It was 1952, I had just “graduated” from kindergarten at St. Paul’s College on Herran which was just a few blocks away from where my family had an apartment at the corner of Mabini and Tennessee Ave. I managed to survive that year, successfully eluding the nuns with their rulers that seemed to mysteriously be hidden in the folds of their habits. They came out rather quickly and before one could cry “mommeeee” , they gave you a sharp rap on the knuckles. So, here I am in the front row with the tie waving at the camera. The smiling nuns apparently happy to finally see me go. I’m kidding, of course.
My mom, bless her heart, decided I should go to the American School. I think her plan all along was that if I learned via the American curriculum, I would be better prepared to study in the U.S. at some point. So I started first grade at the American School on Donada street, my teacher was the very grim and no-nonsense Mrs. Goodier. Her sense of humor perhaps paralleled that of the infamous Joseph Goebbels.
Of course being ADHD and surrounded by a new environment and new friends, I was constantly talkative and disruptive (or so said Mrs. Goodier). Heck, I was just a friendly little fella. It mattered not because I went on to the second grade where I was promptly rated as a smart kid and immediately skipped to third grade. Ha, take that Mrs. Goodier !
But I digress. It occurred to me that all this time I’ve been writing articles about special places in Manila and yet, I’ve never written about my alma mater. So here goes…
After the first wave of soldiers and their wives settled in Manila after the Spanish-American war, more businessmen arrived with their families. All of these newly migrated Americans obviously needed to educate their children but the choice of American education was quite slim. Home schooling worked for some and even some enterprising mothers set up private “American schools”.
In 1901, most American families still lived within close proximity of Intramuros. An American school featuring American teachers and curriculum operated within the old walled city on Calle Victoria.
As more Americans moved to the Ermita/Malate areas and under the pressure from the growing demand of newly-arrived American families, a new location at the former residence of the Perez-Samanillo family on Calle Nozaleda and Herran (Gral. Luna and Pedro Gil) was leased as an annex in 1908 with 236 students. It was later donated to the LaSalle brothers in 1911, becoming the first La Salle school in the Philippines. I received this interesting bit of trivia from Luis Martin Arriola:
“The family mansion in Paco, Nozaleda (now Gral. Luna), was big and spacious (13.000 sqms.), lined and defended by a thick iron gate, imported from Europe. It had forty to fifty servants. The house was occupied by the Aguinaldo forces as they were not allowed to proceed to Intramuros. When the brothers of the LaSalle sold the family home to the Madrigal family, they had a misunderstanding regarding the gates, its most prized feature, the brothers did not want them included in the sale. Now the gates are in the Fort Santiago in Manila.”
There were several privately-funded “American” schools in this early period, mostly paid for by the American families with subsidies from American businessmen. This rankled many because they were already taxed for public education and yet had to pay for private American schooling if they wanted to ensure an easy transition for their children when it would be time to further their education at stateside colleges and universities.
The American School Incorporates.
The smaller, private schools were expensive to operate and maintain and perhaps out of desperation, a Board of Trustees was created and the American School was incorporated in 1920. The biggest problem was finding a location for the growing demand of students increasing each year.
On June 21, 1920, the American School Inc. opened its doors. A small two-story building at 606 Taft Avenue opposite the Philippine General Hospital was found to be suitable. It was called the House of the Holy Child and belonged to the Episcopalian Church. Rev.Bishop Mosher made the building available, rent-free for the first two academic years but private donors had to pledge P10,000 to get the school underway. At the end of this period, Bishop Mosher requested the return of the building for its church missions.
As a viable and sustainable enterprise, the school was on shaky ground. As the start of the new school year in 1922 drew closer, the school board frantically searched for a new building. As luck would have it, a new location was found at 115 Padre Faura (where the old Acme Market used to be) and Mrs. Elizabeth Marshall was installed as principal. The school had found its home for the next 6 years. Also fortunate was the admittance of over a 100 new students to add to the school’s revenue. Although facilities at the Padre Faura school were minimal, the high school students were allowed to use the library and labs at the Bureau of Science for research.
“When the school moved to an old Spanish house on the corner of Padre Faura and Mabini, the High School was added – without the benefit of lab sciences. There were only a handful of us in high school. The first class to graduate consisted of two girls. All of us loved the new location because of a tiny Spanish bakery on the corner, cutting into our grouds, which sold those crusty Pan de Sal, warm and fresh – pure ambrosia.” [source: Gertrude Elser Jordan, Class of 1924]
By 1928, the building on Padre Faura became so crowded that roomier quarters at the corner of Aldecoa and Mabini (behind the Admiral Apartments) were rented. The new edifice, a rambling wooden structure, proved much more satisfactory than the old location. (It’s interesting to note that this building was also used by one of the private “American schools” in 1919.) The school remained here for the following eight years. It was just a few steps away from the breakwater of Manila Bay; the children found it a pleasant playground at recess. Mrs. Beatrice Grove, whose husband helped raise the American flag over Fort Abad Santos, became principal in 1925 and under her guidance, the school thrived until its move to the permanent Donada street location.
