Manila Polo Club: Early Years

 

While my family and I were still living in an apartment on Pennsylvania Street, my dad bought a brand spanking new 1955 Chevrolet 4-dr. Bel Air that he had shipped from the U.S. when he was over there on one of his business trips. It was a beautiful Ivory and Turquoise beauty. By the time I was 13 (in 1958), we had moved to our new home in San Lorenzo which was out in the sticks in those days. It took forever if you had to catch a jeepney into downtown. By car, it would only take about maybe 30-40 minutes to the Escolta. (Of course now, it might take a couple of hours !) Well, I pleaded with my mom to let me drive. The official minimum driving age in Manila was 18 but that minor problem was resolved when my mother sent our driver to City Hall, apparently money was changed under the counter, and I had my driver’s license. Ah… the good old days !

Lou and his ChevyI mention all this because when I finally got to drive that sweet little Chevy, I took it all over the place. One of my favorite stops was at SeaFront on Dewey. SeaFront was a U.S. Embassy managed compound. It had regional offices, apartments, a recreation area with two tennis courts, swimming pool, snack bar and a restaurant as well as a PX (Post Exchange) for military personnel. I wasn’t officially allowed into SeaFront  but I managed to sneak in sometimes invited by friends who were authorized and sometimes, because the guards saw so much of me, they let me in without displaying ID.

It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that this large tract of land used to be the home of the original Manila Polo Club.

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Manila Polo Club – F.B. Harrison (formerly Calle Real), Pasay

By 1909, the new American colonial government had completed the installation of a successful potable water supply service in the city. Public health efforts led to a decline of diseases: malaria, cholera and dysentery among others. Daniel Burnham set the plans for the modernization of Manila: paved roads and wide avenues; and the fetid moat around Intramuros was filled in and a golf course was created. As companies realized that the United States intended to retain possession of the Philippines for at least 10 or 20 years, they came to realize the opportunity to recover and profit from their investments of capital. Visions of development attracted more investors and employees to manage these ventures, bringing their families to settle in this new land of opportunity. Thus, more American families were immigrating to Manila from the States, settling in the preferred Malate and Ermita neighborhoods. Manila was growing; destined to be a cosmopolitan city by the late Twenties and Thirties. The American community grew and along with it, a social structure that demanded a similar life and environment they may have experienced back home.

It was the era of social clubs, especially for the society’s elite. In fact, it seemed the American community needed their clubs as a means of adjusting to life abroad. In 1898, American army and navy officers formed the Army-Navy Club and used as their clubhouse an old building in Intramuros. In 1901 British residents founded the Manila Golf Club, which had its golf course in Caloocan. The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks or Elks Club was organized in 1902. The Baguio Country Cub was founded in 1905, the Philippine Columbian Club in 1907, and the Manila Polo Club in 1909.

William Cameron Forbes was an American investment banker and diplomat. During the administration of President Howard Taft, he served as Governor-General of the Philippines from 1908 to 1913. Among his passions was the game of Polo; so much so that he bought a tract of land along Manila Bay out of his personal funds and donated it to the incorporators of the Manila Polo Club.

The Manila Polo Club was incorporated on August 18, 1909. Founders of the club were: Forbes, Martin Egan (then editor of the Manila Times), C. H. Sleeper (Director, Bureau of Lands), Col. H.B. McCoy (Collector of Customs), P.G. McDonnell (Manila Municipal Collector), R.P. Strong, Edward Bowditch, Jr., Frank B. Hahn, and Warwick Green.

Officially opened in November 27, 1909 on Calle Real in Pasay, the first clubhouse of the Manila Polo Club was built in the native style, featuring wooden frames, wooden sidings, an elevated floor, and a thatched roof. A distinctive architectural feature was the water tower made to appear as a pagoda. There were both fresh and saltwater pools and later, even a six-hole golf course. Of course, the main feature was Forbes Field, the polo field on the center of the property, planted with grass, rolled and leveled with a drainage system to keep it in shape. All construction expenses were borne by Cameron Forbes’ personal funds.

polo club in pasay

Old Polo Club 1As a social club, it featured dinner dances and theme parties such as Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving. In 1911, the Directors decided to enlarge the bar because the Saturday evening crowds were becoming quite enormous as the Polo Club was finding itself to be an important part of the social community.

MPC crowd-1910

Calle Real (renamed M.H. del Pilar in 1921) joined F.B. Harrison through to Pasay in 1913. Later, according to Burnham’s plan, Cavite Boulevard was widened and became Dewey Boulevard. This facilitated access to beachfront properties, namely the Polo Club, thereby increasing the club’s patronage and popularity. In addition, prominent members of the community such as Judge Ostrand, E.J. Westerhouse, and the Cotterman and Baldwin families, found the area attractive and started to build their homes along Dewey Boulevard and closer to the Polo Club.

These photos, courtesy of Andy Butler, display a beautiful example of how the backyards of beachside homes of the day used to face Manila Bay, their entrances on Calle F.B. Harrison. The C.M. Cotterman home in Pasay was typical of some of the mansions of that era. Charles Cotterman landed in Manila in 1900, became Director of Posts then had interests in Walkover Shoe Store and Philippine Acetylene Co. and was one of the most influential businessman in Manila. He and his family were interned at Santo Tomas during the Japanese occupation.

