Today, however, Escolta is little more than a footnote in Manila's history. Still, there's a good reason — or rather, eight reasons — Escolta is being revived by groups like the 98B COLLABoratory. More than "just another street in Manila," Escolta is also home to:
The Philippines' "Firsts"
Aside from being the street of history, Escolta can also be considered the street of firsts. Among others, it hosted the Philippines' first ice cream parlor (Clarke's Ice Cream Parlor), first movie house (Salon de Pertierra), first American-style department store (Beck's), first electric cable car (Tranvia), first elevator (inside the Burke Building), first savings bank (Monte de Piedad), first skyscraper (Uy Chaco Building), first office of GMA Network (Calvo Museum), and first Polland Hopia Café branch. Now that's a lot of firsts!
The First United Building
Ironically, "First United Building" isn't this building's first name. Instead, it used to be the Perez-Samanillo Building, until it was handed over to the First United Building Corporation in 1968. The building also housed the Manila Post Office, the French consulate, and the Panama consulate prior to World War II. It's said that, when Imelda Marcos was young, she worked at the Lyric Music Store here and sang to attract customers.
The Capitol and Lyric Theaters
Back when Escolta was a thriving business district, crowds flocked to the Capitol and Lyric Theaters for entertainment. In particular, the Capitol Theater is recognizable for its tower-like entrance, which had an Art Deco style and was flanked by carvings of two Filipino women wearing traditional dresses. The theater spanned 1,200 square meters and housed 800 seats, making it larger than most movie theaters in Manila today.
Unfortunately, the Capitol and Lyric Theaters decayed over time, partly due to neglect and partly due to the destruction brought about by World War II. Recent efforts have been made to revive the theaters, though said efforts have yet to bear fruit.
You wouldn't know it from the way the building looks today, but El Hogar used to be one of the grandest structures in Manila. Designed in the Beaux Arts style, El Hogar's modern lines were studded with beautiful sculptures and reliefs.
Supposedly, the Spanish count Don Antonio Melian commissioned the building as a wedding gift to his wife Margarita Zobel de Ayala, a matriarch of the still-existing Zobel de Ayala clan. The building was also home to the El Hogar Filipino Building and Loan Association, as well as a handful of foreign consulates before World War II broke out.
Of the many historical buildings along Escolta, this is one of the most modern. Also known as the Gaches Building and the Teoff Center, the Natividad Building housed the headquarters of the Philippine Education Company, the largest American company in Southeast Asia back in the 1930s. The building was named after Samuel F. Gaches, a treasurer of a corporation that took over the assets of an American jewelry store called Heacock & Freer.
Commercial Bank and Trust Company Building
Another modern-looking building is this one, which seems to have the round, perforated edges of a UFO. Actually, the building used to be the headquarters of its namesake bank, before being acquired by the Bank of the Philippine Islands in 1981.
Aside from being the former headquarters of GMA Network, the Calvo Museum is a good place to go if you want to get a feel for Old Manila. The museum houses old newspapers, ad and movie posters, beauty queen postcards, and other artifacts. You can visit the museum from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. every Monday to Friday, and 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M. every Saturday, for the incredibly low entrance fee of Php50 (US$1).
UNO Seafood Wharf Place
On a less historical note, the UNO Seafood Wharf Place is a must-visit if you like Chinese-Filipino food. Customers especially love their Chicken Pot Pie, but you can also try other unique dishes like the Fookien Fried Oyster Cake, Fish Head With Bean Curd in XO Sauce, Soy Pigeon, Fried Taro Prawns, and more. They're open every day from 11:00 A.M. to 2:30 P.M. and 5:30 P.M. to 11:00 P.M.
Escolta deserves a lot of things, but being forgotten isn't one of them. Why not drop by this historic site, and get a glimpse of Old Manila's glory? If you can recommend other Escolta spots to check out, or have other thoughts on this post, leave us a message in the comments!