Recently I’ve seen posts on my Facebook site “Manila Nostalgia” that have truly disturbed me. It appears that another landmark icon, the Army Navy Club is being torn down – following a continuing trend that, if continued, will eventually obliterate all evidence of the glory of Manila’s past. I asked myself why ? Even as the ANC was designated as an historic site, decisions were made apparently behind the scenes and the demolishers are working feverishly to wipe these buildings from our collective memories. What’s next ? The Manila Hotel ?
Check out this article and it will make your blood boil:
In my article, I pay tribute to one of the oldest buildings from the American colonial period with the hope that by documenting it, we will somehow keep its spirit alive.
The Army Navy Club (ANC)
Social clubs were almost all there was in Manila for entertainment, dining, and even lodging when the Americans arrived in 1898. It’s not quite documented exactly when the ANC was founded although there is mention of an Army Navy club in Manila as early as 1898 but definitely by 1899, a club was located on the corner of Bagumbayan (P.Burgos) and Nozaleda (General Luna) where it remained for another year and a half. It was furnished quite nicely with a bar (of course), dining room, billiard and poolroom.
In mid-1900, the club was moved back to Intramuros into a large one-story building taking up a full block at Potenciano and Palacio streets – directly across the San Augustine church (photo below). It featured a large courtyard filled with trees, coconut palms, tropical plants and even orchids. The clubhouse had a bar, separate men’s and women’s dining rooms, pool and billiard room and several bedrooms for guests. It was primarily a men’s club for the military but it quickly grew popular and became the social center for the American expats longing for a touch of “home”. Even more significant, the ANC was used by the civilian Insular authorities for entertaining both foreign and American dignitaries.
It was about this time that the waterfront around the Luneta was filled in according to the Burnham plan, being called the Luneta extension. This left an excellent location for a site for the club because the new facilities could include tennis courts and even a dock to accommodate offloading Navy shipmen. Another attraction was the offer of the Municipal Board to exempt tax payments for several years. It was, as they say, a “no-brainer” ! The Luneta is shown below prior to the land fill (looking south).
In 1904 and 1905 Daniel Burnham completed his renewal plan for Manila (& Baguio) for the Philippine Commission. It would extend about one thousand feet into Manila Bay, allowing for beautiful public playgrounds and picnic grounds, flanked on either side by impressive governmental buildings. The extension aimed to form a natural starting point for a 250 foot-wide continuous bay-front boulevard for infinite views of the ocean and sky. Renaming the existing Cavite Boulevard to Dewey Boulevard to honor American naval admiral George Dewey, this 12 mile stretch was intended to contain driveways, parkways, and perhaps even a bridle path for horse carriages. His plan included the Burnham Green (below) which provided more space for the Manila Hotel , the Elks Club, and the Army Navy Club.
In the meantime at the ANC, plans were drawn up, funds were raised, and a design by William Parsons was selected. At a cost of about ₱300,000 and covering an area of 135,500 square feet, the building followed an “H” pattern with two wings and a center building. It was built to be practically fireproof, with pillars and partition walls of reinforced concrete, ceilings of steel or concrete, and floors of tile except in the dining rooms and sleeping rooms.
On December 29, 1908, the City of Manila sold to the Army and Navy Club 12,665.46 sq.meters for ₱4.04/sq.meter. Even as the new landfill settled, construction started and took most of 1909 through 1911 and on April 17, 1911 a grand parade comprised of politicos, ANC members, Manila policemen, old soldiers, and a large contingent of the U.S. Navy, led by the 20th Infantry band, marched from the old club to its new digs in the Luneta. Members were asked to tote memorabilia from the old club to the new.
Marching to the tune of “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here”, and “There’ll be a Hot Time in the old Town Tonight”, and other popular airs, the column swung down Palacio, out Bagumbayan, along the Luneta, and in front of the Elk’s Club, marching around the driveway to the tune of “How Dry I Am”. To the tune of “Dixie”, the members finally marched into their new home, giving three cheers and seeking much-needed refreshment after the hike.[source: Army and Navy Club, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.]
