Special Feature

The Metropolis and its Capital Dreams: Part II

With the growth of Manila by the 1930s, as well as the congestion that came along with it, Manuel Quezon made it a priority upon his assumption of office as Philippine president of the self-governing Commonwealth government to establish a new capital city for a soon-to-be-independent state. There were a number of considerations that were factored in for a new capital like the available space for expansion and how the area can be not difficult to defend. (the previously Capitol area near Rizal Park was susceptible to attacks from possible naval attacks at Manila Bay)

Pres, Manuel Quezon

While there were other locations considered like Baguio (which was the country’s summer capital) and Tagaytay. It was decided that the new national capital will be built right outside Manila, eventually buying what was then a large tract of land owned by the landed Tuason family called the Diliman Estate. The foundations of the future capital city were first laid in 1938 when a portion of the estate was allotted for housing of government workers and others in the labor force known as “Barrio Obrero” (Workers Village) in what is now present-day Kamuning. In addition, additional land was purchased to form the nucleus of the defense center of the new capital. The land would become the site of Camp Murphy, which was eventually divided into what are now Camps Crame (headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary, now the Philippine National Police) and Aguinaldo. (headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines)


On October 12, 1939, President Quezon signed Commonwealth Act No. 502, also known as the charter of Quezon City. Originally, it was to be called Balintawak City, but due to the clamor of many sectors, Quezon relented to have the city named after him, despite how awkward it was back then. (the fact that he actually served as the city’s first mayor for the first 2 months makes it even more awkward, but I digress)

The new city encompassed the aforementioned areas, as well as other areas acquired from nearby towns to form an area originally at 7,300 hectares. With the territory now firmly set in place, it was now time to set up the city’s master plan, most especially for the national capital complex which is to be cornerstone of sorts for Quezon City. Creating the city’s masterplan fell into the hands of Harry Frost, the American architect who was also serving as the architectural adviser of the Commonwealth government. Assisting him were Alpheus Williams, a former Public Works bureau chief and, more notably, Juan Arellano, the renowned Filipino architect who designed the Manila Post Office Building and the Metropolitan Theater, among others.


architects Harry Frost and Juan Arellano

The first phase in the greater Quezon City masterplan involved the transfer of the main campus of the University of the Philippines from its congested confines in Ermita. Frost and Williams drew up the planning for the new UP campus in 1939; by the end of the year, the construction of the campus’ first 3 buildings were in full swing.

The following year, the plan for the national center that will be established in the city was unveiled. For this plan, Frost and company laid out a large quadrangle akin to New York City’s Central Park in the center of the city, intersected by the thoroughfares we know today as EDSA and Quezon Avenue and bounded by 4 avenues named: North, West, East, and South. (more popularly known today as Timog, which doesn’t make sense why it is the only thoroughfare called as such in Filipino, but I digress once more)

On one end of the quadrangle would be an elliptical road which would be the site of the Capitol building, the planned home of the Philippine Legislature. The plan also ensured that the offices of the 3 branches of government will be located close to one another. The Executive Building which was to be the new home of the Philippine President as well as the presidential offices was to be built along North Avenue while the Supreme Court Building will be built along East Avenue, with the Capitol building in between.

the planned Arch of the Republic by Guillermo Tolentino which was never built

Leading up to the Capitol would be the buildings for the National Library and the National Archives and an “Arch of the Republic” that was to be made by renowned sculptor Guillermo Tolentino. There is also a provision for an exposition site at the corner of what is now EDSA and North Avenue as there were plans for the country to hold a world fair or expo in 1946 (the year the Philippines will be granted independence by the Americans) to showcase the country to the world.

plans for the 1946 expo (from Philstar.com)

Like the Burnham plan for Manila, the Frost plan for Quezon City aimed to create a model capital city for the Philippines. It was largely successful in being able to incorporate aesthetics while leaving room for future developments. After all, at a time when people then would not be able to anticipate how big the population boom the metropolis would experience in the latter half of the 20th century, there was room for growth as far as a city with 7,300 hectares is concerned. At the very least, it impressed the policymakers enough that the plan was approved in 1941 and work would soon begin.


But then war broke out in December that year and by the year’s end, the Japanese forces have overtaken the metropolis. By war’s end in 1945, Manila was left in total devastation and the economy was in a total slump. The immediate need for reconstruction and financial aid made the realization of those “capital dreams” put on hold again and reexamined as new ideas emerged by that time.

To be continued…

Acknowledgements to Metropolitan Museum’s “Manila: A City Beautiful” exhibit, Philippine Star, Quezon City Public Library, and Amos Kaiser on Blogspot

© The Urban Roamer

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