In Manila a group of young creatives and heritage conservation groups are trying to bring back the glory of what was once dubbed the ‘Queen of streets’: Escolta. In pre- and early postwar Manila, Escolta was flamboyantly called ‘The Wall Street of Asia.’ This was the territory of bankers, lawyers and shipping magnates; it was where locals would come to burn their money in cinemas, luxury department stores and fancy restaurants. World War II dealt a cruel blow to Escolta and the row of elegant art-deco buildings designed by notable architects of the day were left to deteriorate. For a while, they remained under the threat of demolition, bereft of any consideration for restoration, retrofitting or adaptive reuse with dreary currency traders and import/export offices as tenants.
The situation changed in 2012 when Marika Constantino, executive director of the art collective 98B COLLABoratory, persuaded Robert and Lorraine Sylianteng, the Chinese-Filipino owners of a dilapidated art deco building, to rent them a room on their fifth floor. The rest is history. Robert, a heritage advocate at heart, embraced the arrival of the artistic crowd and before he knew it, his building had filled up with architects, filmmakers, fashion designers and other creative co-workers.
It led to an unlikely partnership between young activists and a nearly retired couple. Together they revived the creative spirit of the place and made Escolta once again a place to be in Manila. They joined hands to open up the basement of the building and turn it into a marketplace with independent boutiques, an artisan coffee shop, a ‘period’ barbershop and a craft beer café. Today, the First United Building openly defies its 90 years of age. The face lift resulted in a soul lift; you can now find its hallways filled with creative activity and youthful spirit.
|Heritage Activists||Heritage Conservation Society||“Escolta’s revitalisation can boost the morale of Filipinos because it will prove that it’s not yet too late to love, value, protect and maintain the treasures of our past. The next generation will continue to tell the story of what was once the central business district and the true repository of economic greatness in the Philippines.” — Romel Santiago.|
|Creative Groups||98B COLLABoratory, HUB: Make Lab (Hub), all-in-one studio, workshop, retail space||“With everyone’s help, we hope that Hub can be a makers’ locale, a place where creatives can work, play, imagine and dream. We want it to be a place that inspires collaboration, motivates people to respect heritage, stimulates reveries, encourages new experiences and promotes sustainability.” — Marika Constantino, artist / architect.
“Escolta is a beautiful place and has a spectacular scene to offer. From food to photogenic buildings, it’s worth a thousand shots from different angles. It is better to preserve these heritage sites, so we have something to look back on and appreciate the old life, the buildings, the environment.” — Karlo Torio, fashion photographer.
|Building Owners||Robert and Lorraine Sylianteng, proprietors of First United Building (FUB) (formerly the Perez Samanillo building, designed by famous architect Luna de San Pedro)
Escolta Commercial Association Inc. (ECAI) a group of property owners based in Escolta which assures order and security in the district.
|“At first, United Building was a typical office building like many in the Binondo area, but when I saw that all these hip youngsters with their nice cameras were so interested in the building I decided to rent out a couple of vacant units to them… and it kind of took off from there.” — Robert Sylianteng.|