As many of you know, I went to the American School in Pasay (now ISM at Ft. Bonifacio). My friends were a diverse group of Americans, British, Filipinos, Spanish, Chinese, Germans, et al. As a kid, I really didn’t pay much attention to who their parents were but now as I look back, I now recognize many as pillars of the community and as well as movers and shakers in the business world. I’ve written articles on Berg’s, the Levy Hermanos of Estrella del Norte, Riu Hermanos , Brias Roxas, and Heacock’s but perhaps one of the most influential entrepreneurs in early Manila history was a Russian American Jew: Emil Bachrach.
Emil Bachrach was born in Russia on July 4, 1874. He immigrated to the U.S. at age 18 where he worked at various jobs, eventually went on his own, lasting about 12 years when his health began to fail and his doctor recommended a warmer climate. After trying Arizona and New Mexico, he was intrigued by the American government’s newest colony, the Philippines.
He arrived in Manila in 1901 with $1700 Mexican silver dollars (about $850) and became one of the most successful American entrepreneurs in the Philippines. He was first employed selling watches but this didn’t hold his interest. A few months later, he established American Credit Co., a sort of pawn/loan company in Plaza Santa Cruz. He opened with a few bedsteads, a couple of dressers, several phonographs and a sewing machine. Business soon grew, largely stimulated by his installment plan offer. The firm evolved into the Cosmopolitan Furniture Company and moved to its new premises at 125 Escolta.
Apparently, the furniture company was so successful, it even attracted a scam artist by the name of Hugh Kirkman, of the 8th Calvary stationed at Ft. McKinley. In 1905, Lt. Kirkman decided to forge a promissory note of $1200 against the Cosmopolitan Furniture Co., purportedly signed by Bachrach’s partner, James Ross. The erstwhile officer was court-martialed and sent to prison for hard labor. Lesson: Don’t try to get anything over Emil Bachrach ! [source: U.S. War Dept. General Orders-1907]
With his business running so successfully, Bachrach went on a round-the-world buying trip, chiefly ordering with American manufacturers and expanded his inventory to about P130,000; furnishings for both home and office. His primary enticement was the easy payment plan that was not readily available at other stores. He carried that installment system when he moved into his auto dealership.
Envisioning the popularity of the automobile era, Emil secured the Ford Motor Co. franchise, and brought the first shipment of Model T’s to the Philippines under his new company, Bachrach Motors.
The company expanded and included other makes such as Nash, White trucks, Overland, Saxon and Cadillacs. Although the Cadillacs were far more costlier than the Fords, they made a good investment as cars for hire.
By 1909, more automobiles appeared in Manila, imported by Bachrach and competitors like Harry Rosenberg of Palace Livery Stables, and Leopold Kahn of Levy Hermanos. Residential homes now converted their first floor livery stables for their Victoria carriages to garages for motorcars. The new status symbol had arrived. This demand also placed pressure on the colonial government to build more roads in and out of Manila. Under Gov. Gen. Forbes’ leadership, the city and surrounding area saw a significant growth of road building.
“In 1909 and 1910, when automobiles were both the liveliest new business item and perhaps the principal topic of general community interest, Emil Bachrach often made news by being arrested for reckless speeding at ten and twenty miles per hour.” The speed limit was 8mph within city limits. [The Manila Americans, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.]
Not content to stand still, in 1918, Bachrach went into partnership with two other Americans, Ben Green and J.S. Delaney to form Rapid Transit Co., Manila’s first bus company. Bachrach Motors was also the largest operator of taxis in Manila under the name, Bachrach Garage and Taxicab Co. that handled the Packard, Chalmers, R.C.H. and Cadillac and other cars in the Philippines. [source Motor World magazine 1911]
By 1920, it was estimated there were about 8000 cars and trucks in the Philippines.
It took about a 100 days flow from the factory to being unloaded at Manila. Financing was not as easy to get as today. Carrying his easy payment plan from the furniture store, Bachrach required a deposit of 50% at the time of sale and the balance carried by the dealership.
Business at Bachrach Motors was booming, especially in the truck division. Several new buildings were erected in the Port Area for the showroom, inventory, and service departments.
Bachrach Motor Company (BMC) distributed American Austin and American Bantam cars from the 1930s until 1941. It operated a public conveyance fleet that was named autocalesa (AC). The ACs were later named public utility jeeps (PUJs). The jeeps then were ”dalawahan” or two (2) passengers per side. Passenger arrangement became “tatlohan” or three (3) passengers per side after the war. Today, you can see nine passengers per side arrangements in most PUJs. The picture below was published in a local magazine in 1939. The AC body was mounted on an Austin car cowl and chassis. [source: Manila Nostalgia blog]
Bachrach encouraged his extended family, to resettle in the Philippines and to experience the good life provided by this beautiful archipelago. Minna Gaberman, Bachrach’s niece, stated that living in Manila “was distinctly colonial and elegant in those days. It had a special air of a sumptuous, civilized world.”
In 1916, Emil made another great move. He met and married Mary McDonald, the proprietor/manager of several hotels: the Nevada, the Delmonico Hotel, and the Pines Hotel (in Baguio). Mary was beautiful, intelligent and a valuable business partner as well as a devoted wife. Emil’s sister, Annie married Hyman M. Levine.
Their daughter, Minna married Bernard Gaberman, a white Russian immigrant and stockbroker. In 1963, Gaberman and several other financiers founded the Makati Stock Exchange. In a perfect example of being a small world, the Gaberman children, Mari and Earl, were my classmates at the American School.
