Cover Calle Rosario, Binondo, Manila, Philippines, early 20th Century | Photo: John Tewell Collection; @johntewell on Flickr

Take a look at the places that cradled Manila's crème de la crème. In this article, we explore the history of the Manila Metropolitan Theater, Santa Ana Cabaret, and more.

If modern Manila has the skyscrapers of Makati, fancy speakeasies of Bonifacio Global City (BGC), and glamorous casinos of Parañaque, its older counterpart had spots like Manila Hotel Fiesta Pavillion and Santa Ana Cabaret where the country's who's who hung out from dusk to dawn.

The beauty of these places are gifts bestowed upon the old Manila. Together, they made the city gleam with endless ballroom parties, fêtes, and other private occasions. 

In this article, we revel in history and take a peek inside Filipino high society's go-to places in the past. 

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1. Manila Hotel Fiesta Pavillion

The Manila Hotel has been home to generations of wealthy families in the Philippines. Inaugurated in 1912, the place boasts its luxurious realm and the Fiesta Pavilion, a ballroom for intimate conventions, meetings, or family parties.

The infamous Fiesta Pavilion had a reputation among the rich; equipped with cutting-edge lighting fixtures and a theatre-like setup, it was where sugar barons convened to bond with people of similar elite status.

A social group called Kahirup organisation, which was founded by Dr Manuel Hechanova in 1923, started an annual tradition that every prominent clan knows: the Kahirup Ball at the Manila Hotel’s Fiesta Pavilion or Winter Garden. The event highlighted glamorous ternos and dazzling pieces of jewellery from several Filipino key figures; it was opened by a rigodon de honor, a Spanish ceremonial dance that focuses on sophistication and etiquette. Its current iteration is now more focused on charity, last held just before the pandemic. 

Read more: Manila Hotel Opens The New Fiesta Pavilion

Party No More

The Fiesta Pavilion, like many places in the past, served witness to many devastating events. During World War II, the place was infiltrated by Japanese forces. Their flag was displayed above the walls of the hotel for the entirety of the war. Only the shell of the building survived.

Under the Marcos regime, hotel ownership was put in the hands of the government through Presidential Decree no. 645. In the order, it was stated that the Government Insurance System (GSIS) must form a subsidiary corporation that would help in financing and promoting the development and growth of local tourist facilities, have full authority to undertake the new Manila Hotel project under the most suitable legal arrangements, and own approximately 98 per cent of the shares and stocks of the Manila Hotel Company.

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The Pavilion Is Back

Today, the Fiesta Pavilion has a total renovated space of 1,522.79sqm and can now accommodate 1,300 people for a sit-down dinner or buffet and 1,800 people for cocktails. In a 2015 interview with Tatler, Nian Liwanag-Rigor, Manila Hotel’s former assistant vice-president for public relations & corporate communications, shared that the management seeks to divide the place into smaller and smarter ballrooms. 

“We envisioned the new Fiesta Pavilion to be subdivided into smaller ‘smart’ ballrooms with walls and ceilings that change colours through computer-controlled lighting to suit the event’s colour scheme," she said.

Read More: The Heritage Of Manila Hotel

 

2. Manila Boat Club, Manila Bay

Founded in 1895, the Manila Boat Club is considered the oldest existing club in Manila. Through the years, the club was situated on Manila Bay, where wealthy businessmen flock to board yachts and attend boat racing events to encourage sailing in the Philippines.

In the course of its existence, the club transferred from one place to another—it first docked in the north bank of the Pasig River at Calle Nagtahan, Santa Mesa. When 1909 came, it moved to Isla de Provisor where it remained until the end of 1918. Finally, in 1931, the club was able to lease the property upon which it now stands.

At the end of 1932, the Boat Club became popular among Manileños. It has garnered over 70 members of whom 61 were very active rowers. 

See also: Yachting Etiquette: The Dos and Don'ts

Aftermath Of The Pacific War

In December 1941, the dismantled boats greeted club members on their return after the Japanese Occupation. Several types of equipment from the Club vanished and the clubhouse was severely damaged as a result of a nearby explosion. Repair of the entire building cost PHP 20,000, a large sum of money at the time. 

