Mr. Albert Awad

Our city has flourished and grown ever since its inception because of its diverse population. They were the essence that added the “flavoring” needed to become a true cosmopolitan city; evidenced by its mix of cultures, its food with thousands of restaurants, and its economy which has profited from Filipino, Chinese, American, European, Jewish, Indian, Syrian and Lebanese entrepreneurs. Some of the prominent Arab families I remember from the Fifties were the Kairuz, the Arcaches, the Ysmaels, and the Awads.

Albert Awad 1930s

Albert Awad 1930s

One man remains significant in my memory. He was the father of Anita, my very dear friend and classmate from the American School, Mr. Albert Awad.

Lebanese Honorary Consul, Joe Assad, whose family has had long ties to the Awads, said, “We will always fondly remember Consul of Granada Albert Awad who was also from Bilad al Sham [Lebanon]and was another member of the Turko community, a prominent industrialist owning the American Wire and Cable Co., and one of the founders of Philex Mining. All the telephone and electric wires you see hanging over all the cities and provinces in the country today are thanks to the vision of Albert Awad. He was also the oldest living Honorary Consul in the world who passed away with a mind as sharp as anyone in this room at the ripe age of 101.” – Speech of Rotarian Joe Assad to the Rotary Club of Manila, November 28, 2013

Anita Awad, her brother Ric and I were in the same class, starting from the first grade. It’s amazing now when I think about how far back our relationship started. In those days of course, we never thought about our heritage or what businesses our parents were involved in. We were just kids ! I recall many times visiting them at their home in Forbes Park, the tenth home built in 1953 after the Aranetas and Joseph McMicking started developing the Makati area. Below a view of Forbes Park taken where the Santuario de San Antonio was being constructed. Unbelievably, lots then were offered at ₱4.00/sq.meter.

Forbes Park in the early 1950s. (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

Forbes Park in the early 1950s. (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

Albert Awad and his five siblings were born in Brooklyn. His parents Essa and Suraya Awad were from Syria. Albert’s brother Sam decided to venture forth, traveling through the Orient after his tour of duty with the U.S. Army. He became a close friend of Gen. MacArthur and was quickly introduced to the city’s social and business community. Sam recognized prewar Manila as a city ripe with opportunities and decided to settle and start his career and family.

In 1928, Albert, then 19, joined Sam in the family business on Calle Juan Luna in Binondo, living out of a small bare room in the factory. Their embroidery factory employed 70 women making ladies nightgowns and infant wear as well as embroidery. “At night we had to suit ourselves in our small beds with mosquito nets but it didn’t stop the mosquitoes. The estero right outside our window smelled badly every time we opened our window, as our room was located at the back of our office.” – Albert Awad

Albert described Manila at that time, “Manila had only two restaurants offering decent meals to Americans and other foreigners. One of the restaurants was Tom’s Dixie Kitchen…and the other was Plaza Lunch. A meal was priced for one peso. The meal offered four courses: an appetizer of peanuts, then a tasty soup and fish, and the main course of steak or chicken with dessert of apple pie, ice cream and a cup of coffee.”

Albert returned to the U.S. in 1937, as his brother Victor, took over his position in Manila. “At the time I was fortunate to get a seat on October 20th on the Pan American Clipper’s one year anniversary of the Trans Pacific flight from Manila to California. Because it was a seaplane it was the most exciting flight I have ever taken.” – Albert Awad

He returned twice to Manila before war broke out, which separated him from his brothers, Sam and Victor. Because of his affiliation with Gen. MacArthur, the Japanese regarded Sam as an American spy and was later executed. Their families experienced loss, hunger and deprivation along with other Manila residents through the Japanese occupation.

While back in the U.S. Albert met the love of his life, Yvonne. They were married on July 2nd, 1941. They continued to live in Brooklyn until after war ended. In 1946 Albert, Yvonne and their new son returned to Manila and to the total destruction that lay before them.

Entering Manila’s reconstruction period, Albert and Victor saw the need for basic commodities, construction materials and even capitalized on foreclosed merchandise in the form of seven truckloads of shoes shipped from the U.S. They were approached by Henry Sy, who had a small shoe store in Carriedo. Sy bought the whole lot. This may have been the thrust Henry needed to build his Shoe Mart empire. Henry Sy, perhaps the first of the Philippines’ billionaires, and Albert remained good friends throughout their lives.

Paul Dib was another entrepreneur, born in Brooklyn of Syrian background, and was a boyhood friend of Victor Awad. He was an electrical engineer and proprietor of an electrical wire and cable manufacturing company in New York. It was the early 1950s and his small firm had done well in the boom after the war, but was having trouble competing with the behemoth companies. He travelled east with the idea of setting up a similar plant in the Philippines where there was a postwar building boom and no electrical wire plants.

