Manila Hotel: The Golden Years


The year was 1960, my dad had passed away the preceding year and my mom continued to manage our jewelry store, the Gem Gift Shop, on the Escolta. She was an ambitious entrepreneur. Realizing that the halcyon days of the Escolta were numbered, she decided to establish branches of our store in different locations.

My mom, Carlota, in front of our store Gem Gift Shop on the Escolta.

My mom, Carlota, in front of our store Gem Gift Shop on the Escolta.

She opened stores on Mabini, in Cubao and within the lobbies of the Bayview and Manila Hotels. Now 16, I had the use of our family car. I would drive to school, then in the late afternoon would park out on Katigbak Dr. in front of the Manila Hotel to bring her back home in the evening. Sometimes I would bring my swimsuit and sneak into the pool area, which was reserved for guests of course. It made me feel somewhat privileged … like I was somebody.

Manila Hotel swimming pool-1950s.

Manila Hotel swimming pool-1950s.

There was something about that hotel, catering to the elite that exuded… magic. Years later, in 2004, Michelle and I made a balikbayan trip back to Manila after over 50 years to film scenes for our documentary “Victims of Circumstance”. I insisted we stay at the Manila Hotel to enjoy its service and history. It seemed a bit run down, like an older spinster aunt trying to keep up appearances, but I was not disappointed. There is much to write about the Manila Hotel and much has already been written in great detail. This article is not meant to be a thorough dissertation but glimpses captured from the timeline of its over 100 year history. I hope you’ll indulge me and enjoy this article. Oh by the way, there’s our 55 Chevy parked out in front.

Check out my photos of our visit to the Manila Hotel in 2004 at the end of this article.

 The Beginning
At the turn of the 20th century, Manila was a busy hub of newly arrived American and European businessmen eager for the opportunities this country offered but accommodations were lacking. There were several larger and older hotels such as the Hotel Oriente, the Delmonico, the Metropole and the Bayview but they could not be classified as “first class hotels” by any means.

This was the original Bayview hotel on 13-29 Calle Alhambra. It would later be torn down with the widening of Dewey Boulevard. Realtor Harry Kneedler rebuilt the new Bayview in the 1930s.

Original Bayview Hotel-1903 (courtesy of N. Torrentegui)

Original Bayview Hotel-1903 (courtesy of N. Torrontegui)

“In the early days the Bayview was the fashionable evening resort of Manila. Special dinners, at two pesos a cover, were served Sunday evenings, and a large orchestra played during dinner. The dining room in the little hotel on Calle Alhambra would be literally thronged with people, and victorias and calesas would line both side of the street outside. In those days there were but few automobiles in Manila.” [The Spokesman and Harness World Vol 29 – July 1913 Page 347]

Hotel Oriente

Hotel Oriente

La Quinta Market-Ah Gong-1935The older hotels were located at sites not immediately accessible; hidden away within the Intramuros or in the Binondo area, and the food and service were mediocre at best. The Hotel Oriente was owned and managed by Ah Gong, a food provider whose warehouse was next to the Quinta market.

The Philippine Commission brought over architect Daniel Burnham to “beautify” the city. His plan was magnificent as it transformed the old mosquito ridden and water-filled moats around the Intramuros into a sunken gardens and public golf course. These rare photos shows what the Luneta looked like before the landfill extension.

Luneta bathing rooms-1906

The Luneta prior to the landfill. In the distance, center, is the Legazpi-Urdaneta monument next to Bagumbayan (Bonifacio Drive). You can see the bay come right up to the road.(courtesy John Tewell)

Looking southward from about the same position. Dewey Blvd, the Luneta Hotel, Elks Club and Army Navy Club have yet to be built. (courtesy John Tewell)

Pier 7 at the bottom of the photo. The Manila Hotel is the white structure in the middle. (courtesy NASM Archives)

The harbor was dredged and millions of tons of mud and sand were used to reclaim and extend the Luneta, making room for the Elks Club, the Army Navy Club and a site for a first class hotel to be called the Manila Hotel. The location was perfect as it was next to Pier 7, where it was now possible to berth four large passenger ships at once and visitors could find a room just a short calesa ride away. Burnham commissioned American architect William Parsons to design the Manila Hotel as well as many buildings which still stand today: the Elks Club, Army and Navy Club (barely standing), PGH, Paco Railroad station, and the Paco Market.

William E.Parsons, architect

William E.Parsons, architect


Architect Parsons selected a “California Mission” style for the new hotel, essentially a large, white-washed concrete house with a deeply pitched, cool green tile roof. A circular rotunda led up to the main entrance and portico.


The new Manila Hotel, c.1915

The new Manila Hotel, c.1915

Framed by graceful twin Doric columns of white plaster and arches, the lobby had double grand stairways which led to the mezzanine floor that included a music room, guests’ parlor, and children’s dining room (a Victorian convenience which greatly added to the adults’ leisurely dining).

Manila Hotel dining room-1920

The long-awaited opening of the Manila Hotel, hailed as the “finest hotel in the Far East,” occurred July 4, 1912. [The Manila Americans, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.]

