Hi all !
After several years of writing my blog, I am taking a creative breather. Hopefully, I’ll come up with new ideas when I return. In the meanwhile, please look at my list of previous posts on the right hand column and hopefully you’ll find one or two of interest. I’ll be back again very soon. Thanks for your patience ! –
My family have always been travelers. Because of our jewelry store on the Escolta, my dad wandered all over the world searching for exotic jewels from faraway places such as India and Morocco to basic costume jewelry from factories in New Jersey. On the other hand, my mom just loved to travel, typically going to the U.S. to visit her sisters and brother in California, Florida and South Carolina. Being their only child, I was always “dragged” along for the ride. Looking back on those days, I have come to appreciate the valuable education I received from visiting all these countries. That’s me below – I believe this must have been at HongKong’s Kai Tak airport.
In the late Forties and early Fifties, we would take a four-engine prop plane from Manila International Airport. It was then a one level Quonset hut-like building where one could buy their tickets at the PAL, Northwest or PanAm counter. Your family and friends could see you off at the gate while you walked across the tarmac to your plane dressed of course, in your Sunday best; no jeans and t-shirt. Flying to San Francisco would be a two-day trip; stopping at Guam, then Honolulu and finally, the Golden Gate city.
“The Manila International Airport was a large WWII metal Quonset hut painted white. It had a large white hand painted board that said “Manila International Airport” in black paint. The front side was almost all open to the sky. There were old wooden tables set up for customs and immigration. Overhead the ceiling lights were bare electric light bulbs. They hung from the rafters on bare wires. Not very esthetic to look at but it seemed to work and no one complained.” [source: “I have a hat too…flying in the fifties was fun !”,
by Lari Harris Newbury ]
Before the war, Manila had two civilian airfields: Eugenio Lopez’s INAEC (Iloilo-Negros Air Express Company) used a strip near the Bonifacio Monument, called Grace Park.
Philippine Airlines (PAL) used Nielson Field, named after Laurie R. Nielson, a New Zealand businessman, who proposed the construction of the airfield under the aegis of Don Enrique Zobel. PAL began in 1931 as the Philippine Air Taxi Corporation (PATCO), a cargo service owned by American mining companies operating in the Philippines. PATCO went bankrupt in 1940, but was bought in 1941 by a group that included wealthy industrialist Andres Soriano, Sr.
The birth of the Manila International Airport started out at the Grace Park Airfield in 1935. Before that international flights via PanAm Clippers landed in Manila Bay. Nielson Field opened in 1937. Just seven months before war broke out in Dec 1941, Philippine Airlines flew their first commercial flight out of Nielson Field. The Japanese military quickly took control of the field in January 1942.
Philippine Airlines resumed operations at the Nielson Field Airport on February 14, 1946. As the airport was substantially damaged during the war, it took over a million pesos to reconstruct the terminal and field and it immediately became the official port of entry for air passengers into the country. After Manila International Airport was moved to the Nichols Field location, Nielson Field deteriorated. In late 1950s, I recall seeing parts of the old tarmac covered with weeds in areas surrounding Ayala Avenue. Thankfully, the old Nielson tower terminal was saved from demolition and was used as a restaurant and now houses the Filipinas Heritage Library.
There were also two military airfields: a small one at the rear of Camp Murphy and Nichols Field, a U.S. military airfield located south of Manila in Pasay and Parañaque. Named after Captain Henry Nichols, US Army commander of monitor ship “Monadnock” during the Philippine-American War, Camp Nichols was at that time the largest and most well-equipped airport in the Philippines.
Below, Nichols viewed from the southeast end of the field. Officers Club was in the center left with Post Stables to the rear. Flight line and hangars were in the center. Barracks, Officers Quarters, Headquarters and Philippine Air Depot were in the upper right. Manila spreads northward in the upper background. (circa 1937) [source: NASM Archives]
During the occupation the Japanese also took over Nichols as a strategic military base. It was later quite damaged by U.S. forces during the battle of Manila.
After the war, Nichols Field resumed operations as an American air base. The Douglas DC-3 shown below at a very undeveloped Nichols Field, Manila in 1946 [Ed Coates collection].
Nichols Field later became headquarters of the Philippine Department Air Force, under the Army Philippine Department. In 1982, then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos renamed Nichols Field to Villamor Airbase to honor Col. Jesus Villamor, the Philippine Air Force Ace pilot and World War II hero.