Befitting an inauguration of royalty, the buildings were lit by a mass of electric lights. The reception took place at 10pm with Gen. Bell and Col. Lauchhieimer, President of the Club, receiving guests. After the reception, the guests filled the corridors…flashing with myriads of electric lights and decorated with flag and palms. The guests danced away the evening with music provided by the 20th Infantry band.
Alas, the euphoria of the new quarters faded as antagonism grew between civilians and military with the arrival of newly appointed Governor F.B.Harrison, who perceived a feeling of anti-Filipinism that unfortunately continued up through the start of WWII. Even the wives and children exhibited an air of elitism.
Senator Bingham of Hawaii criticized what he called “white snobbishness all over the Orient” as he related to his racially-mixed constituents that he was “the only American government representative who had refused to enter the doors of the ANC” after he learned that Filipino leaders such as Quezon and Osmeña would not be present. [source: 75 Years: Army Navy Club, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.]
As WWI commenced, many of the American military were transferred to the European theater of operations which greatly reduced the social activities at the club. I have to add that this air of discrimination was not peculiar to the ANC. It was evident in other clubs such as the University Club, the Manila Polo Club, the Manila Hotel and even at cabarets such as John Canson’s Santa Ana Cabaret.
By 1921, with the return of the military as well as the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in Manila Bay, the club grew to be the largest in the city with 735 members. The Twenties marked an increase in social activities at the ANC. The reception room with a distinctively Oriental flair was the most beautiful room at the club and a source of pride, especially for the women members.
Membership was extended to all officers of the U.S. Armed forces both active and retired, to service nurses, and “to a carefully screened group of American business and professional men residing in the Philippines. Restricted membership was allowed certain foreign officials. Honorary memberships were extended to the American High Commissioner and the President of the Philippines”.
The tea room is reserved daily to the ladies who gather there to rest or play bridge between five and seven in the afternoon. The dancing pavilion is also most attractive: from 7:30 to 8:30 a concert of classical music is rendered by Harry Langum’s orchestra, and beginning at 9:00 the members are entertained with the most recent and popular dance music from the States. [source: 75 Years – Army and Navy Club, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.]
Carl Ingman Aslakson served in the Coast and Geodetic Survey for thirty-two years, from 1923 until 1955. He documented his travels throughout the world. “We arrived in Manila on January 5, 1928, our trip aboard the PRESIDENT HARRISON having lasted thirty-two days. Marian and I were able to get a room in the Army Navy Annex, a building not far from the Army and Navy Club, where we took all our meals. It was a very beautiful club. An Englishman who was returning to India, was so struck by it that he kept repeating, “My word! Finest Army and Navy Club in the world!” That was the ultimate compliment, for the English take great pride in their clubs. The meals at the Army and Navy Club were excellent and reasonable. One of the waiters at the table we occupied was kind to Marian. Whether or not they were on the menu, he would sometimes whisper to her, “Missy I got chickie livers for you,” he knew she was fond of chicken livers.”
Manila was probably one of the best assignments for the military in the Thirties because of the friendly and hospitable atmosphere of the Filipinos combined with the excellent facilities at Subic Bay, Sangley Point and especially the Army Navy Club.
On the second and third floors there were seventy furnished rooms with a wash basin and running water; shared showers down the hall, cots were available for ₱2.00 a night. The bar was in the left wing and across the bar was a mens’ dining room with a barber shop and shoeshine stand at the end of the corridor. Free peanuts, crackers and cheese spread with a free lunch in the afternoon was available at the bar. Favorite drinks were San Miguel beer on tap served in frosted beer mugs and bar Scotch. Oh yes, this was truly a choice assignment.
The Army and Navy Club had a large veranda on the second floor on one side which had a long line of bunks side by side the length of the veranda. This was known as “drunks row”. We still had prohibition in the United States and when a transport came in there was sure to be many of the new arrivals who would imbibe too freely. Fellow officers would haul them up to “drunks row” and let them sleep it off. In the morning fifteen to twenty officers would wake up on those bunks.[source: Carl Aslakson: NOAA History]
The main dining room was in the east wing and served officers only. The pavilion, which faced Manila Bay, also served dinners to the officers, ladies and guests and where the dance orchestra entertained until after midnight.