“The Manila Hotel (and I want to say this grand new house would do credit to any city in the United States) is a reinforced concrete building set in the center of a large park or parade ground. The house has a handsome roof garden; indeed nearly the whole roof is garden. Two Otis & Co. lifts took the tourists to the roof where long tables were set, loaded with tea, fruit, native and foreign; sandwiches, cake, and an army of native waiters ready to serve all.” [Notes Made during a Cruise Around the World in 1914- R.H.Casey]

Newly built, the Manila Hotel in 1913 framed against Manila harbor.

The Men’s Loggia at the front of the building was a favorite lounging room for smokers as it gave a view of the Bay and the incoming visitors. At the back was the bar, cigar counter, haberdashery, and grill room.

Manila Hotel-Men's Loggia looking towards main entrance-1910

Manila Hotel-Men’s Loggia looking towards main entrance-1914 (courtesy Cherry Diolazo)

The main dining room reached from the left end of the lobby, swept in large semi-circle out toward the bay so that each guest could dine with an uninterrupted view of the strikingly vivid sunsets of Manila Bay.

Measuring 97 by 75 feet, the high-ceiling room was surrounded by a spacious open veranda that could be used for dancing. “Quite naturally, all hotel guests wore coat and tie for dinner every evening, sometimes tuxedo. The meals were accompanied by dinner music.” [Mabuhay: Coming of Age in the Philippines, John S.D. Eisenhower]

It was a five-story building with 149 guest rooms which began on the second floor, half of them having their own private bath, an unheard of luxury for that day. There were telephones in every room, push-button room service and the first intercom system installed in Asia. No air conditioning was available as yet so the guests relied on ceiling fans and open windows for ventilation. The hotel was so popular, an annex designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, was later built on the bayside to accommodate an additional 80 guests.

To provide a pleasant spot to collect the cooler breezes wafting from the bay and perhaps to enjoy a music program offered at the Luneta grandstand every evening, Parsons designed a roof garden.

The Thirties (I should have said the Thirsties !)

1931 was a changing point in the lives of director Victor Fleming and actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr. While the golden years of the director were yet to come, the ultimate star of the silent movie era was facing the rapid decline of his career with the advent of the talking pictures. Fairbanks decided to produce a documentary titled “Around the World in 80 Minutes” as a desperate escape from Hollywood and a disloyal cinema audience.

Douglas Fairbanks-ATWI80M-Poster-1_680

Many of the hotel staff sneaked down to the lobby to see the famous actor and he did not disappoint. Flashing his famous toothy smile, he waved at his audience and vaulted over the staircase with one hand. While Fairbanks was staying at the hotel the management had to station several policemen at the lobby entrance to hold back the crowds.

On the roof garden, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. was entertained by Manila’s social elite during his 1931 visit to Manila and stay at the Manila Hotel (courtesy Ted Cadwallader)

In the golden days of the 1930s, Manila was as gay and almost as star-studded as Hollywood; its social life was on a stupendous and colossal scale that resembled nothing more than a motion picture set. Celebrities of all shades – in saris, kimonos, satins, fez and regimentals strolled through the lobby of the famed Manila Hotel.

Party thrown by the Butlers in October 24, 1921 (courtesy of A. Butler)

Reception for General Wood hosted by Charles Cotterman on October 24, 1921 (courtesy of A. Butler)

The Manila Hotel, with its roof garden, grill room and dancing was the center of more sedate, mixed social life, though Americans and Filipinos still tended by choice to segregate themselves except at official functions. “It was a life of garden parties by the light of fantastic Philippine lanterns, of buffet dinners for 250 guests, of balls and official gatherings at the Manila Hotel, when the Filipinos indulged their love for lights by stringing them through the vines.” [The Palm Beach Post-Times Sunday May 20,1945, by Emilie Keyes]

The Kahirup organization, founded by Dr. Manuel Hechanova in 1923, was a social group of sugar barons whose aim was to bond with people of similar elite status. They held an annual ball, typically at Manila Hotel’s Fiesta Pavilion or Winter Garden. It was the highlight of the social season with a fashion show and opened with a Spanish ceremonial dance, the rigodon de honor, featuring high society ladies glittering in their jewels and uniquely beautiful, specially designed, ternos. The rigodon was a delight to watch. It was stately and elegant as a minuet, basically a square dance, danced to the rhythm of a military march.


Kahirup Ball 1934 (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

Kahirup Ball 1934 (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

Rigodon de honor-1934 (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

Rigodon de honor-1934 (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

One of the more colorful characters to emerge from the long history of this hotel was Walter E. Antrim who showed up in Manila in the early 1920s and snagged a job as a dishwasher.

Manila Hotel ad-Antrim Mgr-logo

By 1926, he had been elevated to Manager of the hotel. “Monk” Antrim knew how to live life in his own way: high, wide, and handsome, making many friends as he went along. He vanished several years later but left his legacy, the “Monk Antrim Lintik Cocktail”. The Lintik drew its name from the Tagalog word for Lightning. It had to be aged for two weeks then chilled in an ice bucket without coming into contact with ice. Antrim married and left Manila suddenly. One can only imagine due to some mysterious reason. He ended up in Mexico and passed into oblivion.


The General

General Douglas MacArthur-1932

General Douglas MacArthur-1932

Of course the most famous visitor to this hotel was Gen. Douglas MacArthur. First coming to Manila in 1903 to oversee the construction of fortifications and harbors, he had met a young Manuel Quezon, a lawyer already active in national leadership. The two hit it off and began to have a lifelong friendship. The general returned to Manila in 1928 for two years’ duty, he found his friend Quezon was now a dominant political leader.