Cotterman home in Pasay with C.M. Cotterman

Cotterman home – back porch facing Manila Bay

Cotterman home – the backyard on the beach.

The photo above shows the stretch of the narrower Cavite Boulevard landscaped with palms. The American residences in this section of Pasay were for the greater part substantially well-kept living places surrounded by ample grounds, located just within a few hundred feet of beach and the Bay where residents would enjoy the gently cool, evening breezes. The “new” Dewey Boulevard is shown below graced with acacia and flame trees.

 “There was the “Annex”, bachelor’s paradise and the original home of the present bowling alleys…[built with] money donated by Governor Forbes the day before he left the Philippines…Few of the older members recall much about the Pagoda, yet it reared its head before the nipa was well settled atop the club pavilion. Many polo spectators sat high up to get every move.” The Manila Americans, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.

Here’s a good perspective of the main building and distinctive pagoda. The 40 acre property was large enough to be used as an occasional landing field.  A Chinese aviator with the unlikely name of Captain Gunn, once asked to use part of the club grounds to show aviation tactics.

 

In 1914, the nipa-thatched club now acquired the spacious, relaxed atmosphere that would extend into the Thirties. At that time, the club featured a small group of buildings that stood in a lonely huddle in what seemed to be a vast wilderness, its boundaries to the south practically unmarked. Plants, trees, and shrubs abounded in a pleasing array to mark its borders. The members would take advantage of club’s location to enjoy horseback rides in the fresh morning air along the beach and later end at the Polo Club for breakfast.

Picnic Lunch – photo courtesy of Gunther Prittwitz

Nov.22, 2014 Update: Just received this email from Chris North who is the little boy holding the Coke bottle in the photo above: “Unbelievable…  That is me holding the Coke bottle in the picnic lunch photo, circa 1955!  Mom, Lois North (recently deceased @ 96 years) to immediate right.  Also recognize Mrs. Menefee and Mrs. Prittwitz.  God bless Bill Andrews–polo bud of my father (WG North Jr., MPC Polo Captain circa 1958)–Bill Andrews gave me a Rolex submariner watch when I graduated from Brent School in 1967–still have it today!”

However it was still a considerable trek as is shown in the 1920 map below. One still had to take M.H. Del Pilar which turned into F. B. Harrison that wound by Harrison Park and the Pasay Race Course all the way to Libertad to reach the Polo Club (located at the bottom of the map below).

Forbes wrote regular articles in polo magazines abroad and soon, the Manila Polo Club’s reputation as a premier polo institution quickly spread around the world. Cameron Forbes’ book “As To Polo” was one of the most profound polo books of its time and still remains a classic of polo’s literature. An outgrowth of his first book, “A Manual of Polo” written in 1910 was so popular it was used by the U.S. Army 14th Cavalry. His books and columns brought attention to Forbes Field, then rated as one of the best in the world.

Rivalry between the Polo Club and the military always drew crowds. Among overseas officers, polo appears to have assumed the status of a distinct subculture, equal to that of boxing among enlisted men. By the 1920s the army boasted eight polo teams and participated in a six-month season in which matches often were played three times a week. Forts McKinley and Stotsenberg and the “Carabao Wallow Hunt and Polo Club” at Nichols Field each had their own field and stable; officers brought their polo ponies with them and there was keen interest in breeding with European and Australian stock. Tournaments were held in February and May of each year and played for the Far Eastern, Wood, and Langhorne Cups. Source: Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940, Brian McAllister Linn. (photo below thanks to J. Rodriguez)

British at MPC

It seemed the Manila Polo Club was favored by the older U.S. officers, who sometimes found the Army and Navy Club a trifle boisterous. Of course, it was politically advantageous as well because that was where the Manila aristocracy gathered; of new money or ancient blood.

“At one end of the famous boulevard, American officers played tennis, swam, and enjoyed cool drinks at the Army Navy Club. At the Yacht Club, “front porch sailors” rocked. Just further south was the Polo Club with the greenest imaginable playing fields. Hooves of the polo ponies kicked up the turf at a bare rumble that from the distance echoed two beats behind their flashing legs.” Source: On the Road Home by John Russell Frank (photo below thanks to Isidra Reyes)

Stotsenberg ScoreboardThe popularity of polo in the Philippines was also a great source of revenue and employment as it increased the demand for trainers, maintenance people, stable help, landscapers, and retail businesses. Riu Hermanos was a leather goods store founded on Escolta by the Riu brothers, Juan and Joaquin. Originally from Spain, their specialty store had been open since 1893 catering to the carriage trade and horse racing clubs such as Santa Ana Raceway, the Manila Jockey Club, and of course the Manila Polo Club. The photo below, provided by Mr. Tom Morato, shows his family’s store located within the Perez-Samanillo Building on the Escolta in the Thirties.