In 1948, the U.S. government turned over Nichols to the Philippine government and the field was converted into one terminal building for international passengers and a control tower overlooking the one runway. Below, drawing showing the proposed International Airport at Nichols Field.
I remember getting through the small airport in the 1950s was chaotic. There were passports to be checked and stamped, luggage had to be checked in, everywhere people either yelling directions or trying to get information to lead them to their gates. There may have been two. I marveled at the sleek, silvery crafts that stood like monoliths on the runway never imagining they would look like toys compared to the giant 747s that would eclipse their size in just a few years.
Returning home was probably even more chaotic. If one had previous experience and knew the “system”, it was understood that a little under the table money would speed your way through customs and immigration. I pitied the novice tourist who didn’t know how this all worked. For them, each bag would be searched for “contraband” (cigarettes, liquor, etc). Once I saw a customs officer drag his finger through a woman’s face powder while she watched in horror as the powder spilt all over. To make my life easier, I would always leave a sealed bottle of Black Label right on top and when asked “What is this ?” I would answer, “That’s for you, chief !” and somehow we slid right though without a problem.
It wasn’t until September 22, 1961 that the new terminal designed by Federico Ilustre was inaugurated. Unfortunately, a little over ten years later, a devastating fire, apparently from an electrical short, caused substantial damage to the terminal building. A smaller, second terminal building became the international terminal until 1981 when the higher capacity terminal (Terminal 1) was built to replace it.
Terminal 1, originally named Manila International Airport, was given its present name Ninoy Aquino International Airport on August 17, 1987 honoring Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., who was assassinated at the airport after returning to the Philippines from his self-imposed exile in the United States on August 21, 1983. Plans for a new terminal were conceived in 1989, when the Department of Transportation and Communications commissioned Aéroports de Paris to do a feasibility study to expand capacity.
For me the Fifties were a time of innocence. Manila was still under reconstruction and time seemed to pass more slowly. I have many memories of the old Manila International Airport; from the happiness of greeting friends from abroad or the thrill of leaving Manila for another adventure. I left in 1962 to live and eventually retire in Seattle, only returning for a long awaited visit home in 2004 to find just about everything had changed – even the very modern airport which compares and even exceeds that of many large cosmopolitan cities. Yes, I was perhaps a little disappointed to find Manila had “grown up” but it was still a joy to come back home. Manila, I love you.
“Slid black label to the customs officer…”
My first time commenting, I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for a while, always excellent and informative contents I must say. I just wanted to comment that I laughed at the fact that ‘padulas’ was and always will be part of interacting with Pinoys. It’s just funny ( sad and infuriating) now that customs officer make it their due to extort passengers (laglag bala issue). Secondly, I wanted to ask since obviously your posts are always well researched, but what does NASM (National Archives…???) stand for? Some of your pictures were tagged as such and I wanted to know just in case I need to do some researching on my own in the future. I’ll say thank you ahead for replying and salamat again for great contents.
Thanks for your very kind comments Ivan. I’m so pleased you have enjoyed my articles. NASM stands for the (Smithsonian) National Air and Space Museum archives. There is a wealth of information, photos and film available. Here’s the link: https://airandspace.si.edu/collections/archival/
Re the custom officers and the small under the table transactions, my Dad explained to me that it wasn’t a bribe or extortion. He said that custom officers and other officials made very little salary – often not enough to support their families and that everyone understood this. He said that the small transactions were a sign of respect and a way to say thank you for their service. According to Dad it was/is the way things are done almost everywhere outside the U.S.
Another superb article that brought back wonderful memories. My earliest recollection of the international airport was sometime 1950-51. It was a Sunday and the family went to the airport to see my grandparents off. My dad was driving his 1949 Ford and we were rushing to catch my grandparents before they took off. My dad was a careful and law-abiding driver. As we were chatting with my grandparents and other relatives, a motorcycle cop (hagad) approached my dad. Everyone turned to stare at him because he was full of dust. He said he had been chasing my dad for speeding through the airport dirt road when he slid and crashed on a turn. He gave my dad a ticket, brushed off the dust from his pants and excused himself. My uncles started teasing my dad about his being a race car driver.
Tracing the birth and growth of our aviation history id quite a challenge, with surprises like the airport in Grrace Park and conversion of Nichols Field to what it is today. Enjoyable reading overall.
Great article Lou, as always. Keep up the great work and thanks!
Hi, I’m a new reader, just found your blog while I was doing some research for a graphic comic. So glad I found it too!! There’s very little online info about Manila, at least the kind with the great personal detail and stories you’re sharing. I’m a recent transplant to the States and am missing Manila very much and reading your entries have been lovely. I’ve always been interested in old Manila, especially the Peacetime period.
