Escolta: The Queen of Streets is Reclaiming Her Crown

Before Poblacion or Bonifacio High Street, there was Escolta.

In the 1930’s, it was THE place to be. It was dubbed as “Manila’s Queen of Streets”, and was likened to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. The most fashionable and expensive brands lined its streets, and the cast of Manila’s who’s who was a permanent fixture.

Out of the wooden shophouses rose concrete buildings in Neoclassical and Art Deco style. Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of famous Filipino painter Juan Luna, designed several buildings in Escolta; these buildings serve as a testament to Escolta’s glory days, and are still standing up to this day.

The Salon de Pertierra, the first cinema in the Philippines, brought the first foreign silent films into the country. The American Bazaar was the first American department store, and was the place where Manila’s fashionable set did their shopping. Ice cream parlors, soda fountain shops, the first elevator, an air-conditioned shopping center, and the Manila Stock Exchange – Escolta was a street of many firsts.


It holds such a huge importance in our history, that architect and heritage advocate Dominic Galicia once wrote – “this street is where our metropolis began.”

The glamour started to fade after the Second World War at the Battle of Manila, where the district was razed to the ground. Rehabilitation efforts were done, but as time went by, the bigger firms and establishments moved elsewhere, leading to the deterioration of Escolta.

In recent years however, it has been experiencing a renaissance – not from the big corporations, but from creatives and artists who have chosen to make Escolta their new home.

The Queen’s Resurgence

In 2012, the First United Building, which was also designed by Luna de San Pedro, housed the Future Market, which was initiated by artist-collective 98B. Aside from the weekend market, the group also held regular art exhibits and film screenings, and the community provided the perfect avenue for amateur and veteran artists to actually promote and sell their work.

In 2016, the First United Building Corporation contracted One Zero Design Co., an architectural firm housed in the building’s 5th floor, to collaborate with 98B to put up The Hub: Make Lab – a co-working space for fellow creatives and entrepreneurs. This attracted more people to the heritage site, which led to these kindred spirits organizing a collective event to invite even more people to Escolta – and thus, on November 26 of that year, the first Escolta Block Party happened.

The Escolta Block Party

The Escolta Block Party aims to commemorate the history and heritage of the district, and has several pocket events spread throughout the day. It’s a collaboration not just of the art community but also heritage advocates and business owners. Events included tours of the heritage sites, exhibits and talks which highlight the history of Escolta, and short film screenings, all culminating in a street party filled with music and dancing.

Now in its 7th iteration, 2018’s second Escolta Block Party, which was held last weekend, featured more activities, lectures, and other community-themed activities, which aimed to celebrate the Queen of Street’s past, present, and future.

This vibrant community of artists and creatives gathering serves as a testament to the bright possibility of the district and the potential of heritage buildings in Escolta – for the first time in three decades, the First United is fully-occupied, which hopefully will encourage the other building owners to conserve and reuse their properties and lead to tax breaks and incentives from the local government.

There is an undeniable resurgence of the burgeoning potential of Escolta, and it can only lead to a better and brighter future for the area. Only time will tell if the Queen will once again retake her crown. For now, we can rest assured that the heritage of what was once the country’s most fashionable street is preserved in the work and the art of these creatives, who continue to scrub off the neglect and grime, to reveal the Queen’s glitz and glamour of old.

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