Manila’s Old Neighborhoods: From Escolta to Binondo

Olan and I once had a conversation trying to figure out which is better: to work in Makati with all its 21st century comforts, or to work in old but rich-in-history Manila? It’s a tough one, right?  But the thing about immersing yourself in Manila is that you’re always sure to discover something new.

Here’s a picture of the 28th in Ayala Museum’s dioramas of Philippine history. It depicts Escolta in the 1800s, and I remember having to tell people on my guided tours that this was the place to be back then. Who knew that I’d actually find myself working here years later?

Escolta Scene - Diorama photo courtesy of Ayala Museum

From how it looks now, it’s kind of a stretch to reconcile this part of town to the busy and cosmopolitan area that old Filipinos used to prefer to hang out in. A lot of important establishments held office in this address and families were known to take their walks here after Sunday mass to see and be seen.

Present day Escolta

If there’s proof of Escolta’s glorious past – it’s in the buildings. Nona says that the Regina Building pictured here is just one of the iconic ones that Carlos Celdran includes in a historical tour highlighting old Manila architecture, and Ivan Man Dy who was recently featured in the History Channel’s Hidden Cities Philippines episode.

Regina Building, Escolta

They just don’t make them like this anymore…

Note on Architectural Heritage Regina Building, Escolta

Calvo Building facade

While here, you may as well have a look at what’s inside Escolta Museum, located inside Calvo Building.

Calvo Building interior Calvo Building interior

It houses models of famous old structures that no longer exist, and some that still do but are sadly already condemned and not in use.

Escolta scale model building

Escolta scale model building Escolta scale model building

The Capitol The Capitol, present day Escolta

The Capitol during its heydey (left) to how it looks today (right)

Old Manila poster

And other items of interest that will take you back to the old times.

Calle Escolta Christmas Bazaar poster (1994) Ginebra Binata bottle

Old Manila event posters

This museum is worth seeing for bragging rights alone. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’ll be one of a select few who will visit, if you ever decide to do so. I could be wrong, but when the security guard takes a moment to switch on the lights and air conditioning when you ask to have a look around, I just automatically get that impression.

If you chance upon old Escolta photos online, you’d probably want to see all of it restored to its former glory too. But, and I say this with a sigh, this is our Escolta today. And while the center of social life and business moved away to leave this part of Manila with a somewhat abandoned feel to it, the Chinese community have stayed on and do a pretty good job of keeping things lively.

Kalesa along present day Escolta

Seen while walking from Escolta to Binondo.

It’s been said that superstition forbids Chinese from selling property where all their good fortune started. If that’s true, then I guess we can expect this part of Manila to always be bustling. No danger that my favorite Binondo Eats will be disappearing!

I’ve learned plenty about eating in Chinatown too. And yes, that means the food post is coming up next.



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