After walking the short stretch of the Escolta, I found myself right in front of the Santa Cruz church. It’s quite the intersection there…where the Escolta spills out to either Plaza Goiti on the south or Plaza Sta. Cruz on the north side. Either way you go, you’ll find a unique adventure.
During the 19th century, under the Spanish government, the neighborhood of Santa Cruz was considered the preferred business and residential location due to its proximity to the Pasig River that allowed ships and cascos to load and unload passengers and freight. Prior to the building of the Sta. Cruz bridge, there were two major bridges connecting the two sides of the Pasig: the Puente de España and the Puente Colgante.
The construction project to build the Sta. Cruz Bridge was started by the Spanish government but completed when the American government took over. It was opened on March 1, 1902. The bridge could not stand the test of the Battle of Manila and was subsequently destroyed and then reconstructed after the war and renamed MacArthur Bridge.
The construction of the Santa Cruz Bridge and the coming of the Meralco trolley cars definitely established the city’s center in the area bounded by Avenida Rizal, Plaza Goiti, the Escolta and Plaza Santa Cruz –an area that became known as “downtown.”
Plaza Goiti was the center of the city’s transportation network –the tranvias. The tranvias were owned and operated by Meralco. In 1904, the Manila Electric Co. acquired both the Compañía de los Tranvías de Filipinas (a firm that operated public transportation and ran Manila’s horse-drawn and steam-operated tramways), and added La Electricista. Construction on the electric tramway began that same year. Meralco operated a 52-mile , 170 fleet of streetcars from 1903 to World War II. The equipment and tracks of the system was severely damaged during the war and had to be removed.
The Escolta catered to the upscale carriage trade. Plaza Sta. Cruz had the entertainment like bars and vaudeville. Avenida Rizal was Main Street where the bazaars, movies, hotels, offices, restaurants and banks thrived. As you cross the Estero de la Reina from the Escolta, you are faced with the ancient Santa Cruz Church.
The Jesuits built the first Catholic church in the area where the present Santa Cruz Parish stands on June 20, 1619. The Jesuits enshrined the image of Our Lady of Pilar in 1643 to serve the predominantly Chinese residents in the area.
The original structure of the church was twice damaged by earthquakes and then completely destroyed during the Battle of Manila. The present building of the church, reconstructed in 1957, was designed to reflect the Spanish baroque style.
To the left of the Church stands the square and in the middle is the Carriedo Fountain. This fountain also has its own history. The name “A Carriedo“, indicated in the fountain means “Avenida de Carriedo”, which commemorates the installation of the water system by Spanish Engineer Don Francisco Carriedo of the Department of Waterworks in 1884. The project for public supply of fresh water in Manila started in early 18th century. The Carriedo waterworks was inaugurated on August 23, 1870. One of the benefits of the waterworks was that no charge for water was to be made for poor people. The fountain was relocated in several areas in Manila.
Originally located in Plaza Rotonda at the foot of the bridge in Nagtahan, in Calle Alix (now Legarda Street). Just a few years ago, a new replica was built in Plaza Sta Cruz. The original fountain was actually made of marble and bronze.
Before the war, Santa Cruz was abuzz with activity. Around the square was the Tivoli Theater, the Far Eastern, International and Moderna pansiterias, Plaza Cafe, Santa Cruz restaurant, and the New Paris Hotel and Restaurant along with a myriad of shops. One of the more famous is the Panciteria Antigua, featured in Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere”. The restaurant still exists over a hundred years after Rizal wrote the novel. Since the Panciteria dates back to Spanish times, the names of its Chinese dishes are still in Spanish.
