Headlines Menagerie

Reviving the Queen of Streets

Just an LRT ride to Carriedo station, right beside the Santa Cruz Church is a queen called Escolta waiting to be rediscovered for her history and unparalleled beauty.

Just an LRT ride to Carriedo station, right beside the Santa Cruz Church is a queen waiting to be rediscovered for her history and unparalleled beauty.


Escolta was once the busiest business district of Metro Manila where major strides in Philippine history occured. The Philippines had its first American-style department store, Beck’s, along Escolta in its prime years. GMA’s flagship radio station, DZBB, also had its inception years here. And of course, buildings with a mix of both Spanish and American architecture loomed over the streets as monumental establishments, which represents Escolta’s most beautiful contribution to Philippine history.

Now, Escolta houses a monthly Future Market, an art space, a lot of restaurants and banks, and even a Family Mart. Although not as booming as compared to its glory days, how is the street once dubbed as the ‘Queen of the Streets’ being revived in today’s age?


A throwback

Before the rise of skyscrapers and glass buildings we’ve grown used to seeing around Makati and The Fort, there were art deco landscapes and magnificent neo-classical architectures that adorned the street of Escolta, which are certainly a few of its most defining traits. With history oozing from every corner and crevice, one cannot help but fall in love with its timeless aura.

To paint a better picture of what Escolta was like back in its hay day, Lem Leal Santiago, the Vice President for External Affairs of the Heritage Conservation Society-Youth (HCS-Y) and the team leader of the Escolta Revival Movement (ERM), shares that it used to be the center of elite shopping and lavish lifestyles in Asia. On the brink of preparing for political and economic independence during the American period, business activity in Escolta was exemplary and the success pushed it to be one of the most cosmopolitan districts in the world until 1945, when the liberation war caused the city’s downfall.

“Escolta today is really far from what Escolta was before,” Mr. Santiago points out. “Years before the turn of the 21st century, the street once known as the financial capital of the Philippines lost its pre-war splendor.” Unfortunately, instead of being appreciated for the haunting beauty of its World War II survivor buildings, safety and security problems caused people to be intimidated to brave its battle-torn avenues.

KBP_3402 [1600x1200]

The present beauty

If you want to try a new way to go to Escolta instead of the LRT1, try taking a look at the infamous Pasig river once in a while and you will see the blue MMDA ferry boats of the Pasig River Ferry system that have routes from Guadalupe, Pasig, Makati, Intramuros, Sta. Mesa, Sta. Ana, and of course, Escolta.

When descending the ferry, let the incredible buildings of Escolta remind you of its past and timeless beauty. Although some buildings are a bit run down and deserted, a lot of these still house many business establishments, banks, and restaurants.

The Zaragoza building, designed by recently awarded National Artist Jose Ma. Zaragoza for the Commercial Bank and Trust Company, which was eventually bought by the Bank of the Philippine Islands, now has its Escolta branch residing in the UFO-like building. Other banks like Union Bank of the Regina building, Philippine Chinese Daily of the Noah’s Ark building, and Philtrust bank of the St. J Square also continue pumping the once busy financial district of Metro Manila.


One may also enjoy the view while eating in the legendary street’s array of restaurants. Escolta is home to a Pizza Hut, Crown Prince Seafood Restaurant, and if you want to save a few moolah, there’s a Burger Machine right beside the Noah’s Ark building. Cap your meal off with some dessert from the Escolta Ice Cream and Snacks beside the Philtrust bank or from the Family Mart of the Noah’s Ark building.


Saviors of the street

Thankfully, people have started to recognize the potential that Escolta has long held and just been waiting to be unearthed. Spearheading the redevelopment of its streets, the MMDA proposed the creation of the Escolta Redevelopment Association in lieu of the reopening of the ferry station along Pasig River, making it more accessible to the public.

Interestingly, the youth is also quick to jump on their feet to share in the advocacy of a lost gem. One of the main organizations to respond is the ERM, as mentioned earlier. It was founded and is managed by not only history lovers, art enthusiasts, and businessmen who share the same vision, but is also represented by a youth sector – The Heritage Conservation Society or the HCS-Y. Their focus is to be able to spread awareness among young people, despite them being way ahead of Escolta’s time. They aim to make the youth more inclined to heritage conservation, preservation, and appreciation, through its various campaigns. They plan to get involved within universities across the Metro as affiliated school units, to grab the attention of the students about the importance of history and helping it live through the next generations to come.

Another group on the fast-track to a booming Escolta, 98B Collaboratory, was formed with the purpose of connecting designers, curators, artists, and the like. Their claim-to-fame is their monthly Future Market at the lobby of the First United Building, which has become a haven for lovers of vintage and one-of-a-kind quirks. It is a boiling pot of everything – from vinyl records, unique paintings, handmade accessories, plants, comic books, to dog-eared novels, and shoes you would find in your fashionable grandma’s closet. Indeed, the Future Market has been successful in helping community and creativity to flourish in Escolta.

Additionally, Escolta has started to be a venue for artistic events, urging even more people to visit. Last June, the first #SelfiEscolta, an all-day arts, music, and food fest, was successfully launched. The festival featured tours, performances, a market, and many more activities, all showcasing the best of the famed district.

98B has also recently converted the lobby of the Panpisco building into an art space called PAN. It has already housed a number of exhibits such as Czar Kristoff’s “Forget What To Remember, Remember What To Forget”, and LOKAL’s (Likhang Operta sa Kalayaan) “Agam-Agam” held last July and August, respectively.

KBP_3263 [1600x1200]

The Queen’s future

More street events like #SelfiEscolta and the Future Market will come along the iconic street, according to Santiago. But other than street events for the public, the ERM are also aiming to immerse students with the historical street. “We want to gain the attention of the students and the academe about the importance of studying built heritage and formulating solutions in preserving them for the next generation,” Santiago adds.

This is the reason why the HCS-Y are inviting universities “to hold activities in Escolta like NSTP and ask their students to observe the elements of the district in terms of its historical background, architectural patterns, and tourism potentials.”

Santiago also says that HCS-Y has reactivated its school unit at University of Santo Tomas (HCS-UST) and are now talking to some organizations from the Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University to join the Society.


Not a dying district after all

It is impossible to bring back the distinction of Escolta as a leading business center. However, it is really promising to see Escolta as a unique “street heritage business and tourism” district in Manila. Escolta is envisioned as a place that will indeed depict its title as the Queen of Manila’s Streets – a district that will showcase the fusion of successful heritage conservation, unique business development, and world class Filipino art and lifestyle.

Isabella Argosino

By Isabella Argosino

Arielle Poblete

By Arielle Poblete

14 replies on “Reviving the Queen of Streets”

Leave a Reply