The philosophy of segregation was treated quite openly in prewar Manila. An editorial found in the American Chamber of Commerce, February 1922 stated, “For the past five or six months, the American Chamber of Commerce has been making a futile effort to bring about the establishment in Manila of a purely American school, a school to which American parents could send their children in the knowledge that they were being instructed in an American way by American teachers and in accordance with American standards. The American community believes it is entitled to a school for its children and is not disposed to compromise in the matter. American children must have instruction different from that adapted to Filipino children. It might be permissible to admit European children to such a school inasmuch as their future environment will not differ greatly from that of the American children but in aims, methods and ideals the school should be American and nothing else.” [source The American Chamber of Commerce Journal, Feb.1922]
Fortunately that mindset started to change after the war. Albeit slowly, the school’s policy evolved to admit mestizos, Filipinos and even an Indian/Filipino/Spanish kid like me. The American School was later renamed to International School of Manila and today reflects a completely diversified student population.
During that early period, another new public school called Central School opened in 1914 on Taft Avenue corner Padre Faura. As with all public schools, it was also administered by the Bureau of Education but still reserved for American students.
However by 1920, out of a total enrollment of 600, slightly more than half of the students were mestizo – typically American fathers and Filipino mothers. Some parents felt that the original intention of an all-American school had been diluted.
Although many considered Central to be less snobbish and less anti-Filipino than the American School, in fact, it was de facto segregated; it admitted only a few talented and high-status Filipinos until 1932 when Gov. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. decreed that competence in English rather than race or citizenship would determine eligibility to attend. The school was later named after H.A. Bordner, Manila school superintendent.
Clif Forster (A.S. alum 1941) mentioned the “big” game at Baguio the weekend before Manila was bombed on Dec.8th. After an exhilarating win against Brent, the A.S. kids were bussed back to Manila. Had they stayed, they might have been caught in the bombing of Baguio by the Japanese.
Donada Street Campus
Overcrowded conditions once again forced the Board of Trustees to consider another location. In early 1936, a large tract of land was found on Calle Donada in Pasay. These photos are from Dr. Richard Scheerer’s personal collection. The property belonged to his grandfather, Otto Scheerer, professor and former Governor of Batanes. The Scheerer compound was actually split into two with the Taft Avenue extension into Pasay cutting through the property. “Our original address was Sandejas. The fence on the other side of Taft in that picture belonged to the other half of the compound.” [Dr. Scheerer]
The photo below show Otto with his two sons Adolfo and Donato and son-in-law Lorenzo Onrubia in his back yard. “Attached is a photo of my grandfather Otto Scheerer (far right) and some uncles taken in the early 1930’s in the garden of the Taft house.” [Dr. Scheerer]
The photo below shows the Scheerer compound in the background. The swamp would later be filled in and become the American School campus.
Plans were drawn up to buy a permanent home for the school, and with the help of patrons and donations from the community, this goal was achieved. Construction of a two level concrete building that was earthquake, storm and fire proof started in the early months of 1936.
Quite active in the American community, businessman J.P. Heilbronn made a substantial donation of ₱5,000 for a fence to surround the property. After the Christmas holidays, the students were welcomed to their new school building. One of the first classes to graduate from the Donada school was the class of 1937. John Daye was a member of that class and sent me this photo of him and his fellow graduates. They are wearing the dress styles of the day, tropical white suits and dresses.
The primary, elementary and high school students that crammed into one building soon proved to be a significant burden when once again, the Heilbronns made another generous donation of ₱50,000 for the construction of another building. Christened Heilbronn Hall, the new building was finally completed in the latter part of 1939.
It included a gymnasium with a balcony, a stage, classrooms, and shower rooms for girls and boys.
It was also that year that the American School joined MAASS (Manila Athletic Association for Secondary Schools), competing with other Manila public schools in volleyball, basketball, tennis, softball, bowling, badminton, swimming and polo. Not having a proper swimming pool and track and field, sports activities were held at the Rizal Memorial Field.
The trim, well-kept grounds surrounding the school made the wall-enclosed compound an odd little oasis with a strikingly American atmosphere.