Paul and Victoria Dib in 1958.  Abla and Tony Assad and Mooha and Felix Assad.  Party at Polo Club for Lebanese delegates.  (courtesy Carol Dib Furer)

Paul and Victoria Dib in 1958. at a party at the Polo Club for Lebanese delegates. (courtesy Carol Dib Furer)

Victor Awad suggested Paul stop in Manila to see Albert. The two hit it off and started talking about the possibility of opening a factory to produce electric wires to spread power through the city and small barrios. Albert financed the venture and American Wire and Cable was formed. It became the first wire factory in the Philippines and after over 50 years, American Wire and Cable became the biggest producer of copper wires in the Philippines.

“Albert and Yvonne were lovely people and helped us all when we moved to Manila. They were certainly gracious. They owned the house we rented in Forbes Park. In the end, my parents decided that they didn’t want to be on the other side of the world from their families, so we headed back to the U.S. My father, ever the entrepreneur, put up plants in the Dominican Republic, in the Shah’s Iran, and elsewhere.” – Carol Dib Furer (Paul’s daughter and also an American School classmate of mine).

“We first started with a small factory along Pasong Tamo, now in Makati City, and after approximately five years of operation, our business flourished. We bought property near Laguna on the South Super Highway in southern Metro Manila where we put up a state of the art factory which we are still using today.” – Albert Awad

American Wire and Cable-Pasong Tamo

American Wire and Cable Co.

Another Lebanese family, The Brimo family imported men’s linen suits running the business from their building in Binondo. It so happened that Henry Brimo, who was quite the athlete, discovered a huge deposit of gold and copper ore around the hills of Baguio.

Henry Brimo and Albert Awad joined together to form Philex Mining Company which has since grown into one of the foremost mining companies in the Philippines. The relationship lasted over 50 years until Henry Brimo passed away at age 95.

As kids in school, our weekend evening entertainment was a usual impromptu party hosted at one of our homes. We’d dance to our favorite 45’s and spin them on those old phonographs with the fat spindle in the middle. Coca-colas, potato chips and other snacks were the main fare, not quite nutritious but tasty. Every once in a while, the parents would spring for a more formal affair. The Awads hosted an American School dance one year. Rita Moreno, who won the Academy Award for her role in “West Side Story” was their guest. She wowed everyone, including us kids, as she dragged our rather straight-laced headmaster on the floor and danced the boogie.

Awad residence "Villa Bonnie" in Forbes Park, 1953. (courtesy A. Awad Detert)

Awad residence “Villa Bonnie” in Forbes Park, 1953. (courtesy A. Awad Detert)

Albert Awad, 2nd from left in rolled up pants and barong tagalog. His daughter Anita, in the center with white Capri pants.

(courtesy J.Budd Stevenson)

(courtesy J.Budd Stevenson)

In December 1961, another famous guest dropped by. Paul Anka was appearing at the Araneta Coliseum. Much to their thrill, he accepted an invitation to the Awad home where he spotted the grand piano in the living room. Needless to say, he serenaded the family including two star-struck teenagers, Anita and her sister, Christine. He even signed the wallpaper above their bed.

(courtesy A. Awad Detert)

(courtesy A. Awad Detert)

Albert Awad was a man whose life, work ethic and love of family reflected his personal values. His commitment to his faith stands out. “The Union Church of Manila [then on Padre Faura] was an important part of my life for 75 years. Returning to Manila after the war I found that it had been bombed and we, the Board members, had to patch it up with whatever materials we could find, along with the limited funds we could raise. Eventually we were able to build a beautiful new church.” – Albert Awad

The church was later moved to a site in Makati.

Union Church Manila

Union Church Manila

A major force and influence in Manila’s business community, a true and generous friend, a loving husband and father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Mr. Albert Awad passed away at age 101, August 11, 2009.

Below, Albert and his wife Yvonne on his 100th birthday.

Source: “101 Years Young: the Autobiography of Albert Awad”, by Joseph Assad.
Special thanks to: Anita Awad Detert and Carol Dib Furer for their photos and stories.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. I welcome your stories and photos of old Manila. Please write me at: Manilanostalgia@gmail.com or enter your comments below.

Cheers ! Lou

Cheers ! Lou

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17 Responses to Mr. Albert Awad

  1. Leslie James says:

    Most interesting! My parents, Floyd and Doris James, socialized with the Awads. And when I returned to Manila for an extended visit in 1960, I dated Theodore (Ted) Victor Awad!! What fun we always had. He also liked my dachshund, Blitz! Hi, Anita!! Thanks, Lou, for the memories.

  2. Wm Marvin Rose says:

    Wonderful background on Manila’s Arab-Americans & their accomplishments ! I was in the same class as Christine Awad & remember her well. She was so beautiful ! No wonder Paul Anka wrote on her wall ! Good work Lou !