Riu Hermanos-storefront-jockey-logo

During the Twenties, the social venues of Manila were still limited and thus the various clubs were quite the popular places, not only for sports events but evening soirees and the occasional wedding as well. The Army and Navy Club had an orchestra every night and dinner was served on the large veranda facing the bay. Although the Polo Club did not have an orchestra every night, dinners on the lawn near the seawall were very popular. The club had a special dinner dance once or twice a month. During the polo season the Sunday afternoon tea dances were very well attended. The polo games started at four-thirty and dancing generally began at six. The lawn by this time was bathed in the gorgeous glow of the Manila sunset and it was a scene that one would always remember.

Manila Polo Club 1915

Dancing at the Polo Club - 1926

Dancing at the Polo Club – 1926

Members of the Polo Club c. Apr.1926

Members of the Polo Club c. Apr.1926

My dear friends, Ted and Dianne Cadwallader provided this wonderful photo of Ted’s parents’ wedding reception held at the Manila Polo Club in November 1932. From the left, Elizabeth “Penny” Williams, Florence D. Cadwallader,  Hildur Rogers, Ruth Cadwallader, Mary Cadwallader Elizalde, Billie and Bill, Joseph McMicking, Manolo Elizalde, Mr. Kahn, and William E. Williams. Ted was a child when he and his family were interned at Santo Tomas during the Japanese occupation.

Bill-Billie Cadwallader wedding-11-5-1932-MPC-logo

From 1921 to 1931, the Polo Club gradually came to dominate the American community’s family social life. It hosted most of the largest community functions, including the greatest social event of the pre-WWII period, the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1922. The Prince later became King Edward VIII – now better known in history as the man who abdicated the throne of England for the woman he loved.

“Socially, the event nearly overwhelmed everything before or since. Every bench on the lawn groaned under its weight, while every inch of standing room was occupied. The fences along F.B. Harrison almost collapsed with spectators fighting for advantageous position.” The Manila Americans, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.

On May 13, 1922, the HMS Renown anchored in Manila Bay. The Prince of Wales landed with his staff and drove to Malacañang Palace where he lunched with the Governor-General Wood and General Wright, Commander of the U.S. troops in the Philippines. In the afternoon he played polo with an American team. As he was playing polo, the Prince was struck by the ball, sustaining an inch and half gash over his right eyebrow, requiring two stitches. Source: The Straits Times, Singapore

In 1923, however, the elements were not kind. A strong typhoon followed by a disastrous high tide demolished many of the buildings, the lawn, uprooted trees and carrying away much of the newly planted shrub and flowers.

Below: This skyview of the Polo Club in 1935, shows additional buildings and the pagoda was dismantled for safety reasons. (click to enlarge).

In 1938, the main pavilion had been completely renovated to assume the attractive form it bore up to the time of the Japanese attack. Visitors found it charming: “People visiting Manila are enchanted with its rustic simplicity, its exposed rafters from which hang massive air plants, its pillars whose sides are festooned with ferns and whose bases seem to grow right out of bamboo-covered boxes sprouting tropical plants.

The orchestra played in a setting which simulated a palm-leaf house, while “dozens of comfortable chairs, settees and davenports were scattered in restful, conversational groups.”

Merv Simpson, a long time Manila ex-pat reminisces of prewar Manila. (He married television personality Lelia Benitez).
“It was a peaceful life. We had parties, or at least my parents had parties, but nobody got bombed, at least as I can remember. My stepfather [John McFie] did very well; he was a successful lawyer here. We weren’t rich, but I never had to worry about money. I’d ask my mother – I’d want to go to the Polo Club, it would be Saturday morning – so she’d give me a peso. That was big dough back then. I’d take a taxi out there. The taxi would be about twenty centavos. At the Polo Club we used to swim, badminton, bowling, tennis – it was a nice life. We would just sign [for the bill], and my stepfather got really mad at me on time because one month I think I signed for fifteen pesos worth, and he was outraged I spent so much money. He banned me from the Club for three months. “ Source: The MacArthur Highway, Joseph McCallus.

The Rift
In 1935, a dispute arose which led to a parting of the ways for the Elizalde family and the Polo Club. Don Miguel Elizalde was an avid sportsman and a member of Manila Polo Club’s winning team. The family was quite wealthy and influential. They owned steel, hemp, paint and wine factories, along with a media empire of radio, television and newspapers, and a hacienda and sugar central in Negros Occidental. The photo below was provided by another dear friend, Peter Parsons. It shows his dad “Chick” Parsons with Pres. Quezon and the Elizalde brothers.

This split caused by what was labeled as based on racial discrimination, occurred when the four Elizalde brothers’ nomination of Col. Manuel Nieto, aide-de-camp of President Quezon was blackballed.

Col. Manuel Nieto and Pres. Quezon

Col. Manuel Nieto and Pres. Quezon

In his book, “The Manila Americans”, Lewis Gleeck, Jr. maintains that this was not the case: the popular Elizaldes and their candidate represented the same racial group, but his relationship to Quezon had cast him in a role which the predominately American membership, with their perhaps peculiar, at times hypocritical but certainly different views of acceptable behavior, could not approve the candidate as a club member. In any event, it caused a great stir and scandal at the time and led the Elizaldes and the famous WWII hero, Chick Parsons as well as other prominent Filipinos to establish their own polo club called Los Tamaraos Polo Club further south in Parañaque in January 1937. Los Tamaraos Polo Club offered 35 full sized steeds imported by J.M. Elizalde from Australia. The Manila Polo Club itself continued its uninterrupted growth. Source: The Manila Americans, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.