After Quezon became president of the Commonweath, he asked MacArthur to take charge of a defensive force as Military Adviser in the Philippines. President Roosevelt, eager to get rid of the troublesome MacArthur, agreed. The General established himself to the rank of field marshall, the only U.S. Army office to hold that grade and demanded ₱33,000 salary a year (the same salary and allowances of the High Commissioner of the Philippines) and accommodations to equal Malacañang: seven bedrooms, a special study, and a state-sized dining room. He also required his personal physician, Capt. Hutter and his wife Callie, live in the hotel as well.

Quezon commissioned architect Andres Luna de San Pedro to find suitable digs for the general. It was Luna who came up with a solution, “I have looked over the Manila Hotel and I think that if we build a penthouse over the entire top floor of the hotel, we would be able to provide all the rooms and accommodation which the General specified.”  The roof garden was turned into a sixth floor with a fully air-conditioned penthouse. In order to justify its extravagant rental expense Quezon’s aide, Jose Vargas suggested appointing MacArthur Chairman of the Board and President of the Manila Hotel Corporation.

The penthouse had as much floor space as the entire floor below, containing the seven bedrooms plus a study, music room and formal dining room. The entire floor was fully air-conditioned and fully carpeted, even rivaling the presidential palace. The remodeling was completed in 1937. The photo below shows the 6th floor addition along with the new annex on the bayside.

(courtesy Simoun - Philippines, My Philippines)

(courtesy Simoun – Philippines, My Philippines)

Jean MacArthur and son Arthur at Manila Hotel - Jan 29,1942

Jean MacArthur and son Arthur at Manila Hotel – Jan 29,1940

General MacArthur referred to his brief years spent at the beautiful penthouse with his wife Jean and son Arthur, as one of the two real homes of his entire life.


Along with MacArthur came his aide and future president, Lt.Col. Dwight Eisenhower and his wife Mamie and son John.

Dwight, Mamie and John Eisenhower in Manila. Aug. 1937

Dwight, Mamie and John Eisenhower in Manila. Aug. 1937

They were also ensconced at the Manila Hotel. Not as luxurious as MacArthur’s penthouse suite, “the master bedroom had two twin beds, a rather bleak sofa, and enough tables and chairs to serve as a sitting room. Since the apartment lacked air-conditioning, each bed came equipped with a large, cloth canopy overhead, and from it draped a curtain of netting material that was tucked tightly under the mattress on all sides. The fabric of the net was thin enough to make it translucent but finely knit, proof against the smallest bugs.” [Mabuhay, John S.D. Eisenhower]

It was a contentious relationship at best. Eisenhower said, “Yes, I studied dramatics under him for five years in Washington and four years in the Philippines.” The Eisenhowers finally left Manila in December 12, 1939 – just two years to the date before Manila was attacked.

Eisenhower pinned by Mamie as Quezon looks on-1939.

Eisenhower pinned by Mamie as Quezon looks on-1939.


Mamie Eisenhower pins the Philippine Distinguished Service Star on her husband, Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower as Pres. Quezon looks on. This was at the ceremony marking the conclusion of his service in the Office of the Military Adviser to the Philippines, held in the Social Hall of Malacañang Palace. (thanks to Manolo Quezon)

Discrimination was a part of the American colonial period. It existed in clubs like the Army and Navy and Polo Clubs, at cabarets like the Lerma Cabaret and even in the hotels, such as the Manila Hotel.

However, after the inauguration of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, the Filipinos began feeling their country was their own, especially with a Filipino living in the Presidential palace. The clubs and hotels had given way to desegregation. Although predominately white, the Manila Hotel now welcomed Filipinos and other Asians as guests. Local residents were seen in the lobby, coffee and barber shop making use of the hotel’s facilities and services. And for the first time, a Filipino, Francisco Mendoza, had been appointed assistant manager. “Americans and Filipinos did not seem to mingle much, although Dad sometimes entertained members of the Philippine government for dinner at the hotel.” [Mabuhay, John. S.D. Eisenhower]

As more and more Filipinos felt comfortable patronizing the Manila Hotel, even the menus offered at the restaurants changed accordingly. From a purely American fare, the food was now an eclectic offering of Filipino specialties such as adobo and pansit to Quezon’s favorite: the Spanish lengua estofada.

Two major events happened in 1935 that were closely tied with the Manila Hotel. On November 15, 1935, the country began as a new Commonwealth of the United States with Manuel Quezon being sworn in as president. There were too many guests to fit into either the Manila Hotel ballroom or Malacañang Palace so the inaugural ball was held in the giant auditorium at Manila’s city fairgrounds. However from that point on, official and semi-official functions of the new Commonwealth government were either held at the Malacañang or the Manila Hotel.

The second event was the inaugural flight of PanAm’s Clipper arrival in Manila Bay on November 29, 1935.