  3. Johnny Green says:

    Lou, another fantastic article. You are so right that as kids “we just wanted to have fun.” The background of our numerous friends had no interest but as grow older, it becomes the history that we missed.
    Johnny (AS64)

  4. PAUL SEVERIEN says:

    Whatever happened to Ted? I used to see him from 1964 until ? He was running the company at the time. We saw Ricky last year.

  5. Edwina Litton Ortigas says:

    Lou I always enjoy and look forward to reading your articles. As I told you before I have learned so much from your blogs. Keep them coming Lou!!

  6. H59 says:

    Fab article Lou ! Keep them coming!

  7. Thanks for posting that Lou…i loved Uncle Albert.. almost every telephone and electric wires you see having above you in the Philippines from Batanes to Tawi Tawi came from Alber Awad’s factory…Amazing.

    also could you pls add in your blog Source: “101 Years Young: the Autobiography of Albert Awad” written by Joe Assad? i spent years writing Uncle Alberts story.We would meet every Saturday night for dinner at the Tivoli in the mandarin hotel or the Old Manila at the peninsula. i was the youngest one in the group w/ george litton george schulze and edmond dyan (another man i loved and admired)

  8. Joan Esther Smith says:

    Thank you, Lou, for that excellent article about Albert Awad. I was in 3rd grade at the AS when I first became friends with Anita. We have been great friends ever since. I visited at the Awad’s house often and also attended the Union Church with them. I always felt that Albert was a kind and caring person. As you said, as kids we had no idea what our parents did for a living. Albert certainly accomplished a great deal and is a man to be admired. Of course, no man can do it alone! Yvonne was always by his side and later the adult children. They were an outstanding couple.

  9. Frank Holz says:

    Ricky sent me this article. I also have memories of Albert. I did some work for American Wire and Cable, and remember Albert, already well into his 90s, climbing the stairs to the office that he shared with his son Craig. Albert would take out his magnifying glass and read the latest business news on the large screen computer. He would carry on an intelligent conversation belying his many years.
    On Sunday afternoons, Albert and his two buddies, Edmund Dayan and Tony Assad, would sit at a corner of the Cogon Village in the Polo Club and tell stories of years past. I was privileged to be able to sit quietly and listen. Albert was a wonderful and memorable man.

  10. Sue Edmiston says:

    What a wonderful story about an amazing man. I spent many days and nights at the Awad’s house as Chris and I were best buddies. They were a warm and welcoming family. I thoroughly enjoyed learning so much about Mr. Awad. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Eric says:

    I am glad that I found my way here…because I love reading old stories about the Philippines so as old pictures of the old old P.I.
    Thank you so much sir for putting up a blog where I could easily be informed and civilized about my country.
    This part is indeed not included in the Philippine history….

  12. Cliff "Skip" Thompson says:

    Lou: fantastic article. You may not know me but I have heard of you from Haven and Liese. I think you were leaving as I was coming in. I remember Liese introducing me to Have, John Best and others shortly after I arrived. Anyhow, I am Sue Thomsons older brother and was Liese’s next door neighbor. I had already graduated when I came to the PI so I never went to the AS but I was the founder of a fraternity that became pretty big over there. Anyhow, wanted to say how much I enjoyed the article. I knew all the Awad kids pretty well. Thanks again
    Skip ( or Duece as Haven renamed me)

  13. Henry Brimo says:

    History tends to oversimplify so I’d like to correct the record.

    Henry Brimo Sr. was a broker of E. Santamaria and Co. specializing in the US stock market before the war cut that short. He was present when a group of investors considered reopening the Baguio Gold mine after the war. The job of restoring and operating an old, war-sabotaged mine in the remote mountains requiring a certain youthful vigor and trustworthiness, he was elected its president by default.

    Part of a mine’s normal operations include exploration, which is how a new copper ore body was found, spawning another public corporation to fund its development: Philex Mining Corp. Anyway, the legacy of his stewardship was countless years of dividends to Baguio Gold and Philex shareholders and their widows, proving the trust was well-placed.

    As for his origins, as far as I know, Henry Brimo Sr.’s father, Antoine Brimo, was most probably of Syrian origin — the whole region was part of the Ottoman Empire then. Antoine married Frenchwoman Josephine Maillard before settling and establishing a family in the Philippines via the US around the year 1908. An early American passport of Josephine — the Philippines was part of the American Empire then — shows her place of birth as Constantinople. I never heard her speak anything but French. Henry Sr. considered himself French. I consider my dad as a Filipino of Franco-Turkish origins.

    • Henry Brimo says:

      I have met Albert Awad, of course, remembering him as a slightly older than his 1948 picture suggests gentleman with an infectious smile.

  14. Philip Noberini says:

    I had the pleasure to meet the Awad family in 1968 in Demerest New Jersey.
    I became friends with Anita, Christine , Rikkie, Craig, and Keith, and will always
    cherish the memories I have of their family.

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