Article from the Sydney Herald, January 10, 1937: Three thousand persons witnessed the dedication of the Los Tamaraos Polo Club by Manuel Quezon, President of the Philippines , after which the Elizalde brothers won a closely fought game from the Australian team comprising P. Braerj, A. A. Henderson,H. Finlay, and B. T. Allison, by six goals to five. The Australians received three goals start.

Smooth teamwork on both sides was a feature of the contest. Both teams were mounted, on Australian horses, those of the Elizaldes being recently imported. The game attracted one of the largest polo crowds in the history of the Orient. A dinner dance followed the game.

The rift between the two clubs seemed to heal over as the members of Manila’s society frequented both clubs. Here’s a photo provided by Ted & Dianne Cadwallader from an article featuring a New Year’s Eve party at the Tamaraos Club in 1937.

NY Eve 1937(2)-Tamaraos Club-logo

NY Eve 1937(3)-Tamaraos Club-logo

This is not to say that there wasn’t an air of discrimination within the community and among the members of clubs in Manila that were predominately American or at least Caucasian. Filipinos were barred from the Elks and except as servants, denied entry to the Army and Navy Club. They could not play golf at the Manila Club or belong to the University Club, created by Taft for leading American civilians. Even the Manila Hotel formed part of the white enclave, which excluded native citizens.

Of course there were exceptions to this rule, a rule that was bent in order to include within the American social circle, Filipino citizens predominantly of Spanish ancestry—the peninsulares and insulares. Not until 1936, the year of his election as president of the commonwealth, was Manuel Quezon granted honorary membership to the Polo Club.Portrait of Manuel Quezon

Santa Ana Cabaret-1941

Even in the dance halls, racism reared its ugly head. The cabarets (night clubs were people went to dance, dine, and drink) were all segregated: “The Sta. Ana Cabaret and the Lerma night club had areas reserved exclusively for whites while Filipinos were secluded in a taxi dance area down the hall, fenced off from where the whites amused themselves.” 

Interestingly, it was in the dance hall that the biggest blow against racism was delivered. One day the president of the Senate, asked Governor- General F.B. Harrison to spearhead a move to knock down the race barrier— and Harrison agreed. Governor Harrison made a reservation for a small party at the Lerma cabaret. A large table was reserved for him in the middle of the dance floor in a section exclusively reserved for white VIPs. The word had got around that the governor was entertaining some important visitors. Victor Buencamino (the first Filipino veterinarian who was sent by the US government to study in the USA) recounted, “That evening the governor general’s limousine rolled into the front door of the Lerma cabaret, followed by a smaller car. The governor gathered his [Filipino] guests and their ladies and led the group to the center of cabaret section where only Occidentals had been permitted to tread before. There were startled looks from the all- white patrons as the mixed group walked in…. We…danced all night, somewhat pleased inside us we were making a little bit of history. Soon after all the cabarets dropped the color barrier.”  Source: When Nationalism Obsessed Filipino High Society, by Manuel L. Quezon III

The Thirties seemed to be the height of American colonialism. By now, second generation Americans, born in Manila, called this part of the world their home and quite a home it was, in a cosmopolitan city that rivaled any in the world.

Baseball game at the Polo Club 1941

Curtis Brooks was a young lad in the late Thirties. He recalls spending many hours with his brother at the old Manila Polo Club, “There were at first three softball Polo Club teams, Red, White and Blue.  Later, a Green team was added.  I remember the logo on the Reds’ team’s jerseys was the Hammer and Sickle of the Soviet regime.  Odd choice.  In addition to the Polo Club teams there were teams from Ft. McKinley, the 31st Infantry, Nichols Field and the Nomads from the Manila Club, the British club in Manila.  Games were played on Sunday, two double headers, as I recall.  My dad [Bernard Brooks] played for the Blues, a collection of older players, that never placed very high in the standings.  The logo for Ft. McKinley was the carabao head that was the crest of the Philippine Division.  What adorned the other teams, I don’t remember.  Attending the Sunday games was the highlight of the week for us, reinforced by the indulgence in the one coke we were allowed each week.”

Young and old enjoyed the Boulevard, the incomparable sunsets, the gentle sea breezes, and the sight of the American Asiatic fleet silhouetted against the sky. In the growing tide of war in the late Thirties, it gave the American community a sense of security and comfort. The fleet stood as a reminder of America’s defenses, showing the flag as Japan advanced into China.