“The white 20ft. H-shaped wooden goals at each end of a green 100-yard playing field signified it was an American football field visible to the busy traffic on Taft Avenue at the corner of Menlo Street, just 10 yards south of the Manila boundary. The sign on the dull grey concrete two story red-roofed building at the far end of the field, “The American School, Inc.” confirmed this. A second two-story grey concrete building with red painted galvanized iron roof situated perpendicularly, complete the campus buildings. Our home was adjacent to the football field and a playground separated the second building from our 6-foot high adobe walls. Two large 40 ft. mango trees with little red and yellow mangoes shaded a half basketball court in our back yard and separated our house from the American School. [Source: “Pinosi” by Eduardo Maria de la Cruz Gutierrez]
As the school year for 1941-1942 opened, all the signs of a typical American school were visible on Donada Street. Army buses and cars dropped students off at the school, creating a good-size traffic jam. Some of the older lads volunteered for the School Traffic Patrol shown in this photo in 1952.
The classes took on a wide variety of projects and productions over the course of the year, to which the entire school was invited (and expected to come). Some of them were presented at the Elks and Army and Navy Clubs or at the Masonic Temple where Doreen Staight played a fairy princess in 1935.
Scouts were the largest activity group in the school, with Brownies and Cubs in the elementary grades, and Scouts for older boys and girls. Nearly every elementary boy belonged, and many after school activities were connected with these troops. Here I am in the Boy Scouts in 1957 (1st row, far left).
In early spring 1941, as the threat of Japanese invasion suddenly grew more serious, the student population dwindled as the military and state officials started returning their dependents back to the States but on the other hand reassuring worried civilians that “the Japanese would never dare attack the Philippines”. Well, the inevitable happened and Japan did indeed invade the Philippines; air raid shelters were built at several hotels like the Manila Hotel, sandbags protected the entrance of the Bayview Hotel as bombers flew over Manila destroying Nichols Field, Santo Domingo Church, the ports and on to Baguio as well.
Monday December 8th, news of the attack at Pearl Harbor and Japanese air raids forced the school to close and wouldn’t reopen for almost 5 years. Kids were picked up by their drivers, fathers came home from work and mothers fretted about what was coming next. Within a few weeks, the Americans were required to register as “enemy aliens” and sent to the internment camp at University of Santo Tomas.
The Japanese military took over the American School compound. It was used as a camp and prison where criminals were punished and tortured within the walls of the campus. Neighboring residents claimed that several men were hanged; others told tales of hearing men’s wails as they were being tortured.
The war closed both Central and American Schools. As American families were herded into the internment camp at Santo Tomas that first week of January, the childrens’ education was carried on with surprising vigor under Louise Croft, who had arrived in 1941 to replace Glen Miller, Principal for the years 1938 to 1941 at the American School.
Work on organizing the children’s education started almost immediately after internment and by January 12th, about 112 children had registered for school. Many of the American School teachers were interned thus ensuring a rather seamless transition. The students also took advantage of the many businessmen, mathematicians, professors, scientists and the like that specialized in certain subjects. The quality of education continued at a remarkably high level although the books, paper and pencils were noticeably meager. “Because time hung heavily on our hands, going to school was a great help. Monotony made time pass slowly unless we kept busy. In addition to completing the required high school classes to graduate, we also took bridge and chess lessons, which led to bridge and chess tournaments, which also helped to pass the time.” [source: Alice Baldwin Kamm, Class of ‘43]
It would be a little over three years of internment. The families struggled to maintain a “normal” life but the years of a starvation diet took its toll. Although first on the priority for being fed, the lack of healthy meals made the children weak and listless. It was more than difficult to keep their interests in school keen.
There were happy moments though as with Margaret Hoffman who graduated in 1943. She remembered the girls’ parents borrowed white dresses from women among the internees and adorned them with cadena del amor and the boys dressed accordingly. “I don’t know how they did it”, she said, “but we even had cake and ice cream !” [ source: Margaret Hoffman Tileson, Class of ‘43]
Below, the diploma Margaret received. Each diploma was a hand-drawn original.
The Battle of Manila was bloody and devastating. My own parents were caught in the Malate area conflagration. Pregnant by 8 months, my mother ran the streets with my dad, making their way north of the Pasig, trying to avoid the house-to-house fighting between the Japanese and American forces. How they made it through still amazes me but I was born in the Sampaloc area in April, 1945.
Throughout the fire, shelling, and counter-shelling, the American School buildings stood as a symbol of American culture, and, when the dust of battle had cleared away, they remained unscathed in the midst of a battered and torn Manila. After the area had been cleared of enemy troops, a food center was set up in Heilbronn Hall while the Main Building served as a hospital for the sick and wounded. When the need for a hospital had disappeared, the Main Building was converted into a warehouse and finally, the Philippine Relief and Rehabilitation Association (PRRA) took charge of both structures.