Also wanted to give you some updated info. The Filipinos Heritage Library has been moved to the Ayala Museum and Neilsen Tower is now the Blackbird, a very popular high end restaurant. They’ve preserved the art deco details of the place, so it’s really looking gorgeous. The food, unfortunately, doesn’t quite match up.
I look forward to reading more, thank you so much
I’m glad you found my blog too ! And thanks for the update on the Nielson Tower now being the Blackbird Restaurant. Interestingly my dad owned a restaurant during the Japanese occupation called the Bluebird !
I am also new, and I really like all the articles in your blog and I appreciated how you made detail story of your childhood since then. Thanks for sharing the wonderful journey of your life especially during early manila era.
Great article!!! it is nice to know what was there before what is there now. We went to Manila in 2010 and just to go from one airport to the other one was complete caos. Of course the taxi drive from the airport to Adriatic Hotel or from the airport to Manila Hotel (we did both, one from Hong Kong and the other one from Palawan) took at least one hour or perhaps a little more. I do hope all of this is better. Thanks for sharing these photos and the article. I truly enjoyed it!!! Corina
A good day to you, Mr. Gopal!
As an aviation enthusiast, this article is a marvel. It’s an indispensable time capsule. Wishing to hear more stories of early Philippine aviation from you. Many thanks.
I love your blog. I was born in the 50s, was spared the war years, but grew up a baby boomer and enjoyed the lifestyle in Manila as you described it. Thank you for making me smile and reminisce.
Hi. Manila was way better back then. People behaved better and were more civilized. Way too much traffic now. And too many squatters. Manila bay and the pasig River used to be so clean. Now they’ve become dumpsters. Technology and infrastructure has improved but human behavior attitudes dress mannerism degenerated. Sad but true. If I could I would travel back in time and live during the pre 1980’s.
The old MIA terminal in the 1960s and 70s, located where the now Centennial Terminal 2 is, was state of the art for its time. It had South East Asia’s first iconic IBM world clock in the departure lobby, the first escalators in manila. The terminal was built to house a control tower and coincide with development of the airport’s main runway 06/24.
Do you know when the 06/24 (new) runway was constructed?
Hope you’re fine. Been missing new articles since March, thanks
Hi Jay, yes I’m fine. I have sort of run out of steam for a bit. I’ve gone back to writing and playing my music again after a long break and I’m focusing in on that but I think by Fall, I should be back crunching out more articles. Thank you for writing and your continued interest.
Thank you very much for taking the time to write this. I just discovered your site tonight.
Your writing makes the past come alive. More power to you!
I came across your website while searching for images that I plan to use for a presentation at the 5th Asian Network for GIS-based Historical Studies which will be held this December at UP Diliman. I am a professor of history at said University, and my MA thesis was on the history of commercial aviation in the Philippines. Your article is on the Manila International Airport is very informative, and I was particularly impressed at the photos you obtained from the NASM archives. I hope you would allow me to cite during my presentation. Thank you very much!
Excellent and very informative site. Thank you!
This is a very interesting site and I love the use of photographs. I am interested to see if you or any of your correspondents have knowledge of some people who lived in Manila in the mid to late 1930s. The couple were Francisco and Evelyn Oleaga and they married in Manila in early 1936. The couple were frequently mentioned in Harrison’s diary (part of the excellent Philippine Diary Project) and socialised with other people in Manila such as the Sorianos, Elizades, Wittoucks and Ortegas. I do not know what sort of business they were in but obviously they were reasonable well off.
Anything anyone can provide would be of value but particularly photos. Thank you.
