Puente Colgante – Insular Ice Plant and Cold Storage

Puente Colgante

The Pasig River is an important and essential part of Manila’s history. It contributed to the economic welfare of our city as it became the busy port for supplies and visitors. Dividing the city north and south, bridges were built to allow commerce and residents to cross the river which previously had relied on ferries to get across. It started with the Puente Grande in 1630 which was eventually replaced by the Puente de España until 16 bridges were eventually constructed to accommodate the ever-growing traffic. One of the bridges to span the Pasig was the Puente Colgante (Suspension bridge) built in 1852.

Downtown section of Manila – 1898 – click to enlarge

Puente Colgante

Originally called Puente de Claveria, named in honor of the Governor-General of the Philippines, Narcisco Claveria y Zaldua (served 1844-1849), the bridge connected the commercial district of Quiapo to the residential areas south towards Ermita. It was built and owned by a Basque family headed by Jose Joaquin de Ynchausti. The firm called Matia, Menchacatorre y Compañía,  was responsible for the construction of the bridge.

Don José Matia y Calvo

Don José Matia y Calvo

The principals of the firm, Don José Matia y Calvo, Don Claudio Menchacatorre y Agero, and Don Fernando de Aguirre y Gaztelu, were Basque, but the designer and supervising engineer for the bridge project was a Frenchman, Monsieur François “Francisco” Gabaud.  Note that the firm, Matia Fundazioa, which was founded by Don José Matia, continues to this very day. (source: Paquito dela Cruz)

Ynchausti y Cia received a franchise to operate it as a toll bridge for 90 years however the city of Manila bought the Colgante bridge on June 9, 1911 for P42,500. The tolls were abolished on June 15, 1911. Due to safety concerns, only foot traffic and horse carriages were allowed. Automobiles had to cross the Pasig using the Jones or Sta. Cruz bridges. (Source: American Chamber of Commerce Journal, March 1932)

It was a slower-paced life at the turn of the century as the mostly pedestrian traffic crossed the Pasig into the Quiapo district. American soldiers had occupied the city just a year or so ago. Life had not changed much from the Spanish occupation. Women carried food and supplies in baskets on their heads and the young lad carried water in tin buckets between his shoulders.

Pedestrians and caretelas cross the bridge.

Construction on the Puente Colgante suspension bridge across the Pasig River started in 1849 and was completed in 1852 and remained in use until the mid-1930s. The suspension bridge measured 110 metres (360 ft) long and only 7 metres (23 ft) wide, and had two lanes that allowed passage of horses and carabao-drawn carriages and a pedestrian island down the middle.

Cascos lined the shore under the bridge.

Found in an article in the American Journal of Commerce, March 1932 describes Captain A.C. Hay, Seamaster , who wrote: “We used to pay 1 cuarto or a cigar, which was as good as money, to pass over this bridge. This very serviceable bridge has by no means been done away with, though it is destined in time to give way to a bulkier structure fit for modern motor traffic. To the cart traffic in Manila involving a pony of 600 to 800 pounds, fares and driver often approximating that weight, and a high-wheeled cart weighing half as much, the bridge has been closed; but it still serves thousands of pedestrians daily, especially cooks going to and from the market and many residents of the streets immediately south of the river, either going to school or to the city hall or botanical gardens, or since December, the Metropolitan Theater, or the Luneta or Dewey Boulevard for evening airings. “

Carabaos enjoying the cool Pasig under the shade of the Colgante.

The Puente Colgante is said to be the first suspension bridge in the Far East. Its contruction was supervised by M. Gabaud, a French engineer. Inaugurated in January 4, 1852, it was in service until the modern-day Quezon Bridge replaced it in 1938.

Persistent rumors dating back to the 1930s has it that the bridge may have been designed by Gustave Eiffel, who designed the notable Eiffel Tower in Paris however, since Eiffel would have been only 20 years old when the bridge was inaugurated in 1852, truth of this rumor seems unlikely.

Quezon Bridge Inauguration – 1939

Quezon Bridge Inauguration -1939

Quezon Bridge – 1939

Insular Ice Plant and Cold Storage

If we go back in history, we know that the tropical Philippines did not have a regular supply of ice until the late 1800s. Ice ships carried huge blocks of Wenham Lake ice near Boston and sailed from America to India and Australia with a stopover in Manila. Of course the demand for ice grew after the Spanish-American war when American soldiers and families settled in the Philippines. Ice Cream parlors such as Clarke’s and the Escolta Ice Cream parlors, ice cold beer, cold-packed meats and cold storage made the sale of ice an important industry.

Young ladies enjoying ice cream treats at Clarke’s Parlor on the Escolta. 

