social Welfare secretary Estefania Aldaba-LIm, who also happened to be the first Filipino clinical psychologist and the first female cabinet member in Philippine history.

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While it is a museum geared towards children, adults will also appreciate it with the presence of many interactive exhibits and learning dealing with various aspects of Philippine history, ecology, anatomy, Philippine society, geology, and technology. These exhibits were represented in a fun and interesting that even if we know many of these facts, you’ll still appreciate the approach it made to make learning everyone can enjoy.

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One can enjoy exploring a replica of an Escolta department store, a large galleon, or a helicopter in the outdoor playground. There are also some experiments the visitor can do which explains some scientific concepts in action. It also helps that the architecture of the Elks Building serves well, allowing room for much space for these exhibits and for kids to roam freely.

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So if you’re into a different and fun museum experience, the Museo Pambata should be a place to visit. You can check out their website at www.museopambata.org.

Acknowledgements as well to the Manila Elks Lodge

© The Urban Roamer

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