Hello Mr. Lou , Kahanga hanga talaga ang iyong blog. Kahit di ko inabot ang glorious Manila, sa pamamagitan mo ay parang isinakay ako ng time machine capsule at dinala ako doon. Kaunti lang ang naikwento sa akin ng aking panganay na kapatid at mga grandparents ko sa pre and post war Manila, kaya halos wala akong kamalay-malay sa kagandahan ng ating Maynila. Pero napakasaya ko kasi mahilig talaga akosa history esp.biblicalhistory.. at ngayon na nadiskubre ko ang iyong site ay lalo akong naexcite at nagpasigla sa akin sa araw-araw . Naghahanap lang ako ng old Manila photos na gagamitin ko sa aking susunod na painting about Manila’s past ng makita ko ang iyong mga photos that lead me to your Manila Nostalgia blogs. Salamat Mr. Lou. Isa akong visual artist. I formerly worked as a graphics artist , draftsman abroad, but since I was semi retired now, I devoting my time painting mostly focusing on our countryside, esp.old Manila. I had done one piece regarding Old Binondo which I willsend to you later these days.Thank you for your very informative site. I know now how my grandparents and my parents and uncles and nieces on my father’s side lived during the old days in Quiapo and Binondo areas.Salamat muli Mr.Lou.. Take care always. Manila needs you !. Humberto B. Ladanga
Hi Mr. Lou,
I came across you blog 3 years ago and have been a fan since. I loved reading stories about the old Manila we never knew. I hope you’re doing well and wish that you can write again soon. I miss your masterfully collated facts of the past and how you gave life to them through your blogs.
I’ve been an aviation enthusiast since I was 4 years-old. At this age, my parents took me along to send off relatives at the MIA. This was in the late 1960s but I still remember that terminal that was built in 1961 and the view deck it had. I marveled at the graceful DC-8s of PAL and KLM and the sexy B-707s of Pan Am and Air France. I’ve been searching for photos and stories about that terminal on the net but have found very little. Apparently, the literature on this building was limited even during the time it was built and it shows the little regard we Filipinos have on our history. Sadly, it continues today as even the current terminals aren’t given much attention. Thankfully, private individuals like you are on hand to preserve the memories and information on important buildings like the MIA terminal. It was a delight to have discovered your stories.
WHERE ARE YOU LOU ??? WE MISS YOU SO BADLY !!!
I apologize for my retiring from my blog. I tried to write an article once a month and found that coming up with my personal stories plus historical research and photos to accompany them with took so much of my time, I just got worn out. Perhaps I may re-energize and start up but in the meantime, please enjoy all of my writings. I have almost 2.4 million hits on my site now. Not bad for an old guy telling his stories, huh ?
You may recall that, when the MIA terminal burned down, passenger check-in were moved to an unused shopping center adjacent to Nayong Pilipino and (temporarily) a golf driving range near the Domestic Terminal.
Thanks for your blog Mr. Lou. I hope you are healthy and still blogging.
I was born in the 60’s so I remember a bit of old Manila, especially the old cars and the 1961 terminal where I went through on the way to a 15 year stay in Africa following my dad. I especially remember the airport viewing deck – one of my favourite places. Very nostalgic.
I just got on board, and first of all would like to express my sincere gratitude for having you with us in our lives.
I got here quite by accident while preparing a compilation of photographs and videos as a gift for my father’s 90th birthday in February 7, 2018. He was a sixth grader in Rizal Elementary School in Tondo, Manila when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec.8 here in the Philippines.
Scrolling down your collection of photographs, happily amazed and amused, I realized that something of great importance to me was missing when I reached the last photograph – The China Clipper!
Now, please don’t blame Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. It just so happened that I get this certain feeling of pride everytime I watch “Raiders” countless times because they emphasized that the flight is from SF to Mla.
Please allow me to give you the following links, hoping that these will be helpful to your research and collections of bits of nostalgic articles concerning Old Manila:
China Clipper Inaugural Passenger Flight 1936 Part 1
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR0K6HfDe4w . . . there are four parts and many other independent posts and short video clips.
And this one from FANDOM:
Oh, btw, my cousin Fred Tabisaura graduated from the American School in 1970. Well, I’m really sure. One of his popular batchmates is Stephanie Carroll, daughter of Earl Carroll, founder of Philippine American Life Insurance Company.
Hi Mr. Gopal,
I am currently working on a Public Television production about Pan Am and I’d like to ask you a few questions about the 1935 China Clipper trip to Manila. Is there a way I can reach out to you, either by email or phone number?
Yes, you may write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I live in Seattle so our time difference may make phone conversations a bit difficult.
It has been a while since I have visited your page or if at all… my visits were far and wide in between. I sure am glad that you have maintained its place on the web and that it is still available for many of us who forever cling to and find joy in looking back at images of the past.
Lately, I have been searching the web for pictures of the “old” Manila International Airport as it was in the 60s and sure enough, it brought me here.
Once again and at most, it bought many pleasant memories except perhaps for one that had a little sadness in it. But then again, we have moved on.
In the early 70s, a few years fresh off College, I used to work as a very young Airways Civil Engineer with the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Our office was located on the top floor of the old Manila International Airport building.
