If you find yourself somewhere in the middle of Manila’s “University Belt” in Sampaloc disttrict, you may have chanced upon this nicely-preserved American-era building and some fresh patch of green which is a welcome sight in the midst of the area’s frentic activity and some unfortunately-dilapidated structures nearby. For someone who had often roamed around U-Belt back in college, I have always wondered about this structure. I was lucky to have gotten access to this place and appreciate this preserved heritage of old Manila in Sampaloc.
The story behind this building began in 1905, (some sources however say it’s 1907) when industrialist and philanthropist Teodoro Yangco and a group of women’s rights advocates (included among them would be the founder of Centro Escolar University, Librada Avelino) founded the La Proteccion de la Infancia, Inc., (LPI) considered to be the first and oldest non-sectarian charity organization in the country. Its aim was to look after the welfare of children at a time when child mortality, malnutrition, and other diseases were on alarmingly high rate. LPI decided to embark on a milk-feeding program for the children, as well as helping out their mothers as well.
With its widening operations and expansion over the years, there came a need to move from its original home in Evangelista Street in Quiapo. Yangco donated a parcel of his land along Lepanto Street up in Sampaloc. The construction of its new office fell onto the hands of 2 architects, Arcadio Arellano and his younger brother Juan, who was fresh out of his architectural education in the US. The project one of the first ones the brothers would collaborrate on for the next 3 years. For Juan, this would be one of the first architectural projects he would take, as he would go to build more iconic landmarks ahead like the Post Office Building and the Metropolitan Theater, to name a few.
The structure was built in 1914; the Arellano brothers took their inspiration from an orphanage in Florence, Italy called the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) done by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the renowned architects of the Renaissance era; the structure itself is known as an example of landmark early Renaissance architecture. Upon its completion in 1917, the building was christened as the “Gota de Leche” (Drop of Milk in Spanish) which, true to its name, became the milk-feeding center for the city’s children, especially those from poor families.
The organization and the building it represents is still in existence to this day, as it still is doing its mission for the children and their mothers. The building itself has been fortunate that it was spared from possible demolition and became a centerpiece for heritage advocacy, thanks in part to the LPI which wanted to preserve the heritage of this landmark. In fact, it went through a renovation/restoration in 2002, an effort that warranted the attention of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that it received a recognition in 2003 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Preservation.
The story of Gota de Leche is one of the few inspiring stories that one can hope to be emulated in the preservation of the metropolis’ endangered heritage, not only as a way to visually learn about our past, but also to help guide our cities to a better, livable future.
© The Urban Roamer