Writing this blog has been quite an education for me. Not only have I learned much about Manila’s past but I’ve also been blessed by so many readers who have offered up their photos and stories of their families and how they’ve contributed to our beloved city. A few months ago, Javi Brias wrote and filled me in on the rich history of the Brias family, among the wealthiest and influential families of prewar Manila and of course their store, the Brias Roxas Department store that graced the Escolta for over 23 years.
The family patriarch, Enrique Brias y de Coya, was born in Guadalajara, Spain and studied medicine before coming to the Philippines in the 1800s as a provincial health officer based in Negros Oriental. Eventually, his interests drew him to Manila where he ventured into business, becoming a member of the Board of Directors for the Banco Español Filipino.In the photo, Enrique Brias sits at the far left with other directors of the bank.
He took the opportunity to join a young company, San Miguel, under the management of Don Pedro Pablo Roxas. Brias would eventually marry Don Pedro’s cousin, Lucina Roxas, sister of Felix Roxas, a former mayor of Manila. After the death of Don Pedro Roxas in Paris in 1913, following so soon after the deaths of principals, Don Benito Legarda and Don Gonzalo Tuazon, it was advisable to change the form of the San Miguel company from a firm of co-participants to a corporation. A son of Don Pedro Roxas, Don Antonio R. Roxas, was appointed president, with Don Enrique Brías de Coya and Don Ramón J. Fernández as managers. Don Enrique stayed on for a very successful year at San Miguel then retired in favor of his son, Don Antonio Brias Roxas – both are featured in the photo below.
Retired but still active, Don Enrique continued his business ventures, forming a syndicate in 1918 to purchase German firms that were for sale due to the political conditions affected by the outbreak of World War I.
The Brias Roxas store actually started as a merger of two well-established stores on the Escolta. The first to be bought under these circumstances in March 1918, was the “Alfredo Roensch & Co”, a business established in 1875, and engaged primarily in manufacturing and distributing military supplies, such as caps, insignia, etc. and the importation and sale of men’s wear, arms, ammunition, and sporting goods. A month later, the syndicate acquired the business of “Adolfo Richter & Co”, established in 1877, that carried similar lines. Below, a photo of the Roensch store apparently after a recent flood around 1914.
Expanding former Alfredo Roensch product lines, the new Brias Roxas store soon grew quite popular. It was a perfect location, Brias Roxas became the sole agent for A.G. Spalding Athletic Goods in 1925, in addition to adding leather goods, saddles, arms and a line of sweaters and swimsuits from Gantner & Matters, San Francisco.
The newly remodeled Brias Roxas “Military Store” next to Pasaje de Paz was one of the most modern and largest department store of its day. Pasaje de Paz was an alley that extended from the Escolta past Calle San Vicente to Calle Dasmariñas. It was eliminated when the new Crystal Arcade was built. Note: to the right of the building was the Escolta Restaurant, also known as M.Y.San.
Enrique Brias Roxas, the son of Enrique Brias de Coya, took over management of the store. A new and exciting shopping/office center called the Crystal Arcade was planned to replace the aging structures that had been on the Escolta since even before the turn of the century. The art deco-styled Crystal Arcade became the highlight of Manila’s shopping district. Please check my past article on the Crystal Arcade here.
Along with the construction of the new Crystal Arcade during 1931, plans were also made to increase the Brias Roxas total store area to 1150 square meters between the Lyric Theater and the Crystal Arcade on the Escolta, and to the rear as far as San Vicente street.The old Gutierrez Building was purchased and torn down to make way for the new 4-story building. Construction started immediately for a new reinforced concrete and fire-proof building. Photo shown below taken by Carl Mydans, c.1941.
The new building was completed in 1932 around the same time as the Crystal Arcade and quickly became a popular site for sports clothing, arms and ammunition, hats and caps, and toys and even automobiles. (click to enlarge photos)
The Cap and Military Insignia business was so successful, the factory occupied part of the second floor of the second annex building. Their goods were shipped worldwide and are still being sought after on eBay and other online stores. Below – an Eagle pin with the tradename Brirox (for Brias Roxas).
On the same day that Jack Dempsey arrived in Manila on China Clipper to referee Garcia-Lee championship match, Enrique Brias de Coya died at age 58 on Dec 17th, 1940. The store never reopened after the destruction of war.
In that family portrait, there are actually 3 Enrique Brias. The patriarch, Enrique Brias de Coya, is the old man (my great grandfather) sitting at the center. The second is Enrique Brias Roxas (#4), son of E. de Coya and the general manager of the Brias Roxas Department Store.
The last one is my dad, Enrique Brias Garchitorena, the Polo player (#5E), who is in the arms of my great grandmother, Lucina Roxas, and must have been a couple of weeks/months old when this picture was taken. So, that family portrait must have been taken sometime in August/September of 1916.
I hope you enjoyed this article. My thanks to Javi Brias for his help with photos and stories. As always, I welcome your comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org
As they say, stay tuned – I’ve got many more articles in store to stoke up your memories of the city we all love.