M.Y.San (Escolta Ice Cream Parlor) serving ice cream at 69 Escolta. (courtesy P.Mar)










In 1881 there was an ice plant on Barraca Street, Binondo, owned by Don Julio Witte. Ice was continuously produced but owing to its exclusivity, there was no fixed price for it. The price would vary, going up and down like the mercury in thermometers. Other icehouses found in the day were:

Oriental Brewery & Ice Factory, 57 Oral. Solano, San Miguel. It was purchased in 1919 by the San Miguel Corporation which later transformed the building into the Royal Soft Drinks Plant.

The Oriental Brewery and Ice Co was originally based in Hong Kong, where it had been erected in New Kowloon in 1908 by an American consortium, and was aquired by a syndicate from Manila led by Antonio Barretto, cousin of “Don Enrique” Barretto, the man who founded the San Miguel brewery. The consortium had the Oriental Brewery dismantled and shipped to the Philippines in 1913. Enrique Barretto, who had left the brewing business, and had been working in the office of the clerk to the Supreme Court of the Philippines, was appointed its general manager. (Thanks to Martyn Cornell for this info)

Fabrica de Hielo de Manila, Ice Factory— 660, Echague, San Miguel that was known to produce a daily output of 20 tons of ice, sold at 2 centavos a pound. In 1924, San Miguel purchased the Fabrico de Hielo as an advent to going into the ice cream business.

The Thomasites were a group of 523 American schoolteachers who arrived in Manila in 1901 on the US Army transport Thomas, thus gaining a name for all subsequent US teachers whose numbers later ballooned to more than a thousand.

Thomasite teachers in Manila

U.S.S. Thomas carried teachers to the Philippines

On board the USS Thomas was James D. Barry. Like most schoolteachers, Barry was observant and liked to put his observations on paper. Among other things, he made a record of the ship’s food stored for the voyage. Among his jottings was the fact that, as food for the Thomasites, the ship carried 6,550 pounds of butter, 240 gallons of fresh milk, 3,500 pounds of assorted fresh fish, 1200 pounds of fresh sausages, 10,200 pounds of poultry, and 52,000 pounds of fresh beef. There were many other food items, too numerous to mention, they even had 3 kegs of pickled pork trotters – and 110 tons of ice. Three tons of ice were consumed every day of the voyage to Manila. (source: Larry Ng)

With the increasing influx of Americans who brought their preference for imported fresh meats and cold beverages, the demand for ice increased. The newly organized Insular government convened a Philippine Commission to detail modernization requirements for the new colony. Among the projects high on the list was the need for cold storage.
The work of the division of cold storage is a most important one to the people of these island, particularly to the inhabitants of Manila. Due to the limitations which at present surround its functions, the production of ice and distilled water is not as economical as it should be. “ (U.S. War Dept. Annual Report)

Insular Ice Plant & Storage at the foot of the Colgante in the stage of construction. c.1902

Insular Ice Plant under construction c.1902

At the southern foot of the Puente Colgante stood the Insular Ice Plant and Cold Storage, built in 1902 at the advent of the American colonization of the Philippines. It was the largest project of Edgar Bourne, an American architect and the head of the Bureau of Architecture credited by the Philippine Commission in 1902 as part of the colonization efforts. The Insular Ice Plant was one of the first buildings built by the American occupational army to furnish ice, distilled water and cold storage for the army, navy, and insular government as well as the general public at a cost of P2,000,000. It was a large, voluminous structure whose horizontality was broken by a slender 10-storey high smoke stack, once a famous city landmark due to its height.

Insular Ice Plant under construction c.1902

Insular Ice Plant under construction c.-1902

Taking note that the Spanish inspired architecture was already rooted deeply into the Philippines, Edgar Bourne designed the first American Colonial buildings in the Philippines with a style readily imported from Americas: Mission Style. The Mission style was a style from American States that was once part of Spanish America. Carrying with them the technology of the concrete, the first buildings of the American Era looked like a continuation of the Spanish inspired buildings, while fulfilling the Manifest Destiny of the USA. Bourne also designed the Manila City Hall, Bureau of Science building, and some of Manila’s piers.

The building’s brick facade embodied the Mission Revival style in its use of low, unadorned false arches and repetitive design elements, like pedimented entrances with the Insular government seal. A row of mirador towers atop the building added further height as well as concealing industrial tools and components. While the majority of the exterior and interior walls were done in brick, the columns, structural members and flooring were finished in Oregon pine. Its tall smoke stack served as a vertical landmark in Manila as it could be seen from different parts of the city.

Insular Ice Plant-1910

Insular Ice Plant c.1930s

“What Big Ben is to London, the Insular Ice Plant is to Manila. The ice plant’s whistle sounded three times a day- at seven in the morning, at noon, and at four in the afternoon-and the minute-long blast that could be heard all over the city regulated our lives: sending us rushing to school or office at seven in the morning, and rushing to lunch at noontime, and rushing back home at four in the afternoon.