Asiatic Fleet in Manila Bay-1930s-s

SeaFront
In early 1941, the U.S. government began planning a seaplane base for patrol activities in the Manila area. Included in those plans was an order to develop the Seventh Fleet headquarters however, the war intervened, putting a hold on those plans. On April 8, 1945, the 63rd Construction Battalion arrived at Manila to begin work on the site on the Manila waterfront formerly occupied by the Manila Polo Club. 33 quonset huts and 14 two story frame units were made available for personnel; eleven prefabricated steel units were erected as office buildings. Eight 75-kw generators were set in a 40 x 128 foot prefabricated steel hut, which included a laundry and drying unit. In addition, electrical, water, and sewerage facilities, 1-10 quonset hospital, an open-air theater, and a chapel were constructed. The project was completed in June, 1945 which included all walks, roads, and necessary drainage. Navy Commands were known worldwide as “Sea Frontier”, so this site was referred to as Philippine Sea Frontier which later became abbreviated to “SeaFront”. Source: Building the Navy’s Bases in WWII, by Bureau of Yards and Docks

SeaFront campus-early 1950s – courtesy Lonn Taylor

 
“When the navy left in early 1947, there was a bureaucratic struggle between the U.S. State Department and the so-called Rehabilitation Agencies over the property. The Rehabilitation Agencies were the dozen or so U.S.. Government agencies authorized by the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946 to establish offices in the Philippines to help with postwar reconstruction, and they had great difficulty recruiting people to go to Manila in the absence of housing for families. The State Department finally saw the light, and by the fall of 1947 the compound had been designated for Rehabilitation Agency family housing.”
Source: Lonn Taylor, former SeaFront resident

The use of the former Polo Club also grew as an extended campus for several elementary grades from the American School in the early Fifties.

American School extended campus at SeaFront (1950) – courtesy John Baker

The War Years
News of war in Europe and Japan’s aggression in Manchuria flamed the rumors that the Japanese may attack the United States’ only possession in the Far East. Disturbed by the inadequate plans for civil defense and the apparent lack of cooperation between the officials of the Commonwealth Government and the U.S. High Commissioner Francis B. Sayre, community leaders organized a Coordinating Committee to make preparations for the inevitable.

After assuring the American civilian population that the Japanese would not dare attack the Philippines due to the presence of the American Asiatic Fleet, the military transport, USAT George Washington, departed on May 14th, 1941 with 700 Army dependents.

On July 8th, the Philippine General Hospital held the first blackout practice in the city. In August, the Philippine forces until now, under General MacArthur, were incorporated into the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). Below: American and Filipino troops assemble for preparations & training just prior to war with Japan.


On December 8th, the Japanese bombers struck. Less than one month later, the entire American community entered three years’ internment.

During the Japanese occupation, the Japanese commander’s headquarters were billeted in the American high commissioner’s residence. The head of the Japanese gendarmerie occupied the J. Marsman mansion. General Y. Hayashi, commander of the Japanese administration of the islands, lived in President Manuel Quezon’s home on Calle Robert just two blocks north of the Polo Club. The Army and Navy Club housed the Japanese Finance department, and the Economic Administration took over the Elks Club.

The Japanese Cavalry took over the former Manila Polo Club’s transition to Seventh Fleet’s HQ which became the Japanese Navy Recreation Club. Names of streets were changed. Taft Avenue was called Daitoa Avenue, Jones Bridge was renamed Banzai Bridge, and Dewey Boulevard called Ileiwa, which means peace.

“Early in the morning on January 2nd, the Japanese entered Manila. They came up the boulevards in the predawn glow from the bay, riding on bicycles and on tiny motorcycles, their little flags with the one red ball looking like children’s pennants. They came without talk and in good order, the ridiculous pop-popping of their one-cylinder cycles sounding loud in the silent city.” Source: More Than Meets The Eye, Carl Mydans

When the Japanese had something of a show, like a parade, they would arrange to have enthusiastic spectators, most of whom were children with small Japanese paper flags that had to be waved to simulate their excitement and joy.

Enrique Zobel was 14 years old when the Japanese entered Manila. Everything closed up, including the banks. His father, Don Jacobo, joined the troops in Bataan and Enrique and his mother were left without adequate funds for supplies and food so he came up with an idea to supplement their income. He went to the Polo Club, now occupied by the Japanese calvary, and with great chutzpah, requested they return six of the family’s ponies, thinking he would hitch them to carretelas for transportation purposes. Imagine ! Beautiful and expensive polo ponies pulling a carretela !

Dr.Jacinto, Enrique Zobel, and Jacobo Zobel – taken in 1952

The sentry on duty of course laughed at the idea that this young lad wanted these beautiful polo ponies. An argument ensued, with both Enrique and the guard yelling at each other until the young Zobel was taken to Fort Santiago. There he was interrogated and proved those were indeed his horses by describing them in great detail. One of the interrogators present was General Ota of the Kempetai (Japan Secret Service), who took a liking to the enterprising young man on account of he said he was of Spanish descent. The general invited him to lunch for conversation as he wanted to practice his Spanish. Later, Enrique and his friend were given the horses with only bridles but no saddles. So they rode the six horses back, bareback; one boy on each horse, and one horse on either side, to Malate where the stables were. Source: Enrique Zobel memoirs

These notices were posted immediately and quite visibly throughout the city, ensuring no one had any doubts as to the real aims of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” or Asia for the Asians. In fact, it stood for Japan domination in the Pacific.