PanAm Clipper lands-Nov1935 (courtesy NASM)

PanAm Clipper lands-Nov 1935 (courtesy NASM)

With the advent of regular air service to Manila and now only taking 5 days, more visitors and often times, famous guests, would stop to see this “Pearl of the Orient” and stay at the grande dame hotel of Asia. In 1939, world heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey arrived to throngs of well-wishers. Ernest Hemingway and his latest (third) wife, Martha Gelhorn, stayed at the hotel. A reception was held in his honor. When asked what he thought of his stay at the legendary hotel, Hemingway quipped: “If it’s a good story it must be like the Manila Hotel.” (source: Isidra Reyes)

Ernest Hemingway at the Manila Hotel

Ernest Hemingway at the Manila Hotel

Hemingway's visit story







Doug Willard - PanAm agent -1940

Doug Willard – PanAm agent -1940



The Manila Hotel lobby was the PanAm office where passengers would make reservations and drop off their luggage for the launch out to the Clipper, moored at Canacao Bay, Cavite. My dear friend, Doug Willard , who worked for PanAm, did double duty as he made reservations, checked in luggage and helped the passengers aboard the Clipper.



In the 1930s, Filipinos danced to swing music performed by jazz dance bands in dance halls around the country. Jazz was played during social events and fiestas, and was widely heard on local radio. Popular bands during this period included the Shanghai Swing Masters, Pete Aristorenas Orchestra, Cesar Velasco Band, Mabuhay Band, Lito Molina with the College Boys Orchestra, and the Tirso Cruz Orchestra

When the roof garden was converted into MacArthur’s penthouse floor, the main floor dining room was expanded to a full-scale supper club, the Fiesta Pavilion with the entire center area devoted to a dance floor. It was called “the most attractive dining and dancing resort in the entire Far East”.

Lito Molina (extreme right) with the College Boys Orchestra-Manila Hotel

Lito Molina (extreme right) with the College Boys Orchestra-Manila Hotel (Pinoy Jazz Traditions-thanks to I.Reyes)

War looms


As the war in Europe raged, storm clouds gathered over the Pacific Rim. Japan continued its onslaught throughout China and Korea and was headed south towards Hong Kong and the Philippines. In Manila, blackouts and air raid alerts were common place activities. Japanese and even German civilians were interned at Bilibid for two weeks. Guests at the hotel took it all in with a certain laissez-faire.

On the evening of December 7, 1941 a loud party was underway at the Manila Hotel’s Fiesta Pavilion. Major General Lewis Brereton, commander of Army Air Forces in the Far East was attending a party thrown by the 27th Bomb Group, recently arrived from the US ahead of their planes. The party, marked by raucous laughter, off-key singing, tinkling glass, and squealing girls would continue into the wee hours of the morning. Observing from the Hotel’s Bamboo Bar under a cascade of scarlet bougainvillea, First Lieutenant Dwight Hunkins of H Company remarked to his friends, “I hope they can fly B-17s better than they can sing.” None of them knew it yet but they would be at war the next morning and when it was over only one of them would still be alive. [Soldier’s view of attack on Manila,]

As Gen. MacArthur was having breakfast in his suite on Sunday July 27, 1941, he received a cable from President Roosevelt recalling the general back to active service. Five months later on December 8th, Manila was attacked by the Japanese and the rest is history.

Below, Aurora A. Quezon, Jean Faircloth MacArthur, Manuel L. Quezon, Arthur MacArthur and Maria Aurora Quezon, during a reprieve in the daily bombardment on the island fortress of Corregidor, 1942.

Jean MacArthur & Quezons by bomb shelter-1942

MacArthur, Quezon, Romulo and others retreated back to Corregidor and left for Australia as defeat was imminent, leaving Jose Laurel, Jorge Vargas and his remaining administration left to manage a puppet government set up by the occupying Japanese forces.

In order to save the city from destruction, Pres. Quezon declared Manila an “open city” on December 26, 1941.

(courtesy Lito Ligon)

Japanese troops pass the Elks Club on Heiwa Blvd. (Dewey). Manila Hotel is in the background.(courtesy Lito Ligon)


The Japanese entered Manila on Jan 2, 1942. After a brief period of high anxiety, life seemed to settle back to normal. In order to cut the Filipinos off from Western – American influences and remold them to the new order, the Japanese controlled all forms of media: newspapers, radio and even typewriters and mimeograph machines had to be registered. The Japanese established very strict rules and discipline regarding civilian registration and criminal activity but for the most part, the Filipino with his bahala na (go along) attitude went along with the prevailing winds of the Co-Prosperity Sphere touted by the occupying force, secretly hoping for a miracle rescue by the United States.

Japanese frisking Filipinos (courtesy Presidential Library)

Japanese frisking Filipinos (courtesy Presidential Museum and Library)

The American and British guests at the hotel were ordered to pack one suitcase and enough food for 3 days and to leave their other belonging at the hotel. On January 4th, they were rounded up and sent to the University of Santo Tomas for internment. An arrangement was made to store their bags until they could later be returned to their owners. However, in September when the bags were to be retrieved, the Manila Hotel (now under the management of the Military Administration) demanded payment for outstanding accounts at full rates from the time the rooms were vacated on January 2nd until the internees were taken to Santo Tomas on the 7th. Hotel Manager Mendoza replied that there was little he could do as he was only carrying out his orders. The Manila Hotel guests were lucky to receive their belongings mostly intact where luggage from other hotels had mysteriously disappeared.