Wherefore our saying: Mabilis pa sa a las cuatro! Whenever you passed the ice plant (on Arroceros Street, between Sta. Cruz Bridge and the Colgante) you always took a good look at that red-brick monster that had made you so time-conscious.”

-NICK JOAQUIN- Almanac for Manileños

Insular Ice Plant damaged by war.

The plant slowly fell into disuse and eventually closed down leaving behind it a long illustrious history, surviving even the deathly blows of WWII.

An eyewitness account of the onset of war in December 1941, described:

“On Rizal Avenue, I saw persons forcing open the Chinese stores and carrying out everything, including furniture. It was rampant looting. People rushed into the stores like mad dogs. I reached the other side of Quezon Bridge and there I saw a big crowd snatching everything they could get from the old Ice Plant. I could see them carrying frozen meat and fish.”

During the early 1980s, at the advent of rapid urbanization and the lack of an efficient transportation system, the Insular Ice Plant was demolished to make way for the construction of structures for the Light Railway Transit or LRT1. A ferry station and a bus terminal, a recent addition, were also built in the lot of the demolished plant

The rebuilt Insular Plant next to the Quezon Bridge-1961

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14 Responses to Puente Colgante – Insular Ice Plant and Cold Storage

  1. Nando Crame says:

    Hi Lou,
    During our generation (end of the 40’s) there was an ice plant in Taft Ave very close to the American School where ice was bought by the Sari-sari stores. Also, by homes that were celebrating big parties. Lots of ice was needed to chill the San Migs and of course soft drinks. Thanks Ciao

  2. anna lyn says:

    Good evening Sir Lou, our fanpage would like to extend our deepest and most sincerest appreciation for allowing us to share your wonderful photos that truly helped us to promote our Philippine cultural heritage..Thank you..Mabuhay po kayo..!!!

  3. The Oriental Brewery and Ice Co was originally based in Hong Kong, where it had been erected in New Kowloon by an American consortium, and was aquired by a syndicate from Manila led by Antonio Barretto, cousin of “Don Enrique” Barretto, the man who founded the San Miguel brewery. The consortium had the Oriental Brewery dismantled and shipped to the Philippines. Enrique Barretto, who had left the brewing business, and had been working in the office of the clerk to the Supreme Court of the Philippines, was appointed its general manager.

  4. I forgot to say that the brewery had been erected in Hong Kong in 1908, and was shipped to Manila in 1913.

  5. lougopal says:

    Thank you for the info on the Oriental Brewery and Ice Co. If you don’t mind, I’ll add it to the post and credit you as the source.

  6. lougopal says:

    This is a great site that features many landmarks and events from Philippine history. Check it out on Facebook: Discovering-the-Old-Philippines-People-Places-Heroes-Historical-Events

  7. Jack Schnabel says:

    Pardon the pedantry, but suspension bridge translates as puente colgante (i.e. no “de”).

    Likewise Fort Santiago translates as El Fuerte or La Fortaleza de Santiago (i.e. not “Fuerza”).

    Congratulations on a truly outstanding web site!

    It stirred memories from the bottom, like a long spoon in a tall glass of halo-halo.


  8. Ysmael Chanco says:

    Please correct me if I am wrong. My memory on this seem to have faded, but I seem to recall there was a bridge connecting Pandacan to Sta Mesa which I thought was the Colgante . And there was a destroyed bridge alongside it. Am I confused?

  9. Ysmael Chanco says:

    I missed to add to the above that my dad and I crossed the river on a pontoon bridge laid by the Ameeicans
    alongside the collapsed bridge. This was after we were just liberated..

  10. lougopal says:

    I believe that would be the Nagtahan Bridge.

  11. Ysmael Chanco says:

    Now I do remember. You are perfectly right. Old age must be setting in. Thanks again

  12. Ronald L. del Rosario says:

    My Father, Tomas L. del Rosario was the Assistant Plant Manager of the Insular Ice & Cold Storage Corporation in the 70’s to the mid-80’s, he was so sad when the government demolished the plant to give way for the LRT Phase 1, some of the bricks that were used in the building was brought to our house in Parañaque & was used in our patio & garden. Thanks to the internet I have gathered different photos & pictures of the plant, to my dad’s astonishment he asks me, ” Where did you get all these pictures?” My father is now 82 years old & I would gladly share & let him read your topic about the ice plant, thank you very much Sir

  13. sienna says:

    hi, mr. del Rosario is there any document that you father kept for being a Assistant plan manager? thank you. I’m doing a research about the history of Insular Cold storage and ice plant in manila. I hope that if ever he has any document will help my research

  14. Al Galang says:

    There was and still is. It’s called the Nagtahan Bridge now changed to Mabini Bridge connecting Sta Mesa (a road leading to Malacanan) and Pandacan (Malacanan Presidential Security Guard compound beside the bridge) districts.

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