Juan Luna is one of the most celebrated Filipino artists. His works may be found in museums around the world. What is not common knowledge is that he was the father of another important figure in Philippine architecture, Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of Juan Luna and Paz Pardo de Tavera. Born in Paris, he set foot in the Philippines with his father and uncle, the great Antonio Luna. He was taught painting in Manila’s School of Arts.
He studied Arts in Paris where he got his diploma in 1911 and went on to study Architecture and finished in 1918. Upon his return to Manila, the city government appointed him the chief Architect, a position he held from 1920 to 1924. He first got attention as a painter in Hanoi where he won special mention. He won a silver medal in the St. Louis Exposition and another in a contest held by the Exposition of the Society of Artist in Manila (1908).
Andres was a talented architect who seemed destined to equal his father’s artistic achievements. In the 1920s, he became obsessed with the design and construction of a glass palace to be called the Crystal Arcade, inaugurated on June 1, 1932.
The Crystal Arcade was literally a crystal building in graceful art deco lines, very fancy for Manila of the 1930s. It housed the Manila Stock Exchange as well as offices and upscale shops where Manila’s elite would go as much for the prestige of being seen as for the air-conditioning, which was uncommon then.
As the name might suggest, the Crystal Arcade appeared as both a magnificent monument to and spectacular site for consumption. Andres envisioned it as a grand commercial center. It emerged as Manila’s first shopping mall that featured a walkway lead-in to the glass-walled shops on the first floor.
Inside the Crystal Arcade was one of the more popular hangouts for stock brokers and their clients called, the Exchange Cafe, owned by Walter A. “Monte” La Mountain, a previous member of the 26th Infantry Regiment that stayed after the Spanish-American war.
The Arcade had a mezzanine on both sides of a central gallery that ran through the length of the building and expanded at the center to form a spacious lobby containing curved stairways. Stairs, balconies, columns and skylight combined to create vertical and horizontal movement, as well as a play of light and shadow in the interior. Art deco bays pierced by a vertical window marked each end of the façade and complemented the tower over the central lobby. Wrought-iron grilles and stucco ornaments were in the art deco style featuring geometric forms, stylized foliage, and diagonal lines and motifs.
At a time when art decorative no longer symbolized high culture and iron and glass had been strongly identified with mass culture constructions elsewhere, Manila’s Crystal Arcade with its art deco lines was considered the most modern structure in the country.
One of the things lacking in the Manila of the Thirties was a supply of fresh Stateside candies. As luck would have it, the wife of Ted Lewin, well-known gambler and entrepreneur, came from the States to join her husband in Manila and brought with her recipes, a copper candy kettle and thermometers with the idea of making and selling candy. Rae Lewin rented a store in the Crystal Arcade next to the Manila Stock Exchange, hired the help and even made the brown skirt and white blouse uniforms. The candy was delicious, the aroma of vanilla wafted out to the noses of the stockbrokers and their customers and quite soon was a hit !
The Crystal Arcade was magnificent, a study in light and space, with a central staircase that seemed to float upward into a vast foyer. Indeed it decorated the Escolta and drew many admiring visitors. But the very qualities that made it an attraction weakened its value as a commercial property. There was insufficient room for offices and retail activities. Andres Luna was certain the building would enhance the Escolta’s commercial primacy and increase the value of the family’s holdings however, building on the quay side of the Escolta, contractors encountered a high water table. The building’s foundation became a complicated and costly construction, a veritable sinkhole into which the corporation’s resources drained. As the grandiose scale of both building and budget became obvious, people began to refer to it as the Pardo de Tavera mausoleum.
Saddled with an enormous debt, the Pardo de Tavera corporation soon found that the building did not generate enough income. During the famous Crystal Arcade case of 1931, the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled that the Pardo de Tavera holdings on Manila’s premier commercial street, the Escolta, forfeit to its creditor, El Hogar Filipino. The property had been used as collateral in a large development project undertaken by the family firm, Taverna-Luna, Inc. Despite frantic efforts, the Pardo de Taveras corporation was unable to forestall financial ruin and the lending company, El Hogar Filipino assumed ownership.
In rather an eerie photo taken in early 1941, the two photos below shows what the offices looked like within the Arcade. I wonder if this “Board of Tourist Industry” might have been a front for a Japanese spy organization.
Alas, the Crystal Arcade did not survive the brutality and destruction of the Battle of Manila. It was almost completely destroyed with only a shell of its former glory standing.
In the photo above, reconstruction starts. Spaces in the Crystal Arcade are already for rent even though the building remains a tangled mess.
My father rented his space from Arcache at 67 Escolta which was the furthest space on the right of the old Arcade, closer to the Lyric Theater. Our store, the Gem Gift Shop, was located next to the Escolta Restaurant (M.Y. San).
As I recall, only the first two floors of the Arcade building were kept. Our small store was on the first floor with a stockroom at the second level that housed our watchmaker and jewelry repair. It was only later in the Sixties that our store, along with others, were torn down and rebuilt properly. The old Philippine National Bank was constructed at the former arcade building location.
The photo below shows restoration in progress around 1946. Retail stores have popped up on ground level of the Arcade although the damage above is still evident.
These photos taken in 1955 show little had been done to complete reconstruction. The third and fourth floors had been removed and the second tier above the retail stores remained a hodgepodge of clap-together construction.
Our store, Gem Gift Shop, is where the green striped awnings are. Rebullida is under repair. To the far right, the Escolta (M.Y.San) Restaurant building has been reconstructed but sadly, the Arcade building remained a shell with weeds growing above.
Finally, the Crystal Arcade is torn down and construction started on the Philippine National Bank head office in 1966. Our store was located right behind the Volkswagen. The Escolta Restaurant still remains albeit on shaky ground.
Architect Andres Luna de San Pedro also designed the Legarda Elementary School on Lealtad Street, in the French renaissance style. Within the 1920s he moved on to modernism and produced the Perez-Samanillo Building and, subsequently, the Crystal Arcade.
The Perez-Samanillo is a straightforward, no-nonsense office building, with a somewhat elaborate exterior that reflects its structural frame. Columns, beams, and exterior walls appear to have been kept down to minimum dimensions to maximize the expanse of windows and the natural illumination within.
As a side note, Andres Luna’s childhood was filled with tragedy.
In a fit of jealousy, his father Juan Luna murdered his wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera and his mother-in-law Juliana Gorricho in front of young Andres.
I’ve also included a photo of Juan Luna here with my relative, Miguel Zaragoza, and other pals in Paris.
Read the full story of the Juan Luna murder here: http://katonynabanlawkasaysayan.blogspot.com/2012/01/january-10-1893-trial-of-filipinocreole.html
For a tour of art deco buildings of current day Manila, please click on this link:
Next issue: The Escolta
Author: Lou Gopal