Of course, the annual Army-Navy football game was one of the most attended events of the year although in Manila, the game went underway at about 3:00AM the following morning. Most members came in the early evening and prepared to spend the night. A large game board marked off like a football field was set up on the back lawn. “The game was received play by play via radio telegraph. The best radio technicians and equipment available were on hand. After receipt of each play, the ball was moved on the board and the details of the play announced. The Club and grounds were packed; service bands were present; the Army had their mule – there was no lack of cheering sections.” [source: 75 Years: Army Navy Club, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.]
As the war in Europe raged on, inevitably dragging the United States into conflict and Japan increasing their hold in China, the Navy started evacuating all dependents in November 1940; the Army followed suit and by February 1941, the evacuation was complete, leaving only American civilians in Manila. Social activities naturally drew down.
The attack of Pearl Harbor and the ensuing bombing of Manila and military targets, the ANC basement was turned into a bomb shelter for both day and night accommodation. The band in the pavilion had long ceased to play; the dance floor stacked with officers’ trunks and belongings. Fortunatelyl, the club was spared by bombs even as they were dropped on nearby buildings in the port area. Many of the dying and wounded from the Naval Yard in Cavite were brought to the ANC.
“That afternoon and night tested the talent, fortitude, and patience of our Club employees, for they assisted wholeheartedly at the Club landing in the task of unloading boats of burned and butchered human flesh, which gave horrible evidence of the intensity of the raging inferno that had been Navy Yard in Cavite.” – Capt. T.C.Parker, Naval Attache to the U.S. High Commissioner
Air raids continued until December 26th when Manila was declared an Open City however that didn’t stop the Japanese to continue their bombing forays until they marched into Manila on January 2nd, 1942. The next day, the Red Sun flew over the Army and Navy Club.
“Early in the morning of January 2, the Japanese entered Manila. They came up the boulevards in the predawn glow from the bay, riding in bicycles and on tiny motorcycles, their little flags with the one red ball looking like children’s pennants. They came without talk and in good order, the ridiculous pop-popping of their one-cylinder cycles sounding loud in the silent city.” [source: More Than Meets the Eye, Carl Mydans]
After the surrender, there were parades in Manila in front of MacArthur’s old quarters at the Manila Hotel to celebrate the Japanese victory. While tens of thousands of POWs were marched to Camp O’Donnell under horrendous conditions, the senior Japanese officers were toasted at dinner in the old American Army-Navy Club.
The Americans returned to Manila in February 1945. They were met with much resistance, fighting their way often times door-to-door to vanquish the Japanese. It is reported that during the Battle of Manila, the two club buildings were garrisoned by Rear Admiral Iwabuchi’s Headquarters Sector Unit and the Manila Naval Defense Force commander apparently used the Army-Navy Club as his command post for some time. Using land mines and flaming barrels of oil, the Japanese defenders burnt out the building and destroyed the roof and pavilion along with one wall of the swimming pool.
The Army and Sea Bees (Engineering Corps) patched up the building which was partially completed by December 1, 1945, just in time for the Club to reopen and broadcast the Army-Navy game. Setting the right priorities was important !
In the next several years, the ANC suffered a decline. After the war, the military were demobilized and sent home substantially reducing the club’s revenue, the club employees were unhappy as the staff were dismissed due to the declining membership, plus there continued an air of discrimination against Filipinos. The Philippines Free Press reported in November 1946 that parking space in front of the club was labeled “for American citizens only.”
It was truly a low point for the ANC. The general consensus was that the club had outlived its usefulness and should be sold; suggested buyers included the U.S. State Department, the City of Manila or the owners of the Jai Alai. Well, we know what happened to the Jai Alai so that would have been a poor choice.
Somehow a triumvirate of Admiral Morrill, Col. Evans, and Lou Wagner’s civilian group managed to save the club from dissolution. It was at that time the decision was made to “civilianize” the club. Thus the recruiting of civilians started in earnest, regardless of the previous military experience which had been a criteria in the past.
Newland “Ned” Baldwin took over as Club President in 1952 with a new direction. The Club would offer the same kind of family club environment as the pre-war club but with a greatly expanded civilianized and Filipinized membership. By 1955, ANC membership was roughly 27% U.S. military, 44% American civilians, 15% Filipinos and 11% other nationalities.