Antonio Melian

Immediately after the war, the Manila Polo Club in Pasay was in ruins. On Nov. 1, 1947, 80,000 square meters were sold to the American government for P1,490,300. It was evident that a new site had to be found. 25 hectares offered by Ayala y Cia in Makati  was purchased for P400,000 and plans were made for the new club. The project was budgeted at 1.7 million pesos. During the interim period, a temporary location was selected at 318 Dewey Boulevard. The Club had to lease the 1.8 hectare property of Antonio Melian, a wealthy businessman married to Margarita Zobel de Ayala, from 1946 until its transfer to its current Makati location on 4 July 1949.

“Great fun balancing on the beams of the great old [Melian] house as we played tag and hide and seek in there. Softball games on the expanse of lawn. And a fairly small but beautiful pool. A bar and mini restaurant were set up near the pool; we really looked forward to our visits there on weekends. It had an intimate and mysterious atmosphere unequalled. And exploring those ruins could not be beat. They were about the same as the Quezon house ruins that we lived next door to–while we still lived in our prewar home on Roberts Street.” Peter Parsons, film maker and son of Chick Parsons, war hero.

It is said that Jack Manning, who was the manager of the Manila Polo Club, commissioned National Artist for Architecture Pablo Antonio to design the Polo Club after he saw Antonio’s own residence in Pasay. It struck Manning that Antonio’s residence already looked like a country club where there was “lush greenery and a lot of calm tranquility.”

The following photos of the Manila Polo Club were taken in the Fifties, courtesy of Gunter Prittwitz.

Polo Club Manila 1

Aside from school and government buildings, Antonio also designed theaters and apartments however, he considered the Manila Polo Club as one of his best. Clean lines, plain surfaces and bold rectangular masses characterized his architecture, employing wood, stone and reinforced concrete.

Polo Club Manila 5Polo Club Manila 6

The “new” Manila Polo Club formally opened at its new site with the inauguration of the Sports Pavilion, swimming pool, badminton courts, and bowling alleys. On New Year’s eve of 1950, the main pavilion, tennis courts, stables, paddocks and polo field were opened at a total cost of P1.8 million, an overrun of P100,000 but worth it. The clubhouse would become the signature building of the Club and an important architectural work of Antonio, for which it now has a plaque from the National Historical Institute declaring it a protected building. Source: The Manila Polo Club:

Polo Club Entrance

“Carefully staying out of the public eye is an intrinsic part of a private club’s nature. Therefore, the Manila Polo Club, hidden away in Forbes Park, is regrettably a place that not too many people get to see. However, those who do find themselves at the Polo enjoy a distinguished piece of vintage 1950s architecture set in an incredible expanse of open space in dense Makati.” Source: Augusto Villalon, Inquirer

Personally, I remember many an afternoon at the Polo Club in Makati, and especially the Teen Room downstairs – which may have had the coldest air conditioner I’ve ever experienced.  There were many gab sessions in the open air bar with the inevitable “liar’s dice” game. My recollections also go back to my first kiss. I must have been in 7th or 8th grade, when a small group of us, boys and girls, went out in the evening by some huts and someone suggested we play “spin the bottle” (was it me ?). It must have been kinetic ESP but I finally got that bottle to point to me. Alas, I’ve forgotten the girl’s name but not that first smooch !

The photos below are courtesy of a friend and classmate, Gunther Prittwitz. His color photos of the Polo Club in the Fifties bring back many memories.

 

 

In 2012, my wife and I returned to Manila with a group of classmates from the American School for a small reunion. We stopped at the Polo Club to remind us of the “good old days”.

That’s me in the middle with the blue shirt. We all still felt like when we were kids ! It was mostly the same as I remembered although there was a new sign at the entrance. Ah…Manila !

Here’s a short, 3 minute video I made which contains old film of the Manila Polo Club in Pasay before the war.

Thanks to: Isidra Reyes, Andy Butler, Lonn Taylor, Guther Prittwitz, Jackie Rodriguez, Tom Morato, Caroline Bailey Pratt, and Ted & Dianne Cadwallader for their invaluable help with this article.
As always, it’s a pleasure to present these little tidbits of Manila’s history. Please continue to let me know how you feel about this blogsite through the comments section or email me directly at:  manilanostalgia@gmail.com

Cheers ! Lou Gopal

Cheers ! Lou Gopal

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37 Responses to Manila Polo Club: Early Years

  1. Robert Boni says:

    I never thought about it until now, but the entrance to the Polo Club seems to bear resemblance to a Frank Lloyd Wright design. Would anyone know if that might have been part of the inspiration for the design?

    • Kathryn says:

      I think a lot of excellent and notable architects of the 1950s were heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright of the 1930s and the bauhaus and international style movement generally

      I am researching my uncle Antonio Ubago Miranda (Miranda & Associates) who built many of the home around Forbes Park, Urdaneta, San Lorenzo. Some of my Aunties still live in them. And his firm build several of the first earthquake proof buildings in Makati – PAL, Insular Life Building and so on…or so I am told. But as he had no children and no heirs, the history seems to be partially lost. If anyone has information, please contact me mazinfamily(at)me.com as I would like to work on publishing his work.