Emil had a reputation as a tough businessman and was known to finesse many deals to his advantage. Many young men took the opportunity to train under his leadership and gain experience with very little salary or share in profits. However, Emil’s business sense, contacts and experience were invaluable in helping others get started in their own business including Henry Belden, who later became president of AG&P, and Hyman Meadows. In 1928, Hyman Meadows arrived in Manila on the S.S. Thomas with the Army Medical Corps but joined up with Bachrach soon after, learning about business and salesmanship. His experience with Bachrach was later put to good use when he opened his own business, Manila Office Equipment Co., sometime in the mid-1930s.
Pedro Reyes started out as a mechanic at Bachrach Motors. He eventually went on his own, forming Manila Motor Works and also later bought the taxicab business of Bachrach Motor Co., and the ruins of the old Baguio Theater, also Bachrach owned, with the help of a no-collateral loan from Mary McDonald Bachrach.
Bachrach’s economic successes allowed him to be a generous philanthropist, who supported both Jewish and Christian causes. He was also active in the American Chamber of Commerce, Casino Español, and Sociedad del Tiro al Blanco.
By 1918, twenty years after the Americans took over the Philippines, the Manila Jewish community totaled about 150 people, including a number of Russian Jews who sought asylum from the white pogroms of the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1925, with funds donated by the Bachrachs, the first synagogue was erected and named the Jewish Temple Emil which was located on the west side of Taft Avenue just north of San Andres Street approximately where Marc 2000 Tower, PhilHealth Office, 1973 San Andres Street is today. The building was destroyed during WWII.
Now wealthy, Emil and Mary moved into their newly remodeled home in Santa Mesa on Calle Manga. ”Casa Blanca” had a succession of residents from Horace L. Higgins, a British engineer of the Manila Railroad Co. Ltd. of London to James Chapman Rockwell, VP of the Manila Electric Railway and Light Co. in 1911, before the Bachrachs purchased the property and remodeled it extensively to its finest state.
As you approached the two story palatial estate, the first thing you would notice was the circular driveway leading to the great porte cochere and vestibuled entrance. Photos are from an article about Casa Blanca in an issue of This Week, Oct.15,1950 sent to me by Sandra Holmes.
The house was white hence the name and the soft tones offered a sense of restful comfort and perfect taste. With two bedroom suites and a large guest room, all of which had a wonderful view of the city, the home had the feel of a clubhouse. Off the lobby were the billiard room, bowling alley and a complete gymnasium. In an outer court at the rear of the house was the tiled swimming pool. The high-ceilinged dining room was spacious and tastefully decorated using maple wood with a high mahogany finish.
It was an also ideal setting for political and business meetings. As a close friend of President Manuel Quezon, Bachrach often opened his expansive and quiet gardens for private negotiations with members of the American Chamber of Commerce.
Not only did Bachrach popularize the idea of a Ford for every Filipino, he also began the Philippines’ first commercial aviation company, the Philippine Aerial Taxi Corp (PATCO). Although Philippine Airlines (PAL) was officially founded on February 26, 1941, its license to operate as an airliner was derived from merged Philippine Aerial Taxi Company established in Dec.3 1930 making it Asia’s oldest scheduled carrier still in operation.
Commercial air service commenced three weeks later from Manila to Baguio making it Asia’s first airline route. Bachrach’s death in 1937 paved the way for its eventual merger with Philippine Airlines in March 1941. Bachrach’s majority share in PATCO was bought by beer magnate Andres R. Soriano in 1939 upon the advice of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and later merged with the newly formed Philippine Airlines with PAL as the surviving entity.
The photo above shows the Beech Aircraft in its shipping container bound for Philippine Aerial Taxi Company in Manila.
The merged Philippine Air Lines started service on March 15, 1941 with a single Beech Model 18 NPC-54 aircraft, which started its daily services between Manila (from Nielson Field) and Baguio, later to expand with larger aircraft such as the DC-3 and Vickers Viscount.
Emil Bachrach passed away on Sept. 28,1937. Bachrach Motors continued operations with brother-in-law Hyman Levine at the helm. The photo below shows Levine at a despedida party for a Goodyear executive in 1960 (courtesy of Earl Gaberman).
Emil’s wife Mary continued to live at Casa Blanca until the Japanese occupation when it was taken over by the Japanese military and specifically as General Yamashita’s residence which may explain how the mansion was not burned by the Japanese during the horrific fighting of the Battle of Manila
During occupation, the Japanese converted Temple Emil to an ammo dump. During the fighting, the stored ammunition ignited and blew both the temple and community house. The Temple was subsequently restored in 1947.
In a bit of irony, Casa Blanca also served as the residence of Gen. Douglas MacArthur after liberation. Hyman Levine’s grandson, Butch Gaberman recalls, “During the time Gen. MacArthur was living at the home, they used to send MPs to pick me and a few kids up to watch movies. I remember watching Hopalong Cassidy but it scared me to tears because I had never seen a movie before !”
The importing of autos proved too expensive during the Fifties as the import duties were sky high. I remember my dad wanted to bring over our new 1955 Chevy Bel Air from the U.S. He had to drive it around the L.A. area for a month or so to add mileage to the car thereby bringing it in as a “used” car and substantially reducing the import duty.
By now infirmed, Mary Bachrach left Manila in the early Fifties and settled in the U.S. Casa Blanca was turned over to the Club Filipino which was there until the new clubhouse was inaugurated on October 18, 1970 in Greenhills, San Juan.
Bachrach Motors finally closed down in the mid-Sixties. The buildings in the Port Area were leased to U.S. Tobacco after their own buildings suffered severe damages from a huge fire.
Emil Bachrach will be remembered as a tough businessman and negotiator as well as a benevolent philanthropist who certainly helped shaped the history of Manila’s economics.
Thanks to Earl “Butch” Gaberman and Mari Gaberman Solomon for their invaluable help with photographs and background on their family’s history.
As always, I welcome your comments, stories and pictures of Manila’s history. Please email me at Manilanostalgia@gmail.com.