If there’s one trait about Manila that makes it a fascinating city, it is its ability to spring surprises even to those who have long gotten used to the frenzy and the madness Manila has been known for.
One such surprise can be found deep in the recesses of the urban jungle of Quiapo. It is a curious sight in itself: a towering building that looks like a Chinese temple of some sort standing out in the middle of a congested neighborhood.
This is the Ocampo Pagoda, and no it is not nor did it once serve as a Chinese temple. What it is actually is a Chinese temple-inspired building that was built way back in 1935 to be the office building of a realty company owned by Don Jose Mariano Ocampo. (thus the name Ocampo)
Looking at the structure, one can surmise Ocampo was a man who has a keen interest in Eastern art, and indeed he was. He had a keen artistic sense, and also loved things Eastern, Japanese in particular even though he never went to Japan himself. It was from this love that he began to dream of a pagoda for himself that will be built in his sprawling property in Quiapo.
The building was a result of painstaking research by Ocampo who scoured every book and magazine for inspirations on the pagoda’s design and the work of the finest engineers of the day. It is said that during the building’s heyday, one can find many artworks adorning its interiors from paintings by various Filipino artists to sculptures of notable Chinese philosophers and emperors. The pagoda itself was surrounded with a vast garden which occupied much of the Ocampo property adorned with various sculptures, some of which can be considered as curiosities.
It managed to survive the destruction brought about by the Second World War, but not from the creeping urbanization that began to choke and ruin Quiapo’s old charm. Eventually when the Ocampo patriarch died, his heirs decided to divide the vast property to have them sold to interested parties. The pagoda was decided to be kept intact and serve as a boarding space for transient sailor-lodgers. Unfortunately, maintenance on the building has not been kept well. In fact, it suffered considerable damage during the July 1990 earthquake which caused part of the tower to collapse and had been left in such a sorry state since.
As for the Ocampo property itself, it was now overrun with residences of both formal and informal kind that the old garden no longer exists anymore. However, for some strange reason, many of the sculptures remained untouched and have coexisted with generations of residents of the now called “Ocampo Compound.” These remaining artworks have somehow found their place in the midst of this new environment though far from the old glory of the former property and somehow cannot be easily seen by casual passersby unless one makes an effort to find them.
In a way, the treasures of the old Ocampo property is a metaphor of sorts for the city itself, a city filled with gems and pleasant surprises to anyone who would take time to find them. While it is great to learn that these gems are still largely intact, it is also sad that they are not getting the limelight, so to speak, not much for themselves but for Quiapo and Manila as a whole that seems to be overlooking, if not neglecting, its glorious heritage.
But if the survival of these treasures and the people there seem to act as their caretakers, one can only feel optimistic.
© The Urban Roamer