  2. Wm Marvin Rose says:

    Fabulous work Lou! Very enjoyable reading about my old haunts…….Yes, I too have been drug over the coals for signing too many chits………-Wm Marvin Rose

  3. Isidra Reyes says:

    Thanks, Lou, for a most informative and enjoyable article on the Manila Polo Club. The Manila Polo Club is indeed an institution in the Philippines. For several decades now, the Manila Polo Club has opened its doors to Filipinos who can now enjoy the camaraderie and the excellent facilties that the club offers. More than a venue for Polo afficionados, the Manila Polo Club is a home away from home for expats and locals alike, a place where members and their friends gather for various social and business functions, and an oasis of verdant fields in the midst of a congested metropolis that Manila has become.

  4. Doug Crawford says:

    Thank you! (Salamat Po!),

    Wonderful view of Manila, my family was there twice, 1947-1949 and 1955-1957. My youngest brother was born in Manila. There is no nation on earth that is kinder to children. My prayers go out for Filipinos after the horror of the recent typhoons. I urge all to contribute to The Red Cross of the Phillipines.

    • lougopal says:

      Thank you for writing. I agree with that we should all do our part to help with the tragedy in the Philippines. Please donate to your favorite charity.

  5. Erlinda E. Panlilio says:

    My goodness! What a signal service you are doing by writing about the Manila Polo Club and this forgotten era. It’s valuable social history. Kudos!
    Come see today’s Polo Club, which we all enjoy because of its numerous well-run facilities. Cheers!

  6. Anthony Fajardo-Lim says:

    Thank you very much for posting this blog about Manila. I have to read it again several times because I want to feel every word of it. I try to imagine myself being in that period of time, living. We used to leave in 245 Loring Street Pasay City. The house was built during the Spanish period and then American families lived there….. I’ve always been fascinated by the old Manila. I feel I’ve lived in the old days. The emotion always overwhelms me….. I’m based in New York now and like you, I visit old places in Manila when I go home to visit 🙂

    Thanks again, Anthony

  7. Lucretia King-Hedinger says:

    Thanx for this! It is so cool! What a great childhood we all had in the Philippines! Amazing country. Amazing people! Lucrecia

    • Bruce Shedden says:

      Thank you, I have great memories of playing polo and generally lounging about on school holidays from England. These were the best of times spent with the best of people.

  8. St4ev says:

    Wow..while I lived in Manila in the 80s, this page really provided great history! Thanks!

  9. Sandy de Castro says:

    What a great history lesson on an institution that’s played a major role in my childhood and youth. I too, will reread this piece and closely examine every photo so as not to miss a single detail. How lucky and blessed I am that even after living in NY these past 30 yrs., I still go home to Sanlo every year! I will visit the club again and see it with new perspective. Thanks, Lou!

  10. felipe l:. navarro jr:. says:

    Thank you.
    It gave me a better insight into the past of Pasay City.

  11. Paul Severien says:

    Thanks for the memory, Lou.

  12. BJ FUNK says:

    Reading your blog inevitably established a deep connection between me and Old Manila – Calle Real, Dewey Blvd. and The old Manila Polo Club. Your photos transported me back into that era where I could now, at least, have vivid impressions of the day my great grand father walked the streets of Manila. His name was George William Funk. He arrived the Philippines from Maryland as a member of the US Armed forces stationed in the North (Camp John Hay) albeit originally from Georgetown D.C. Coming from a family of wheelwrights, he was an expert w/ horses. That was one of the reasons why he got himself a job at the Manila Polo club as a stable Manager. Rumor has it that he talked with the horses. I am not just too sure if the horses understood him. He lived a block nearby at Calle Villaruel (as your old map of Manila shows). He died on the day the Japanese Imperial forces entered Manila. I thoroughly enjoy all your blogs Lou, so much so that I even dream of them in my sleep. How I wish we could travel in time and be transported to those “glory days.” I wonder now if these memories are simple glimpses of images we will encounter in the afterlife where the past, present and future are merged into one continuum. How I wish it were . . . . .

  13. Jay Gambol says:

    Thanks for putting together all these images and details in one place. It’s a great resource for anyone like me researching prewar Manila.

  14. Robert says:

    Hi, Lou I briefly read some of the articles enclosed here.
    This is my personal opinion in regards the discremination of that time, yes, it is true that was happening because many Filipinos went to the state in that era felts it too. Asian and Hispanic were limited or allowed in the state. Perhaps, that was the main reason Philippines asked for Independence and at that time in the early 20th century, Negroes in the southern states were badly treated. Only Anglo/Saxon were the previledges or Caucasian race. But today the world changes, now we had a Black President and had lots of opportunity for all races, as an American. And Europe too is
    flooded with Asian. I, myself is interrmarried to an German/Italian ancestry and do all my children to Scotish and Irish descent. So, we are now “Heinz 57” or fruit cocktail. LOL. Bye Lou and I enjoyed reading your blog or article. God bless you
    I will be with my grandchildren this Easter perhaps join them hunt some eggs. LOL
    and guess, what I’ll pick up. of course the “Bunny”.LOL
    If I am not mistaken, we are in the same age group! (Baby Boomers)

  15. Steve Muni says:

    The Manila Polo Club was where I learned to swim–we lived over on Ipil Rd. in Forbes Park and the back corner of our property just touched the back corner of the Polo Club property, where the then-manager, Hector MacLean, had his house. I started riding lessons from Sgt. Sebastian, a veteran of the US Cavalry (Philippine Scouts) in the riding school in 1957 at the age of 5, and started playing polo in there in 1965. My polo coach was Bill Andrews, who had been brought out to Manila before the war by Don Manolo Elizalde to play polo at the Los Tamaraws Club. In fact Bill Andrews and Don Manolo were the regular umpires at that time. My father, Don Muni, became president of the Manila Polo Club in ’65-’66, and I played polo at the Club for the ’65-’66 season. Seeing those pictures brought back lots of wonderful memories.

