City of Manila

The Twin Sentinels of Escolta

If you’re coming from Santa Cruz making your way to Calle Escolta, you can never miss the sight of these two buildings that will welcome you to this historic street from the foot of the bridge crossing the Estero de la Reina. Sharing some common architectural features and a heritage of an American colonial past, these buildings were, and still are, the prominent addresses to be in this historic street. Today, we shall check out these twin sentinels and learn more about them in this entry.

THE REGINA BUILDING

Located on Escolta’s eastbound side, the Regina Building is actually the second oldest building to have been built in the then-developing business commercial area. Originally known as the Roxas Building, this neoclassical Beaux-Arts (think of it as neoclassical architecture with a French twist) building was first built in 1915 originally occupying an area smaller than what we see today in the corner of Escolta and the former David (now William Burke) Street.

When the De Leon family bought it from the original owners in the 1920s, the building was not only given a new name as the Regina Building, (Regina is said to be the name of one of the daughters of the patriarch) it also got bigger with its expansion to occupy an entire block as an architect by the name of Andres Luna de San Pedro (who happens to be the son of the famed Filipino painter and nationalist Juan Luna) supervised this expansion project. It is also interesting to note that this building that it was originally a 3-storey building, with a fourth floor added in 1930s by Fernando Ocampo, who also designed a nearby Escolta structure, the Calvo Building.

Apart from these changes, much of the Regina Building has remained intact throughout its existence. The artistic details of the structures exteriors are still present for appreciation. Most especially the interiors which still retain the pre-war, American colonial era ambience of the era during which the building was built. Even a look at one of the offices in the building has this old school charm that brings up nostalgia and appreciation of the aesthetics of the design of that era.

While Escolta as a commercial business district has lost its luster of yesteryears, the Regina Building has remained steadfast in its operations. Don’t let the signage of “space for rent” fool you; the building surprisingly enjoys a 96% occupancy rate that should give hope to those who are pessimistic on the prospects or plans to revive Escolta as a commercial and business hub.

THE FIRST UNITED BUILDING

Standing opposite the Regina Building is another living sentinel of the pre-war, American period in Escolta’s history, the First United Building which was completed in 1930 and then known as the Perez-Samanillo Building. Like the Regina Building, Andres Luna De San Pedro also had involvement in this building, as he was actually its architect.

While it is similar in some ways to the Regina in terms of design, like the angular towered corners, the First United Building is built in the Art Deco style of architecture, the favored architecture style of the buildings being built at the time like the Metropolitan Theater and the Far Eastern University campus, among others.

Apart from the various offices holding office in this building, the First United was also home to one of the prominent department stores in Escolta during the 1940s, the Berg’s Department Store which was the place to go to for fashionable apparel. While Berg’s has long been gone, commercial activity here has been revived recently thanks to the efforts of 98B, an artists community housed in this building which launched early in 2013 the  monthly Saturday Future Market in Escolta in the former premises of the department store.

While Saturday markets are very much common nowadays in different parts of the metropolis, this Saturday Future Market is a venue geared towards helping artists and other entrepreneurs sell their work from art pieces to handicrafts to even vintage items like posters and other collectibles that has managed so far to successfully spark interest and draw a growing number of people as part of the greater efforts to bring Escolta to life once again.

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It is amazing to think these twin sentinels have managed to withstand and thrive in the midst of the challenges Escolta has faced over the years from the highs to the lows. With a revitalized spirit in the air to fulfill the plans to bring back the luster of this historic street, there is little doubt the Regina and First United buildings will be in the forefront in those efforts that could hopefully be realized.

Acknowledgements as well to Superpasyal and Arkitektura.PH

©  The Urban Roamer

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