Pasay City today is one place in the metropolis which has a conflicted identity brought about by the many changes that came upon this part of the metropolis over the last 70 years or so. There is the Old Pasay, at least remains of the old genteel neighborhood where some of the Manila’s elite families lived, especially before the war and in the early postwar years. Then there is the Modern Pasay of today, suffering in urban squalor, decay, and congestion brought about by the emergence of the urban poor populace who lived in the city as the elites moved out to escape the creeping urbanization. And of course, there is the New Pasay, the hoped future of the city at least, concentrated in the reclaimed area of the city, where there is more room to plan the growth of this part of the city.
Such contrasts in identities can be exemplified in today’s entry as we roam and look into two hotels found in the city that reflect Pasay’s contrast in character. Incidentally, these two hotels in questions are named after first names of men, which makes this study of contrasts a bit more interesting: the Henry Hotel and the Conrad Hotel.
THE HENRY HOTEL MANILA
Located along F.B. Harrison Street, right between the Pasay City Hall and the EDSA intersection, the Henry Hotel Manila is situated in an area which used to be an upscale neighborhood during 1930s to the early postwar years. In fact, nearby this property used to be where the influential Lopez family made their residence and office, something I touched on briefly on my Lopez Museum and Library entry months back. Anyway, the hotel property was once a compound of 5 houses built in 1950 by a Filipino-Chinese businessman for his extended family. However, when the businessman died, his surviving family members decided to move elsewhere. Fortunately, the story of this compound did not end like many other beautiful old properties in the metropolis that were left to neglect, ruin, and eventual disappearance from the cityscape.
The first stages of its return to life cameabout when the property was opened to tenants who began to bring life to the property with the opening of some of their businesses in some of the houses. Soon enough, some of the houses were converted to an art gallery, an atelier, and an interior design and furniture showroom. Eventually, businessman and hotel owner Hanky Lee came across the property and decided to utilize the property to be the site of his 38-room boutique hotel, the Henry Hotel Manila which opened in 2014.
Despite its location in a highly urbanized area, stepping into the Henry Hotel Manila is like finding an oasis in the desert with all the lush green landscape surrounding the hotel (thanks in part to the garden designed by National Artist for Landscape Architecture Ildefonso P. Santos). It also feels like stepping back in time, as the green landscape helps visualize what Old Pasay was like before rapid urbanization kicked in, not to mention the work the houses went through to give that old nostalgic vibe, from the facade to the interiors.
As for the name? Lee explained in an interview that the name Henry gives off an image of a “sophisticated world-wizened traveler…in search of unique experiences.” As such, a stay in the hotel is an experience in itself like no other.
New Pasay in the reclamation area has its share of nice, swanky hotels. But the newest hotel in that part of the city deserves some focus today not only because it shares the same name attributes as The Henry but also because it is is the most boldly modern in design and architecture, a perfect contrast to The Henry’s old school charm. I’m of course talking about the Conrad Manila located at SM’s massive Mall of Asia complex.
Opened just a few months ago in June, Conrad Manila marks the return of the Hilton Hotels and Resorts Group (the parent hotel company of Conrad) in the metropolis after managing the old Manila Hilton, which is now the Manila Pavilion Hotel of the Waterfront Group. Conrad Manila came about as a joint effort between the Hilton Group and the SM Group which has been aggressively expanding the Mall of Asia complex to be a mini-city of itself, with commercial, business, and residential facilities located within that complex.
One striking thing people will notice about Conrad Manila is its architecture, designed by Singapore-based WOW Architects. The structure is not one of those typical box-type structures many contemporary hotels have. Instead, it somehow resembles the look of a modern cruise ship, which may be deliberate considering its proximity to Manila Bay and its famed sunset. Despite it only having 10 floors and 347 rooms, Conrad offers so much for its guests in this expansive property.
On top of these features is the expansive hotel lobby at the third floor (the hotel’s first two floors have been dedicated to commercial space) which offers not only the most spacious hotel lobby you’ll ever see, but also an impressive view of Manila Bay. Come to think of it, Conrad Manila may be one of the very few hotels that manage to take advantage of its bayside location by providing that view to its guests the moment they check in.
The lobby itself surrounds the center of the hotel, where one can find the hotel garden and the swimming pool, while the interiors seem to underscore the cruise ship vibe that I am getting from this hotel, interspersed with various artworks done by Filipino artists. At the same time, Conrad Manila aims to deliver to its guests the level of service and comfort Hilton hotels worldwide are known for.
Despite being different in their approach and their market, both the Henry and the Conrad hotels offer an enriching experience that help provide a unique character to the city in their own ways, being able to respectively integrate the past and the future to make better the present chaotic landscape of the metropolis. Check out one of these hotels, or both if possible, and let the experiences they bring help you fall in love with the city again.