Recently someone asked if I would do a write-up on the Post Office building. I looked on the internet and found quite a few blogs and posts already on this quite historical landmark however, my nostalgia site would probably be incomplete if I omitted it.
The Philippine Postal System (PHLP) has quite a remarkable history. It was first established in Manila during 1767. Later in 1779, Spain managed the postal office serving the entire Philippine archipelago. As an important part of the trade route from Spain, Mexico and the Philippines, it was integral in maintaining communication between the colonies and the ruling monarchs of Spain.
The first known location of the Manila Post Office was on the Escolta, next to the Estera de la Reina close to the Santa Cruz church. It sat in the corner of this building behind the awnings.
The post office was transferred to offices in the westerly part of the building complex shown below right, known as the Cuartel Fortin, located on the south side of the Pasig River by Plaza Lawton just about where the new Post Office building would be built years later. The Bridge of Spain can be seen in the middle right hand side.
The transfer, with all the furnishings, hardwood partitions, lock boxes, etc., took place on Saturday, June 25, 1904, in the midst of a severe typhoon, and the post-office was open and ready for business the following Monday morning, June 27, 1904.
The Cuartel Fortin had been transferred from the army for the use of the insular government, renovated and fitted up for use of the Bureau of Posts. The new quarters gave more than double the working space as well as provided a larger and more convenient lobby for the public. The building sat directly on the waterfront and had a fine wharf where mail was delivered directly from launches and lighters, thus doing away with the heavy wagon transportation formerly required in handling mail from the United States. Source: Report of the Philippine Commission to the Secretary of War.
The provincial government continued to ease the reins of official responsibilities onto the Filipinos as per the Philippine Commission. The plan of appointing Filipinos as postmasters at the smaller offices continued throughout 1904 as C. W. Cotterman described in his Report on the Philippine Commission. “These postmasters, as a rule, render very satisfactory service after they are given complete instructions. In fact the Filipino postmasters cause this office less correspondence on the whole than do the American postmasters at the smaller offices. Furthermore, the insular auditor has several times informed me that the postal accounts of the Filipino postmasters are rendered in a more satisfactory manner than those of the American postmasters at the same class offices.”
By 1903, there were 391 post offices throughout the islands. The intent was to establish a post office at the seat of government at each organized municipality.
The New Post Office Building
Growing up in Manila in the Fifties and Sixties and because my parents had a jewelry store on the Escolta, I would invariably pass by the Post Office building many times a week. It was and still is, a formidable and beautiful edifice. It stands as a masterpiece of the neo-classicism style with its 14 massive Ionic columns flanked by the main rectangular building and semicircular blocks adding grace to strength.
You know, when you’re a kid you just don’t pay much attention to your environment – at least, I didn’t. It wasn’t until later that I truly appreciated the beauty of buildings such as the Post Office, the Metropolitan Theater, and the Legislative Building. Interestingly, all three designs involved a brilliant Filipino architect by the name of Juan Marcos Arellano.
Born in 1888, he attended the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and graduated in 1908. His first passion was painting and he trained under Lorenzo Guerrero, Toribio Antillon, and Fabian de la Rosa. However, he pursued architecture and was sent to the United States as one of the first pensionados in architecture, after Carlos Barreto, who was sent to the Drexel Institute in 1908, Antonio Toledo, who went to Ohio State, and Tomás Mapúa, who went to Cornell.
Arellano went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1911 and subsequently transferred to Drexel to finish his bachelor’s degree in Architecture. He was trained in the Beaux Arts and subsequently went to work for George B. Post & Sons in New York City, where he worked for Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. whose partner was Daniel Burnham, the creator of the visionary Master Plan of Manila in 1905.
He then returned to the Philippines to begin a practice with his older brother, Arcadio, who served as architect consultant to Governor-General Willliam H. Taft. Juan later joined the Bureau of Public Works just as the last American architects, George Fenhagen and Ralph H. Doane, were leaving. The Post Office building was designed by Doane, Tomas Mapua , and Juan Marco de Guzman Arellano in 1925. It stands as one of the grandest examples of classic architecture and the ultimate expression of American colonial architecture. It was constructed by Sta. Clara Lumber and Construction. Its well-thought location by the Pasig River, flanked by Manila’s two important bridges, and at the entryway to the then broad Taft Avenue added to its scenic grandeur. After several delays, the new Manila Post Office building was completed in 1930.
The Post Office sits at the edge of the Pasig River just across Plaza Lawton (renamed Liwasang Bonifacio in 1963). Before the war, the streetcars or Tranvias from the Port Area, Chinatown and Rizal Avenue would merge at Plaza Lawton for points north and south of the Pasig.
The Japanese occupation lasted from 1942 through 1945 and, although hardship ensued for the general populace, the postal service continued albeit with Japanese censorship.
At the onset of occupation, postal service was temporarily suspended until full instructions were laid down for its reopening on March 4, 1942. Two stamps and a postal card were issued. Remaining stocks from the Commonwealth period were overprinted with black bars deleting the words “United States of America” and “Commonwealth of the”. All mail was subject to censorship until June 30, 1943.
WAR AND DESTRUCTION
The Americans liberated Manila on February 3rd, 1945 however, the horrible effects of the ensuing “Battle of Manila” completely devastated most of Manila south of the Pasig River. Many historical landmarks including government buildings such as the Legislative Building, City Hall, Jones Bridge and the Post Office were either completely destroyed or severely damaged. Reconstruction had to be postponed because the Philippines were a primary staging area for a planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. (The Japanese surrender after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki eliminated the need for the invasion.)
After the surrender of Japan, reconstruction began in earnest. The United States gratefully thanked its ally with eight years of free trade, generous quotas on imports, and a $400 million fund for the payment of war-damage claims. The United States also provided a $120 million public works program and turned over $100 million in surplus properties to the Philippine government. The greatest gift of all came on July 4, 1946, when the Philippines was granted its independence.
The photo above shows that most of the debris from the war has been cleared. Jones Bridge has temporary structure to allow traffic to continue and two large bodegas next to the Post Office were used to house reconstruction materials.
Manila regains the beauty of what was considered the pre-war “Pearl of the Orient”. The restoration of the Post Office and other government buildings attest to the hard working spirit of the Filipino people.
Arellano continued his impressive career, creating a design for Quezon City in 1940, which was to become the new capital of the Philippines. It was during that time that he also designed the building that would house the United States High Commission to the Philippines, later the Embassy of the United States in Manila.
He retired in 1956 and went back to painting until his death in 1960.