Besides the taller Control Tower, our Office had one of the best views of the goings-on all around and inside the very busy airport hub. I certainly enjoyed my work there.
Some time in January of 1972, I was on one of my field assignments, inspecting construction of an Airways Communication Facility at the Airport in Cotabato City. I was away only for a few days but “no cells phones” then and short of sending out smoke signals, we hardly knew what was going on back at the main office.
We usually traveled via any commercial airline available and on my return to Manila, as my plane landed, I noticed something eerily strange as I looked through the window of the airplane. Somehow, the skyline looked different.
Domestic flights then had its own assigned Terminal building but as I flagged a cab to take me for the short hop to the International Terminal building, the cab driver sort of gave me a “puzzled” look.
I paid no attention to it as he too did, although I could tell there was a strange look on his face.
It wasn’t until we were approaching the building that I realized that the whole Manila International Airport Terminal had burned down… two days earlier.
As with others, I lost a few personal items on that fire but nothing compared to and sadly, many friends on duty at the Control Tower, who couldn’t make it out, whose lives were cut short in this fire.
Any picture, inside or around the old Manila International Airport building of the era, always somewhat bring a smile and perhaps for all its worth, ease the sad memory of a tragic incident.
But life goes on. Thank you for sharing the stories and the rest of the Airport pictures.
This blog is amazing and has loads of useful and nostalgic information.
I grew up in Manila and Quezon City but have been living in LA for the last 30 years.
I was happy reading your blog but also sad for the traffic and blight that now afflicts much of the city and has all but eaten away many of the historic buildings and character of Old Manila. Thank you for bringing it back through narrative and photos and I hope you will continue your good work!
I’m just absolutely spellbound by these photo’s. I am an airplane buff myself as my grandfather’s brothers made their own mark in Philippine Aviation History. My father and uncle themselves were also pilots and aviation has always been a part of our lineage. I especially like very old vintage airplanes and the airports that have hosted them. I really like that picture with you and the Pan American Lockheed Constellation behind you. There are only less than a handful of those things still flying today, I would do anything to get a ride in one of those. And those beautiful DC-6’s, which I can only “experience” today thru a very good and realistic flight simulator. That terminal building in 1961 just looks so Classy, makes me want to go back to those times.
An outstanding and superlative documentary article
An engrossing, superbly researched documentary article.
Hello. Where (or to close to where) in the present airport was the Old MIA (the one that burned) terminal located? I’ve always wondered about it. Thanks for the info.
Found your blog while researching for my fiction. I enjoy your posts. Very informative.Thank you for being a historian of my country.
When I was a little Girl, I stayed at my GrandMa house in Baclaran & together w/ my other Cousin’s & after the dinner a relative Uncle who has passenger jeep, will gonna volunteer to give us all a ride & drive around MIA, year around 1960’s & we will looked around inside the Airport & was amazed & thrilled w/ the escalator, the huge Globe at hallway, & I thought someday I may see what is in that big round thing display.
Then after browsing around MIA, we will be backed at GrandMa home tired & sleepy.
This is one of my fond memories about MIA.
Thank you for your time🥰
Thank you Mr. Lou Gopal for the wonderful travels back in time! I hope that you could feature in your next blog the old Pasay City. I want to see the place I grew up in through your eyes.
Thank you Sir Lou Gopal for your article it seems you take me back to the past I didn’t able. It really gives us the information about the birth of the Manila International Airport as it is now being discuss online by our fellow country men as a representative wants to change it’s current name NAIA(in honor of Ninoy Jr.) to FMIA(in honor of Ferdinand Sr.) , it’s politically divisive, that’s why I think it is important at this point for us to know the history of MIA.
After reading a couple of paragraphs, the old photos caught my fancy and found myself scrolling through all of them. They really took me back. I’m in my late 60’s and it’s to this reason I could relate to Manila Nostalgia. I delighted in viewing Manila’s old views, it’s transportation, people’s attire and of course the nostalgic Manila International Airport. But how about photos of our seaport? North and South Harbor? I recall sometime in the early 60’s when my family met my grandparents at a pier in Manila’s South Harbor. They came from their trip to Japan and had opted to travel via ocean liner. I clearly remember the name President Cleveland painted on the side of the ship’s funnel. Back then, American President Lines didn’t just carry container vans. They also had passenger service to Japan. The seaports of Manila were clean and the water was still emerald green. I was wondering if you have some photos of Manila’s old North and South Harbor facilities as well. I’d like you to know how much I appreciate your effort in Manila Nostalgia. Thank you so much for your work.
Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!