The Santa Cruz area also sported the first night clubs –Tom’s Oriental Grill, Ronda, and the Trocadero. The three photos below show an interesting perspective of the plaza. The large photo below probably taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s features the Tivoli Theatre where vaudeville preceded movies. The Filipino version was called “Bodabil”, a variety entertainment composed of song and dance numbers, slapstick comedy routines, magic acts, and chorus girls. It was popular from the 1910s until the mid-1960s, though it reached the height of its popularity during the Japanese occupation as new American film was not available. It spawned performers who would be icons of Philippine cinema, such as Katy de la Cruz, Dolphy, Leopoldo Salcedo, and Rogelio de la Rosa and later on Diomedes Maturan,
who starred in “Tawag Ng Tanghalan” and of course the Elvis Presley of the Philippines, Eddie Mesa. The Tivoli was replaced by the Savoy Theater after reconstruction. It didn’t have the former theater’s class. In the early 1960s it degraded into a notorious burlesque theater that featured live strip teasers on stage. Well, I’m just assuming it was seedy since I was too young to actually go to one of their strip shows !
Here’s a picture of my mom walking across the plaza before the war. Judging from the sack she’s carrying, she probably just came back shopping from Carriedo street, a shopaholic’s delight. Notice the old jeepney over her right shoulder. The army Jeep hadn’t yet been used for mass transportation. Austin Bantams were quite popular although reputedly quite small – not like the mammoth jeepneys of today.
Before the war, the local businessmen who may have had shops and business along the Escolta and around Santa Cruz, met at Silver Dollar Saloon with its long mahogany bar made famous from Mandalay to Singapore for its carpet of silver dollars imbedded in the bar top.
Another favorite hangout was the Plaza Lunch owned by Fred Harden who also managed to snag the sole distribution of Camel and Lucky cigarettes.
It was designed as a typical American lunch counter with white tiled floors, a counter and stools reminiscent of any American lunch restaurant of the Thirties. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sally Harden, Fred’s daughter, whose family was interned at Santo Tomas during the occupation. She described the Plaza Lunch as the hub of informal and at times, important business meetings.
Tom’s Dixie Kitchen was a landmark by the time war started. Tom Pritchard, a large, affable black man and quite the smart restauranteur, settled in Manila after he got out of the Army, worked as a chef at Clarke’s Ice Parlor then started his own cafe. It started out as a lunch counter with a few small tables with Tom helping prepare and serve the delicious Southern-style American dishes. It was soon enlarged and occupied about a quarter of the whole block on one side of Plaza Goiti. He also opened Tom’s Oriental Grill featuring upscale dinners, an orchestra and dancing.
Thanks to Philip Garcia for this great photo of his mom and her sister, Rosa del Rosario, celebrating New Year’s Eve, 1933 at Tom’s Dixie Kitchen.
Tom’s was a place to meet as well as eat. It was open night and day and theater and concert goers went there after the show for a bite before going to bed. The place was always full of various celebrities, government officials, bankers, businessmen and off-duty servicemen. It was a lively place but Tom always kept an eye out to keep things orderly.
Plaza Goiti seemed like a twin plaza. It was also the centralized hub of activity with the Monte de Piedad and Savings Bank, now the Bank of the Philippine Islands, apparently where Manuel Quezon once worked as a teller. Before the American occupation, the Catholic Church encouraged the establishment of the Monte de Piedad (Mount of Charity) to discourage exorbitant interest demanded by usurers at the many pawn shops around Manila.
Along with Tom’s Kitchen and Plaza Lunch, Plaza Goiti was sort of a gateway to the Avenida Rizal shops and theaters as well as the Santa Cruz (MacArthur) Bridge that would take you across the Pasig and on to the Metropolitan Theatre, Post Office, City Hall, and Intramuros.
Was it really that lovely back then ? All we can tell is from photos. The city looked cleaner. Of course there was less traffic, less congestion, fewer people and no LRT, but I wonder if we would have been comfortable in that era. No iPads, smartphones, internet or email and think about all those calesas and horses mucking up the streets, the slow tranvias hogging the road. Okay I’m being a cynic but ah…it would be nice to hop into a time machine and visit – maybe just for a few days ?
Next time: other landmarks of former glory…
I have received many stories from all of you as well as your generous submittal of personal photos. It is due to your interest and participation that makes this blog all the more interesting. Thank you ! – Lou