Among the many hotels today in Metro Manila, few could match the iconic presence of the Peninsula Manila Hotel. Sure, it does not have a towering presence that many hotels in the metropolis command (both wings of the hotel only are 11 floors high), but it has managed to make quite an imprint in the cityscape thanks to its design, location, and history.
Let’s start with the history part. The hotel was built in the mid-1970s to be one of the venues where the delegates of the forthcoming annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund Board in 1976 (set to be held in Manila) will be staying. The driving force behind the hotel’s construction is the Peninsula Hotel group, one of the famous hoteliers in Hong Kong behind the renowned hotel the Peninsula.
The Manila site is actually going to be the Peninsula’s first hotel outside Hong Kong. And it wanted to make that first venture a good one. It tapped the services of one of the country’s foremost architects of the time. No, it’s not Leandro Locsin but actually Gabriel Formoso, the same architect behind the Club Filipino in San Juan and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas building along Manila Bay. The mistake can be forgiven since Formoso at that time employed brutalist architecture in his works, and the Peninsula Manila was no exception.
But on that matter, some will point out the famous fountain cascading fountains at the hotel’s exterior at the corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues. In reality though, that was a product of the later renovations made to the hotel by Formoso in the 1990s, which resulted in a disconnect in design between the brutalist original and the neoclassical additions. (including the grand entrance/podium at the back along Apartment Drive) Nevertheless, the fountains have become such a landmark in the Makati business district that the moment you see it, you know you are in the heart of the metropolis’ premier financial district.
The opening of the hotel was an exciting time for the Makati CBD as 3 other hotels opened around the same period in the 1970s: Hotel Intercontinental Manila, Mandarin Oriental Manila, and Manila Garden Hotel, which we now know today as Dusit Thani. However, with the many changes that have marked the Makati CBD since then, only Peninsula Manila and Dusit Thani stand as remnants of that period of growth and have largely remained the same appearance-wise.
The Peninsula Manila Hotel was a smash hit for locals and tourists alike. This buoyed the Peninsula Group to go further in its international expansion plans, eventually putting up Peninsula hotels in New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Beverly Hills. As for the hotel itself, it would go on to figure in history anew on November 29, 2007, when a group led by former Philippine Navy officer, detained mutineer, and then newly-elected senator Antonio Trillanes IV walked out of court and sieged the hotel to call for the ouster of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It turned out to be a one-day affair however, when armored fighting vehicles of the Philippine military stormed the lobby, causing Trillanes and his group to surrender. Hotel operations resumed a few days later.
That particular incident aside, the Peninsula Manila remains one of Manila’s top hotels of choice. Its lobby is perhaps one of the most iconic and scenic lobbies one can find in Manila hotels. It also helps that it hosts two popular dining and entertainment places: the Filipino restaurant Escolta and the popular bar/lounge Salon de Ning.
It would not be an overstatement to say that the Peninsula Manila has made a deep imprint in the cityscape that it has become an indelible part of the city in the process. One can only hope that it will remain to be an iconic part of the cityscape in the years to come, despite the possibility of a wrecking ball before it hits its 50th. Crossing fingers that it will not happen.