One important aspect to improve the Club’s finances was a contract signed with the Manila Theater Guild for the use of the large ballroom as a theater.
The MTG had its origins in the pre-war Community Players and had previously staged their plays at the Masonic Temple. In 1951, it accepted an invitation from the ANC to build a stage at the south end of the club ballroom. This arrangement worked out so well for both sides that in 1953, a new agreement was reached between the parties for a five-year rental, with an option to extend for five more years. A non-profit group, actors and actresses received no pay and most props and settings were donated by firms – local and multinationals in the name of art and culture.
The Guild put on 5 to 6 plays a year and was so enthusiastically supported that its budget was consistently in surplus. This meant that its stage equipment was more sophisticated than that of the typical community group and the shows qualified as professional, though nobody was paid for services. Tickets were ₱5.00 ($2.50) each and every night was usually sold out. The Guild supplemented ticket income with sales of advertising in programs. Elaborate publicity photos were placed in Manila’s four English-language newspapers.
“Dave Harvey” McTurk, shown below, was a guiding force at the Guild as well as its Publicity Chairman. He had been an entertainer in Shanghai in 1939 and left when the Japanese invaded that city only to be interned later by the Japanese at Santo Tomas during the occupation. He died in Manila in 1972 at the age of 67.
Directors came from among the volunteer actors but occasionally they would invite established drama directors from the state university and from exclusive Catholic schools in Greater Manila. Among them were Bert Avellana who was himself a star actor in the Ateneo prewar stage before he became a well known film director; Sarah K. Joaquin drama director of the Far Eastern University who also directed many of the Spanish plays of the MTG, for there were many Spanish-speaking expatriates who craved for the distinctive Spanish type of plays that leaned more on the humorous side. [source: Philippine News]
Director Bill Kane on the left with Gertrude Stewart who was renown as a cook, author, and entrepreneur in Manila.
“Lots of American school kids were involved in the theatre. I spent many hours down at the theater located on the backside of the Army and Navy Club. The theatre guild was a big part of the social scene in the 1950’s and 60’s for Americans. It seemed like every week there were rehearsals going on for a new upcoming play. Ronny James was in a ton of plays, (our step mother Marcia Westly said he was the best kid actor she had ever worked with) his parents acted there as well, along with Tony Rittenhouse’s folks, Bill Hiller’s folks, and of course Davy Harvey. Other notables, if I remember, Harry Stonehill, and Harry Reasoner who went on to fame as a news reporter for ABC Nightly News. My mom was his love interest in a play.” [source: Brad Nuber, American School alumni]
In the mid-Fifties, under the management of Arno Duchstein, the Club began to evolve from a men’s service club to family oriented activities. The club became once again so successful that prospective members were placed on a waiting list of several months and the membership also changed in composition, including over 40 nationalities.
“The club today is an interesting place for the student of foreign languages. One member who speaks several languages told us that one afternoon around the swimming pool she heard twelve languages spoken. English is still the predominant language with German coming second. Of the thousand active members, six hundred are Americans.” [source 75 Years: The Army Navy Club, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.]
Continuing along the direction of a family-oriented club, the game room was transformed into a teen room. The kiddies’ Easter Egg Hunt was so popular, it had to be limited to members’ children only. The Spring Festival of 1961 featuring swimming, tennis, and a ball was so successful that it was repeated in 1962 and 1963. The highlight was an outdoor fashion show.
Filipino membership in the club increased during the late Fifties and early Sixties as American membership declined and by the Seventies, the club had been converted from the original American service club to a Filipino club, now admitting members of the Philippine Armed Forces to regular membership.
Alas, the popularity of the club continued to dwindle as U.S. Embassy and military personnel now frequented the facilities and Post Exchange at the new SeaFront located at the former Manila Polo Club site in Pasay. Also, more and more members were relocating towards the new business centers and residential areas in Makati, closer to the Polo Club in Forbes Park.
The annual New Year’s Eve party was always well attended – an event everyone looked forward to.