In February 1946, the remaining school board trustees came together to determine the future of the American School. There were significant problems to overcome: getting the old property back from the current occupants, PRRA; raising sufficient funds to restore any building and grounds damage, refurnish and re-equip the school, and obtain a principal and teaching staff. Somehow the funds were solicited, the plan came together and Mrs. Lois Croft was re-hired as she had been repatriated back to the U.S. after her liberation from Santo Tomas. Tentative enrollment was 564 students.
On September 9, 1946, the American School once again threw open its doors and stood ready to offer its first post-war student body the best in education. Although at first, grades one through twelve were situated in one building, Heilbronn Hall was soon renovated and roomier classrooms were given to the lower grades.
In the early 1950s, more overcrowding caused by returning expats, diplomats and businessmen, as well as alumni that had by now married and were sending their children to the A.S. , forced a few lower grades to be temporarily housed at the SeaFront compound off Dewey Blvd.
The school expanded even further with the addition of South Hall in 1953 to accommodate elementary classes.
In 1955, the Raymond Spruance Hall (actually a gymnasium and stage for assemblies and such) was completed along with the “new” canteen. Below our class prepares for assembly inside the new gym. I’m the short guy, second from the right of Mrs. Grant.
We were all agog when Pat Boone came to one of our assemblies complete with white buck shoes and the all American look. Even the Everly Brothers gave our school an autographed photo when they played at the Araneta Coliseum in 1961.
By 1958, I started 8th grade. The boys then adopted the latest American dress style with low-waist pants; shirt tails had to be tucked in but we sported rolled up short sleeves and of course your collar had to be pulled up, ala James Dean. The girls all wore dresses with crinoline petticoats and flats. Typically dressed in this photo are from left: Barbara Fales (in the background), Gammy Garritz, Edgar Priestman, John Hendryx, Lee del Pan, Allen Staley, and Paul Hoshall.
School started at 7:30am , we had recess at 10:30 and let out at 12:30pm. I felt sorry for the military dependents who lived on Sangley Point (Cavite). They had their own elementary school but the high school kids had to get up at the crack of dawn and catch the launch that would drop them off behind the Army Navy Club then take a bus to the school. They were a tough bunch.
Jeans were not allowed during school period except for once a year, there was this peculiar thing called “Sadie Hawkins Day”. It was a race and a dance named after the gal in the Lil’ Abner comics. The boys were allowed t-shirts, jeans or shorts, the girls wore jeans as well and the style was to wear their dad’s white shirts that often hung loosely on them. We were all so excited and wound up anticipating the big “race” around recess time. The boys lined up on one side of the field – all properly greased with Purico, the local version of Crisco. The girls lined up on the other end of the field. Then a signal was given and the race was on. Whoever was tagged by a girl was then obliged to go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with her. I always wondered why we boys ran so hard to avoid the girls ?
Bel-Air Campus in Makati
Even after the two new buildings were added, the Donada street campus filled up, allowing no further expansion. In 1956, the Board discovered the school might be eligible for grants under the U.S. State Department. Applications were made to set up a Filipino scholarship program and purchase new property for a campus in Bel-Air, Makati. Construction began immediately and on June 20, 1961, the elementary school opened with an enrollment of 647, kindergarten to Grade 6.
This photo-op is the ground breaking ceremony taken at the Salamanka Gate in Bel-Air. From left is John Hickerson, Newland Baldwin, Mrs. Carolyn Butler and Lud Amudj.
I graduated in 1962, the last class to graduate from the Donada school. We had a senior skip day given as a perk for us exalted seniors. I think we went to Matabunkay that year. The highlights of the year were our Christmas formals and of course, the annual Junior-Senior Prom.
And just like that, my carefree days were over. My mom and I settled in Seattle. It was the start of the 1963 school year. I went on to college, got married, had a son by the time I was 19. My generation was caught between waves of conservatism and liberalism. The war in Vietnam raged on. Students marched, sang and protested against the war and the government’s enforcement of the draft. It was a very confusing time but I’ll always remember those glorious and wonderful years of growing up in Manila and my time at the American School.
Even to this day, we still hold alumni reunions which are well-attended. Old friends come together. We smile, we hug, maybe a tear or two are shed, and we talk as if the years had not gone by. I miss those days, I truly do.
The photo below was taken in February 2012. We were allowed to tour the old Donada school which is now Arellano University School of Law. It was in great shape and looked pretty close to what we remembered although we never had air conditioned classrooms ! Well, you just can’t go back, can you ?
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