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