By 1950, club renovation had been completed. Members could finally return and marvel at the beauty of six new boats, two clinker sculls, and two heavy fours on the water. The historical club continues to thrive until present time. 

3. Santa Ana Cabaret

The Philippines' movers and shakers knew which place to go if they wanted to dance and socialise all night. The Santa Ana Cabaret, which is located on the outskirts of Manila, was the “Largest Cabaret in the World and the Best Dance Music in the Orient."

The huge cabaret, which was described to be twice as massive as a gymnasium, catered only to the prominent and wealthy. Before any guest could come in, he or she is required to wear a coat and tie and pay a PHP1.00 entrance fee (around PHP2,000~ today). People danced to tango, waltz, blues, and the music of Vic Hernandez.

Santa Ana Cabaret was also a place where Americans and Filipino women meet up to dine and dance the night away.

Wrath Of Typhoon Patsy (Yoling)

Unfortunately, even the gigantic dancefloor of the cabaret was no match for the wrath of typhoon Patsy, one of the deadliest typhoons to strike the Philippines in 1970. The strong winds and heavy floods brought by Mother Nature knocked the place down, ending the years of frolicking, and night dancing in the place.

More from Tatler: Santa Ana Gin Pays Homage To A More Romantic Side Of Manila's History

4. Manila Metropolitan Theater

If there was another thing loved by the Philippines' crème de la crème besides dancing at galas, it was watching famous plays and orchestras at the famed Manila Metropolitan Theatre.

From the late 19th century, until the beginning of the Second World War, the "MET Theater" was a thriving hub of business and entertainment, often flocked by European migrants who fancy architectural gems of the Art Deco era.

Timeline

The idea of constructing a theatre in the City came about in 1924 during the American colonial period.

The place had seen the perils of the Second World War; the theatre’s roof and walls were destroyed and it was misused as a boxing arena, low-quality motel, and even a basketball court. In 1978, the restoration of the Grand Dame was initiated by then Manila Governor Imelda Marcos. It was headed by Otilio, the nephew of the MET architect Juan Arellano.

The restoration of the building did not take off. The theatre was once again closed following conflicts between the Manila City Administration and the GSIS.

In May 2015, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) rolled out a PHP270 million funding prompting the GSIS to transfer the right of ownership to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

In January 2021, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) together with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines announced that the “Grand Dame of Manila” will once again be open to the public.

The NCCA also gave a glimpse of the newly renovated theatre in a Facebook post last 18 January. “The inauguration of the new MET is the culmination of a long arduous journey. This has been made possible by the determined effort of a long line of individuals who share a common dream to bring back to life one of our nation’s cultural treasures,” said NCCA Chairperson Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso.

“We will strive to do our best to be worthy of this collective effort as well as the high expectations of our people,” he added.

Read also: Inside The Manila Metropolitan Theatre Restoration

5. The Crystal Arcade

The Crystal Arcade was a place where the elite thronged in the the1930s. The place, which houses the Manila Stock Exchange, as well as offices and upscale shops, was bedazzled with crystals and graceful art deco lines. Inside, guests enjoy an air-conditioned atmosphere which was uncommon at the time. 

Located in the premier business district of Escolta, the Crystal Arcade used to be one of the most modern buildings in the Philippines. It was built on the land that belonged to the Pardo de Tavera family. The building was designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of Juan Luna and Paz Pardo de Tavera. The artist, who studied Art in Paris, was appointed as Manila's chief architect from 1920 to 1924.

Like his father, Andres wanted to produce a series of architectural projects that can redefine Manila's image. To make such a thing possible, he infused the sleek and streamline art deco design with crystal-like glass in his design for the building. 

In June 1932, the Crystal Building opened its doors and became a commercial establishment that reminded people of arcades in Paris

See also: Casa Manila, Intramuros Renovation: Exclusive Interview With Arch. J. Anton Mendoza

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