“The parties were held in the ballroom which was packed with tables, people, noise, streamers and a live band. Tickets were sold – and I cannot tell you about that because, naturally, my date would get stuck with that chore. Girls were always in dresses made or bought just for that night and the men wore white dinner jackets. The idea was to be there, come hell or high water, for the countdown to midnight. The lights would be dimmed or maybe even turned off, the band would play “Auld Lang Syne and there would be the occasional flash of camera bulbs to illuminate the darkness and then a roar of “Happy New Year!!! “The lights would suddenly come back on, and hopefully you would in the arms of your date when they did!
For years, everybody one knew could be expected to be there for at least part of the evening. And then the next day or so, an assortment of embarrassing candid photos would be posted in the front office just in case you wanted to memorialize the moment! It was an enormous free for all!”[ Patricia Harrington Ottiger]
Ah, the memories this club evokes. It is not just the building, the pool, the patio nor the tennis courts; people lived here, spent the better part of their lives in Manila and clubs such as these. It is truly a sad thing to realize that another icon will be gone soon. Please allow me to share some of the comments from members of my Facebook Manila Nostalgia site:
“Anybody remembers pianist Lydia Encarnacion who regularly played there in the 50s?” [Elmer Panis]
“Do you remember the lifeguard Pete San Pedro and the doorman with that old microphone to page your driver?” [Ricky Soler Jr.]
“The swimming instructor who was an institution at the A&N was Fedy (not Freddy) Cruz!! he was much older than Rene (Amabuyok). The life guard and diving instructor was Ping”. [Laura Fisher Alvarez]
“I remember waiting for friends to sail in from the Manila Yacht Club, and enjoying the fantastic “Pepitos” [Steak pieces on Pan De Sal], that came only from the Swimming Pool Area kitchenette, watching the Ferry Boats from Sangley come in and the fantastic Manila Bay Sunsets from the pool area, memories, memories, just beautiful and great memories !!!!” [Ramon Faustman]
“And the Best German Potato salad, Chicken Salad, Bean Navy Soup, Sandwiches, Roast Beef, food was delicious! And…they even had the cleanest, best hair salon ever with facials, massages, waxing, everything a woman needed available, all materials used where grade A and towels and staff were very hygienic!” [Claire Gonzalez Virata]
“A real treat indeed, spent many merienda times there in the 70’s by the poolside and dining hall, stuffing our hungry stomachs with burgers/fries/hotdogs/club sandwiches after school in nearby Letran. Just signed our bill and off we go……thanks papa.”[Bids Legaspi]
“I was just going through some of my things and uncovered the program for The Manila Theatre Guild production of William Inge’s BUS STOP. My family (Doris, Floyd, Ron(nie) and Leslie James) were dubbed the Barrymore Family of Manila. We were in many MTG plays (all put on at The Army Navy Club.) The production staff for Bus Stop included, among many others, Edwina Litwin (Properties), Zita Litwin (Wardrobe), Grant Cameron (Program Editor). Over MANY years so many of us had such wonderful, fun times which makes for delicious memories! It still boggles my mind that this play was put on almost 54 years ago! [Leslie James]
Written in May, 1941 at the Army Navy club after a farewell party for their wives and children by then Col. Brougher promoted to General during the defense of Bataan. [source: Federico Baldassarre]
This place is doomed. Termites boring in;
A rift appears! I shall no longer stay
For I am old and have no single strength
To pit against the thing that’s sure to come.
A glorious buenvenida may be held
One glad uncertain day, but some of us
Who love this grand old Club will not be here.
The whistle blows! I must be going now.
Farewell, old Army and Navy Club, farewell!
Perhaps you knew
The Despedida to our ladies
Was our Despedida too.
The city finally took over the property in the early 1980s and for a while it housed the city architect’s office until the crumbling building forced its occupants out. Afterward, the once-grand structure was used as a manufacturing place for the city’s Christmas lanterns. The building decayed further, nearly to the point of no return. Then the city took action. It was resurrected as the Museo de Manila, but after a grand opening, it quickly closed its doors.
It lasted over a hundred years but in the end, we can only blame ourselves. There was no effort to revitalize that structure nor rebuild those crumbling walls. Now those walls are down and we cry with self pity but as Carole King wrote, “It’s too late baby !” Let’s try to save some of the other buildings in our beautiful city before it’s too late for them too. For now, we still have our memories.
As always dear readers, I would love to hear from you. You are welcome to share your memories and photos. My email is: ManilaNostalgia@gmail.com