City of Manila

The Grand Dame by the Bay (Part 1)

Each city has at least one icon of a hotel that has inextricably become part of that city’s history and heritage. And if there is one hotel in Manila that deserves that iconic tag, there is little doubt (if not none) that such honor will be granted to the so-called “Grand Dame by the Bay”: the Manila Hotel.

Perhaps no stronger case can be cited with the intertwined histories of the city and its hotel than a glance at the hotel’s history, a part of what was supposed to be a grander masterplan by American architect Daniel Burnham for Manila in 1905 as a “City Beautiful.” The land where Manila Hotel stands today is actually reclaimed land, along with what is now known today as the South Harbor, Luneta “extension,” and nearby areas along a stretch of a coastal boulevard we know today as Roxas Boulevard. Burnham saw the importance of the Manila Bay to the city. Thus, he conceptualized the reclamation and the construction of the boulevard, and important structures that would highlight Manila’s connection to its bay; Manila Hotel would serve as centerpiece for that connection.

the original Manila Hotel edifice, 5-storeys high

Construction began 3 years later, following the design plan of another American architect, William Parsons, who was tasked to design the early civic buildings in the city. The five-story high Manila Hotel would completed and opened in 1912, making it in the record books as Manila’s oldest hotel.

owing to its proximity to the Manila Bay and the nearby harbor, clipper planes in the 1930’s used to dock at the pier right beside the Manila Hotel. one can imagine how breathtaking to see these planes fly and land right beside the hotel

Apart from its functions as a popular place of stay among dignitaries and celebrities, (from the likes of US Pres. Dwight Eisenhower to The Beatles) the Manila Hotel at one point also served as the Manila quarters of sorts to US General Douglas MacArthur and his family from 1935-1941 who came at the behest of then Philippine President Manuel Quezon to help build the Philippine Army. To make the deal sweeter, MacArthur was offered to stay at the penthouse suite, lavishly remodeled by Architect Andres Luna de San Pedro (AKA the son of Filipino painter Juan Luna) to fit a king’s lifestyle, the kind of treatment MacArthur received and relished. In fact, he had grown to love not only his penthouse suite, but the hotel as well that he decided to eventually take control of the hotel’s operations himself, in addition to being given the honorary title of general manager as a way to offset accommodation costs.

the penthouse suite of Douglas MacArthur still survives to this day, now aptly named the MacArthur Suite. unfortunately, the suite was unavailable during my visit so I had to content myself with sharing this image taken from

The love for the Grand Dame was not only felt by MacArthur. The Japanese forces who occupied the country in 1941 have grown to love it as well. In fact, they loved it so much that they made the hotel the military headquarters for the top brass officials. Partly because of this significance, the hotel was spared from the destruction brought by the war, though it suffered damage significant enough to have it closed for the meantime for renovation until it was reopened in 1946.

the humble archive room of the Manila Hotel offers guests a glimpse of the hotel’s colorful past, which includes a gallery of the guests who stayed at this historic hotel. some photos in the gallery were unavailable at the time due to preparations for the hotel’s centennial celebration

One of the major transformations the hotel experienced came in 1976, when the hotel was expanded with the construction of a tower building behind the original edifice. Architect Leandro Locsin designed the building in a way that it would complement and respect the architecture of the original edifice. The result made the Manila Hotel impose a more towering presence in Manila, literally and figuratively.

to be continued…

Acknowledgements as well to the Manila Hotel and Dom Galicia

© The Urban Roamer

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Exit mobile version