Japanese occupation forces in Manila yesterday took over private hotels and some public buildings as temporary quarters for the troops. Among the hotels ceded to the Imperial Army forces were the Manila Hotel, Bayview Hotel, Avenue Hotel, and Central Hotel. [Filipinos, Aliens Urged to Carry On, article in The Tribune – January 4,1942- Surviving the Rising Sun, Liz Irvine]

Japanese soldiers pose with flags.

Japanese soldiers pose with flags.

The Japanese Military Administration took possession of the Manila Hotel converting it into a military headquarters for high-ranking officers. MacArthur’s lavish penthouse was used for visiting dignitaries from Tokyo, notably General Yamashita and Prime Minister Tojo, who stayed at the MacArthur suite in May 1942.

Manila Hotel-Toast to Gen. Homma

Japanese toast Gen. Homma at a banquet in the Manila Hotel.

It was strange to see the Japanese flags flown at the hotel entrance and other buildings such as the former High Commissioner’s Office. The Filipino staff were ordered to stay on duty and were all forced to learn Japanese. The Chinese chefs were instructed to prepare only Japanese food for the new tenants. The former manager, Howard Cavender had been called to active duty and his assistant, Francisco Mendoza, took over as acting manager – the first Filipino in that capacity.

Prime Minister Tojo and Catholic clergy at Manila Hotel-1942 (courtesay Fred Baldassarre)

Prime Minister Tojo and Catholic clergy at Manila Hotel-1942 (courtesay Fred Baldassarre)

Only a year after the Japanese entered Manila, the once so beautiful city was only a shell of its old self; the streets were dirty and full of holes; only an occasional automobile was to be seen; thousands of unemployed listlessly walked the streets, many of them in rags; small peddlers, offering all kinds of odds and ends for sale, crowded the sidewalks; there were thousands of beggars. Many of the shops had been turned into cafes and saloons for the Japanese soldiers. Downtown and in the best residence sections as well, whole blocks of houses and apartments were now brothels.

Gen.Homma celebrates Hirohito's birthday at Manila Hotel-1942

Gen.Homma celebrates Hirohito’s birthday at Manila Hotel-1942

Japanese soldier shopping at a vendor’s stall.

As the war continued on thru 1944, food was getting increasingly hard to find. Unlike the American forces that brought arms and food to the battle zones, the Japanese forces relied on resources from the occupied countries; everything was confiscated: autos, gas, food, and the Filipino’s basic staple, rice. Manila’s Mayor Guinto “asked” people to refrain from eating meat at least 3 or 4 days a week. As food grew scarce, the prices skyrocketed. Charcoal was selling for ₱8 ($4) a sack, a spoonful of sugar cost 20 centavos, and rice, now only available on the black market, was selling for ₱70 a sack. Although I can’t imagine the hotel’s chefs had much of a problem provisioning their kitchens with the high priority status for the army and navy officers and guests.

Vendor stalls by Quiapo Church.

Vendor stalls by Quiapo Church.

Dr. Victor Buencamino relates, “The Japanese have no sense of humor. I was at a party at the Manila Hotel. Seated beside me was a Japanese major. A Japanese civilian, who has been in the States, introduced a hostess to me in joking terms: “Dr. Buencamino, I would like you to meet this young girl. She is thin because the price of rice is exorbitant.” Some Filipinos present got the joke and laughed. I did too. But the Japanese major got sore. He looked at the Japanese civilian angrily and said very tersely “After office hours, no talkee business. Understand?“ The Japanese civilian bowed respectfully and apologized. Must remember to give him my condolence, the poor man!” [Philippine Diary Project]

Practically devoid of private cars, Meralco Tranvias were the only transportation available during the occupation. – Rizal Avenue, 1943

"Mickey Mouse" money

“Mickey Mouse” money

“It was commonplace to see bayongs (bags) full of money at the market, although food was scarce enough toward the end of the war that it didn’t matter how much money one had. Japanese occupation money became worthless; people calling it “Mickey Mouse” money.” [A Child in the Midst of Battle, Evelyn Berg Empie]

During the Battle for the liberation of Manila, the Japanese selected the Manila Hotel as one of their final stands. The hotel had been bombed once in September 1944 by Allied bombers when they were greeted by machine-gun fire from the roof. A section of the wing of the hotel on the bayside was destroyed. When the Allied forces converged on the hotel, the scene became a bitter floor-to-floor, room-to-room fight. It was then the hotel was set on fire by the Japanese.

Photo taken after restoration, the Japanese Type 10 120mm Anti-Aircraft gun was still present in the driveway when the photo was taken (source Chito Maramba)

The Japanese Type 10 120mm Anti-Aircraft gun was still present in the front lawn when the photo was taken in 1947 . (source Cito Maramba-Manila Nostalgia)

General MacArthur remarked, “I watched with indescribable feelings, the destruction of my fine military library, my souvenirs, my personal belongings of a lifetime. It was not a pleasant moment.”

Destruction of Manila looking down Padre Burgos - 1945

The Manila Hotel now a burnt-out shell. – 1945

When the Battle of Manila was over, Jean MacArthur pleaded with the general to take her to their Manila Hotel penthouse hoping to find something of all the beautiful things and personal mementos they left there but all they found was five inches of deep ashes. A bomb had been placed inside their grand piano and detonated, setting the penthouse on fire.