    • Rutharr Sebastian says:

      Sgt. Pedro Sebastian is my grandfather. 🙂 I’m happy to stumble upon this blog. I was trying to search for my grandfather’s old photos from the Manila Polo Club.

      • lougopal says:

        I’m glad you found my blog too. If you happen to find your grandfather’s photos, please share !

        • Rutharr Sebastian says:

          I have an old photo of my grandfather Sgt. Sebastian and his favorite horse on a frame. It has been in my room for the longest time. I’d be more than happy to send you a copy of the photo. Let me know where I shall send it. Thanks.

          • lougopal says:

            I can’t remember if I’ve replied on this but you can send it to manilanostalgia@gmail.com
            sorry for taking so long to reply and thanks for sharing !

          • lougopal says:

            Ruth Sebastian sent in a photo of her grandfather.
            “That’s my grandfather Sgt. Sebastian with his favorite horse. My older cousin was fortunate enough to be taken at the Manila Polo Club in her childhood days and make it her playground. Evidently, my grandfather has a great influence on her as she is now a successful veterinarian in Australia. When she had her OJT at the Polo Club while in Manila, she found records of him. There was a cup named in honor of my grandfather. It’s called the Sebastian Cup and it was a show jumping activity at the club.” – Ruth Sebastian

  16. maria rosa garcia galatas says:

    LOU, thank you for sharing this article of the manila polo club. good memories.

  17. ricardo says:

    Interesantísimo; poco sabemos en America del Sur respecto a ese gran país de Filipinas, con el cual, alguna vez, tuvimos tantos aspectos en común.

  18. Hans Hoeflein says:

    Great article. My mom taught me how to swim at the old polo club. They had great hamburgers too and bowling with duck pins was very popular BTW the American School was segregated too before the war. H/3

  19. Chris North says:

    Unbelievable… That is me holding the Coke bottle in the picnic lunch photo, circa 1955! Mom, Lois North (recently deceased @ 96 years) to immediate right. Also recognize Mrs. Menefee and Mrs. Prittwitz. God bless Bill Andrews–polo bud of my father (WG North Jr., MPC Polo Captain circa 1958)–Bill Andrews gave me a Rolex submariner watch when I graduated from Brent School in 1967–still have it today!
    Very respectfully,
    Chris North
    USFOR-A J3 OPS Support and Readiness
    Bagram Air Base

  20. Augusto Villalon says:

    Thanks, Lou, for your quoting from my article on the Manila Polo Club. The memory of the old ambiance comes through despite recent building remodeling and expansion. The old Teen Room under the stairs has vanished, but time we spend at the club today still brings the same feel of relaxation among friends.

    Toti Villalon

  21. Phoebe says:

    Could I ask the source/reference for your 1920 map? Thank you.

  22. Paul Villaroman says:

    Hi. Would you be able to describe the actual bounderies of the original Manila Polo Club and Los Tamaraos Polo Club grounds on Dewey Blvd. using the present day street names?
    Are you familiar with the Villaroman mansion on Los Tamaraos Village (formerly Sunset Village) on Roxas Blvd.? Growing up, I’ve been told that it used to be the grounds of the Polo Club. Not sure which one. Would you be able to help out? Thanks!

    • lougopal says:

      Hi Paul – well, I can give you an approximation. The Manila Polo Club was about where the Seafront Compound is today bounded by Dewey on the Bay side, F.B. Harrison in the back and about where Libertad (Arnaiz) is on the north. Los Tamaraos was in Parañaque approximately just west of what used to be Nichols Field – bounded by Quirino Ave and NAIA Rd. There is a Los Tamaraos Polo Club there now at the approximate location I believe. It’s hard to be accurate because the landscape has changed considerably.

  23. Bob Baldwin says:

    Enjoyed your article, Lou. The Manila Polo Club brings back so many memories; horseback riding, polo, the wonderful swimming pool, birthday parties, bowling, badminton, tennis, pelota, eating and drinking in the main pavilion and by the pool, harvest festivals in the early ’60’s, outdoor movies on the rear verandah (also early ’60’s), softball games…the list goes on and on. I lived within walking distance, so it was pretty much a daytime hang-out when I was a teenager. We knew all the service staff by name, and they knew us (which could be both a blessing and a curse, depending on what we were trying to get away with). I think I knew almost every inch of the place. Last time I was there was in ’75, but it seems like just yesterday. Thanks again and I also liked your Army/Navy Club Article. Bob

  24. Excellent research and well told Lou. Thank you so much.

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