Manila Hotel after the Battle of Manila.

Manila Hotel after the Battle of Manila.

MacArthur visits Manila Hotel ruins Feb 1945

MacArthur visits Manila Hotel ruins Feb 1945

Nothing remained of the glory that was once the showcase of Manila but the spirit of the hotel as well as the Filipino people struggled to survive and it did.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur died in 1964, his wife Jean died in 2000. Both are interred at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Va.

Reconstruction and The Fifties

Former President Quezon’s aide, Col. Manuel Nieto was appointed to manage the cleanup and initial restoration. Damages to the hotel amounted to ₱3M but the Board was only awarded a million for repairs. The actual work which took over two years exceeded ₱10M. Within two months, most of the debris had been cleared and some public rooms were available even though evidence of shellfire was present throughout. The annex was closed indefinitely but the hotel reopened with one wing of rooms offered at a premium.

The first social event scheduled after the war was a Fil-American ball given to raise funds for rebuilding the city of Manila. It was a much needed morale booster for the city. The atmosphere was glittering and gay. People were anxious to put the last three years behind them.

The White Cross Benefit Fashion Show in 1948 (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

The White Cross Benefit Fashion Show in 1948 (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

Completely restored, the Manila Hotel glistened once again - 1948

Completely restored, the Manila Hotel glistened once again – 1948

AGSL Archives-Manila Hotel entrance-1950s (AGSL Archives)

AGSL Archives-Manila Hotel entrance-1950s (AGSL Archives)

Money flowed freely from reconstruction funds, corruption was rampant (as usual) and the Grande Dame was losing its splendor and sheen and even more debilitating, it was plagued by theft, pilferage and political exploitation. Politicos didn’t think it necessary to pay their bills and guests stole the silverware. The government-managed Manila Hotel corporation was mired in debt and inevitable bankruptcy. It was decided to offer the hotel out to lease and eventual purchase.

Fortunately, the Bayview Hotel Corporation with Mrs. Cielito Zamora as Executive VP and Manager, picked up the lease in 1954 but not without a small problem. Employees laid off due to the lease were to be granted a separate gratuity. Tirso Cruz and his orchestra members sued as they were not provided the same benefit. They lost in court having been named as individual contractors and not employees of the Manila Hotel. I guess their swansong fell a little flat.

The Manila Hotel -1965.

The Manila Hotel -1965 (courtesy Capt.Ed)

The hotel was still an epicenter of social life, adapting to new styles such as the disco fashions of the 1960-1970s.

Manila Hotel Champagne Room disco 1960s (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

Manila Hotel Champagne Room disco 1960s (courtesy Isidra Reyes)

Leandro Locsin

Leandro Locsin

Now in the mid-1970s, the hotel faced stiff competition from newer hotels being built in the Makati area where the business district had moved. The hotel was badly in need of updating and major re-design; there was talk of tearing the Manila Hotel down rebuilding anew. Architect Leandro “Lindy” Locsin was commissioned for the renovation. He led the way to save the original building and still created a 600-room modern hotel. The old hotel’s bayside annex was torn down. 149 rooms in the original building were remodeled into 100 modern rooms plus the addition of an 18-story tower behind the old building. Inauguration of the “new” Manila Hotel was on September 29, 1980 with Imelda Marcos together with Manila Hotel’s Roman A. Cruz Jr. celebrating its opening.

1980 Inauguration with Imelda Marcos and Board Chairman Roman Cruz.

Maynila Restaurant-1983

Maynila Restaurant-1983

Of course the Manila Hotel has gone through iterations of management and ownership over the later years but this is where my tour of the hotel ends. It still holds a very historic and warm part for everyone, not only in the Philippines but worldwide as an icon of Filipino hospitality.

I dearly hope it doesn’t go the way of so many heritage buildings in Manila that we’ve lost in recent years.

Balikbayan 2004

Upon our return to Manila and as we registered at the hotel, I was in awe of the grand lobby with its high ceiling and chandelier lamps. It was as I had remembered back in the day. At times there would be a small combo playing gypsy jazz or old standards. My imagination would take me back to when this building hosted famous actors, politicians, and even a general who would return to save this country from the Japanese. Here are a few photos I took while on our visit to the hotel in 2004:



Manila Hotel ballroom-2004

Manila Hotel ballroom-2004

MacArthur's living room

MacArthur’s living room

MacArthur's study

MacArthur’s study

The MacArthur bedroom

The MacArthur bedroom

My research for this article was derived from my personal library and many online sources but I relied most heavily on Beth Day Romulo’s book “The Manila Hotel”, a wonderfully detailed history of the hotel.

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28 Responses to Manila Hotel: The Golden Years

  1. Carmen Multhauf says:

    My parents were married in the Winter Garden at the Manila Hotel November 30, 1940. It was called the Winter Garden because air conditioning had just been installed. Perhaps someone could help me with some facts about my paternal grandfather, Cheri Mandelbaum, who was an architect. The story we heard is that he designed the Winter Garden and my parent’s wedding was the first one held there. Mom wore an ice-blue wedding gown to reflect the “air condition”.

  2. nadia rindler dennis says:

    Another winning article. My father, Harry Rindler, worked for Mr. Zamora in Manila, and later went on to open up the Ambassador Hotel in Hong Kong which was half owned by the Zamora family. I too used to go to the Manila Hotel, swim in the pool, and always loved the gardenias around the pool. I stayed there in 1967 when I visited my Manila with my girlfriend. My love for gardenias continue to this day, as I have several bushes planted outside my family room sliding glass door. I pick them and have them floating in water in my kitchen. I also used gardenias in my hair when I used to make sales calls while I was working in the travel industry.

  3. Lito Ligon says:

    Beautiful write-up and rich in information as always, Lou! Thanks for never giving up on our History and heritage.

  4. lennon says:

    i’m learning so much! and it’s getting a hobby for me to read your shares, Sir Lou. love the stories, hope to listen to the many tales in person. ty

  5. Very interesting read, worth your time and if you love Pinoy History. My wife and I have dinner and entertainment at the Hotel in 1985 during our annual vacation to the Philippines. It was an evening to remember and I felt very rich that I was able to take my wife at that time to enjoy the luxurious ambiance of the hotel.

  6. Gisela Kistner says:

    Another great article. Brings back so many wonderful memories. Thanks for your hard work.

  7. PAUL SEVERIEN says:

    Hi Lou,
    My wife and I spent an enjoyable three days in the late eighties at the Manila Hotel when the late Mike Cuisia was Deputy Manager and we really had a VIP treatment. The breakfast was devine, with all kinds of food from Fililpino to European. Truly a great hotel! The service was excellent and the rooms were squeaky clean with change of linen twice a day.


  8. lougopal says:

    Breakfast was my favorite meal when we were there too ! Our waiter would remember how much I loved the fresh mangoes and would bring some to our table as soon as we sat down. We also enjoyed talking to you and your lovely wife. It was a good trip.

  9. Lorenzo Ma. Guerrero III says:

    Hi Lou,

    Another excellent piece. The Manila Hotel has always brought good memories. My wife, Diana and I used to enjoy dancing and listening to music in this hotel, and dining was always a total delight.
    Thanks for bringing back those memories and more.


  10. Karen Weathermon says:


    Another fabulous piece! The amount of history and number of photos you are able to put together is truly astounding. I’m visiting my dad this weekend, and I was excited to show him this piece. He and my mom were great fans of Lito Molina and his group The Jazz Friends when we lived in Manila in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Jazz Friends played on Sunday at the Regent Hotel down near the bay, and my parents and other friends of theirs were often there to listen. In fact, when my parents and I visited in 1993, Lito arranged a special session for them at one of the Makati hotels. So it was great to show him the early photo of Lito–plus the Manila Hotel was a favorite place for us with all its history. I went to two proms there as well as the reception for a very fancy Marcos wedding we somehow got invited to (via Ming Ramos, who was, of course, working at school). We also looked at the piece on AS/IS, which he also really enjoyed. My dad was superintendent of IS 1976-82, but virtually all of the early history about the American School was new to both of us. The dressmaker my mom, sister, and I went to in Manila happened to live just around the corner from the Donada Campus, and it was interesting at the time to see names we knew from the Bel Air campus on the Donada Campus buildings (Heilbron, Spruance) but all the history prior to Donada was completely unknown to us. You do an incredible job with these! I’ve loved every one of them and always learn so much about this city that is still so dear to both my dad and me! Thank you!!

  11. Robert Colquhoun says:

    Hello, Lou, from London,

    I very much enjoyed your fascinating article. I can add a glimpse of the hotel, just a month into the dark nights of the Japanese occupation, when Paul Esmérian and Anne Balfour, two French nationals not yet interned, decided to go there for an evening out. The source is “A Free Frenchman under the Japanese”, my translation of Paul Esmérian’s wartime Manila diary, recently published by Matador in the UK but generally available worldwide through the usual channels.

    ” 31 January 1942. Yesterday evening Anne and I decide to go and have dinner at the Manila Hotel! We hadn’t had such a celebration for a long time. We were able to get a taxi round 7.30 p.m. and along the unlit streets reach the Manila Hotel. It’s literally deserted. A few Japanese officers in the lobby, once so busy. In the huge dining-room it’s even worse. Two tables of Japanese in one corner and that’s all. The space for the band is empty. Two carpets have been laid across the huge slippery floor to prevent the Japanese in their boots from sliding and falling. The dinner seems to us delicious after these long days of meager fare. Butter, as much as you want, crab soup, fried fish, grilled beef with vegetables and salad, ice-cream, coffee, all for two pesos. The Japanese eat Nippon dishes while scratching their legs, without the slightest embarrassment, because of the mosquitoes. We didn’t have much luck for what should have been a cheerful evening out.”

  12. Gary McIntosh says:


    Thanks for this wonderful, fact-filled post! I was fortunate enough to spend the first week of September 2015 in the Manila Hotel. I was aware of some of its history, but your article added much to my knowledge. I enjoy all of your posts about Manila!

    Gary McIntosh

  13. maro brien ignacio says:

    Na mention po yung lolo ko sa tuhod dito na si Francisco Mendoza na naging manager ng Manila Hotel na naikukwento lang sakin ni lola corazon nung buhay pa siya.but never ko pang nakita ang picture ni Francisco Mendoza.Proud ako kasi napasama sa history natin ang lolo ko sa tuhod na nabasa ko pa dati sa sinearch ko na matalik pala silang magkaibigan ni Gen.Douglas Mcarthur.

  14. Thanks for the wonderful article and photos about the hotel. I particularly appreciate the photo from 1948. This was the year I arrived as a 13-year-old with my family from the US to go to high school and college for the next eight years until 1956. We arrived by launch from Cavite port at the dock next to the hotel and had lunch there. This was the first of many visits to the hotel. I describe this in a book published by Anvil Publishing Co. earlier this year. In case you are interested, here is the link:

  15. elmer abdon r. david says:

    First of all, thank you for filling me in especially with the Manila Hotel. I was 6yo in 1960 when i was able to enter the Manila Hotel. My mom used to teach piano lessons to some of the commissioned officers in a place called USO ( was that also inside the Manila Hotel?) and she would take me on a tour of the Manila Hotel together with some of her piano students ( americans ) staying at the hotel.

    A decade later, i met my wife to be at the Jungle Bar, and Tap Room Bar of the Manila Hotel where she sang regularly with a band in the early 70s. My wife and i have been married for 38 years now. Praise God.

    I came upon your posthru a friend who shared it on Facebook. I just intended to go for a swift browse, but as soon as i started reading i could not let go and the hours have gone fast and i still will continue reading later. I finished with part 2 of your writing regarding the Malate area.

    Again, thank you for your dedicated time of sharing all these historical and wonderful update of what has been and what has become of it all. Peace be with you. God bless.

  16. lougopal says:

    I am so pleased you liked my articles. Thank you !

  17. Ebel Mendoza-Dela Cruz says:

    @maro brien ignacio: puede bang malaman kung sino sa parents mo ang apo ni Francisco Mendoza, and sa kaninong anak siya ni Lolo Kiko? or pamangkin kaya? lolo ko kasi siya sa ama (Delfin), so baka magka-anak tayo? 🙂

  18. maro brien ignacio says:

    @Ebel Mendoza-Dela Cruz
    Sir check niyo kung may kilala kayo sa mga anak ni Lola Corazon Mendoza na Ignacio narin dahil sa lolo Eddie KO.Mario Ignacio papa kopo.Fructuoso Ignacio,Eduardo Ignacio Jr.Victorina Bandiola,Francisca Fukuda..Mga titot tita KO sila magkakapatid ..Parang narinig KO napo yung Delfin..

  19. maro brien ignacio says:

    I’m sorry ma’am po pala kayo @Ebel Mendoza-Dela Cruz

  20. PAUL SEVERIEN says:

    It was 1996, Lou. I remember it well.

    Paul Severien

  21. Noelle Ayres Banser says:

    Dear Louie,

    Another job well done! I hope someone is making arrangements for all of your hard work to be saved for the generations to come once we are all long gone. They are a true history lesson of the grand old days of Manila. Thank you for all the time and research you put into them.

    Noelle Ayres Banser

  22. Antonio Aguado says:

    In the early 50s, as a child I enjoyed visiting the mini-zoo at the back, not far from a gymnasium, which had a boxing ring outside, and often used by boxers training for a coming match.

  23. Patrick J. O'Leary says:

    Hello, Lou
    Just read this all the way thru – just could not put it down. Sure enough took hold of my attention. As always with your endeavors and previous articles, very very well done!! A lot of the historical facts that surround The Grand Hotel have gone unnoticed and/or unheard of. Your article brought a lot of it to light, reviving some very pleasant memories of an icon and that of an era of long , long ago. Many Many Thanks for what you do and have done keeping your Manila Nostalgia continuously in the fore. >>

  24. S. B. Dudley says:

    Great comments and early pictures. As a teenager, I lived at the Manila Hotel during the summer of 1956 while my father was employed by one of the Soriano companies. Most pleasant “home away from home”. That 4th of July I remember walking over to the US Embassy and listening to (then) Vice President Nixon give an informal speech out in the garden area. There were still reminders of W.W.II around and, in the case of the hotel, at the pool area some of the tiles still reflected damage from gun fire. When I wanted to go downtown I usually walked over to the Luneta and hailed a jeepney. Fond memories of a country still recovering from the War just a decade earlier and before the massive development of later years.

  25. Dave says:

    What a marvelous website. I’ve been travelling to the Philippines since 1977 when my Filipina wife and I visited on our honeymoon. Since then, I’ve had an interest in the history of the Islands. Returning in March to renew our vows.

  26. Ronaldo Adoptante says:

    As always, a fascinating read Lou. I fell in love with Manila Hotel when a friend invited me to her wedding reception in the Champagne Room….unfortunately it was not available when my wife and I got married in December 1999 in the nearby San Agustin Church in Intramuros. Your detailed description of its history adds up to its glorious past as one of the iconic symbols Manila at its most exciting years…..Keep on writing about our beautiful city and more power to you!

  27. MD says:

    Thanks so much on this wonderful piece of history, Lou. Your article is comprehensive and quite a treat for me to see MH during the 1960s as my Grandfather was one of the board of directors at the time. Sadly the current MH only has artifacts dated during the 1980s and seeing your article, tho little mentioned at the time other than it was the height of disco gives me good vibes that at least Grampa made the hotel cool while it was recovering from traces of the Jap Occupation.

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