Ermita, Manila

The district of Ermita in the heart of Manila was where I and Pabz misadventure began. I’m an avid fan of historical places as I mentioned before in my previous posts. The history of World War II and the destruction of Manila still amaze me. Pabz and I started around the Luneta Park but I won’t be doing any blog about the Philippines’ most famous landmark but instead, for now, I concentrated on the lesser-known ones. To understand and appreciate the historical sites in the area here is the history of the Ermita district according to Wikipedia.

Hispanic Era (1569-1898)

Ermita was founded in the late 16th century. Its name was taken from La Hermita, the Spanish word for “hermitage“, after the fact that a Mexican hermit resided in the area and on this site was built a hermitage housing an image of the Virgin Mary known as the Nuestra Señora de Guia (Our Lady of Guidance). The hermitage has since evolved into Ermita Church, which has been rebuilt several times since the early 17th century. During the Spanish evacuation of Ternate, Indonesia, the 200 families of mixed Mexican-Filipino-Spanish and Papuan-Indonesian-Portuguese descent who had ruled over the Christianized Sultanate of Ternate and included their Sultan who converted, were relocated to Ternate, Cavite and Ermita, Manila.

Ermite 1887

By the 19th Century, although still considered as an “arrabal” which refers to a rural area, urban expansion had slowly reached the northern portion of the district mainly due to the development of the Luneta also called Bagumbayan as a promenade at the coast of the Manila Bay. The district also saw the construction of the Manila Observatory by Father Federico Faura during the early 1890s and was once located on a street now renamed after Fr. Faura himself.

American & Commonwealth Era (1900 – 1944)

Ermita gained renewed prominence during the American & Commonwealth Era. As part of Daniel Burnham‘s City Beautiful Movement during the early 1900s, Ermita district alongside Intramuros‘ surrounding areas had undergone a drastic redevelopment from being the outskirts to urban districts.

Ermita American Period

Burnham envisioned the district especially in the northern portion to be the center of the Philippine Government, redeveloping Luneta into a grand park patterned after that of National Mall in Washington D.C.. Government buildings such as the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches were also planned to be located in the area. A proposed Philippine Capitol was also planned to be built at the eastern tip of Luneta Park but was never materialized. 

It also became known as the university district, containing the campuses and dormitories of the Philippine Normal University, University of the Philippines, the Ateneo de ManilaAdamson University, the Assumption College and St. Paul College. The residential portion of Ermita was populated by American residents, who set up such establishments as the Army and Navy Club, and the University Club.

Aside from its universities, and leisure clubs; Ermita district, as well as its adjacent district, Malate which both happened to be facing the Manila Bay were once home to Manila’s high society and were filled with large, gilded mansions. Manila’s wealthiest families used to live in the twin suburbs.

Second World War (1942-1945)

Ermita 1945

In February 1945, during the 1945 Battle of Manila, Ermita was the scene of some of the most horrific massacres that occurred during the Second World War. The wife and four children of future President Elpidio Quirino were murdered in Ermita, as was Supreme Court Associate Justice Anacleto Diaz. Between 68% to 85% of Ermita was destroyed during the Battle of Manila, with an estimated total of 100,000 Filipino civilians killed in the city itself.

Post-War Era (1946 – present)

After the war, the district slowly transformed from a residential area into a commercial area as the upper classes moved to other cities such as Quezon City and Makati City.

Ermita in the 70s by Roxas Boulevard

Ermita was rebuilt after the devastation of the war. University life remained vibrant therein. However, as decades passed, Ermita started earning a reputation as the red-light district of Manila. During the first term of Mayor Alfredo Lim, 1992-1998, an effort was made to “clean up” Ermita’s image and reputation. However, a local city ordinance prohibiting the establishment of motels, lodging houses, and other similar establishments, was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. As a result of the clean-up efforts, nightlife in the area dwindled though it later picked up with the help of the emergence of the nearby Malate district and the Roxas Boulevard revitalization efforts along Manila Bay.”

So we know the whole history of the area and the devastation World War II has put upon this once beautiful city. But even today as you walk around the area you can still some of the remnants of this beautiful city. That was what we were doing today trying to visit as many as possible historical places. We started near Pabz’s school along San Marcelino Street.

Adamson University

Established by George Lucas Adamson as Adamson School of Industrial Chemistry in Santa Cruz, Manila in 1932. Moved to San Miguel, Manila in 1933. Renamed Adamson School of Industrial Chemistry and Engineering, in 1936. The only school that created ROTC Chemical Warfare Service Unit in the country in 1936. Moved to Intramuros in 1939. Garrison by Japanese Forces in 1942. Burned during the Battle of Manila in 1945. Reopened in the old Congregation of the Mission Central House in San Marcelino Street in Ermita, Manila in 1946.  Bought by the Congregation of the Mission in 1964.  The campus was enlarged when the Meralco Building was bought in 1968, and the Tabacalera land in 1974 and St. Theresa’s College in 1977.

The adjacent building to the university is kind of personal to me because that is where my parents were married.

Church of San Vicente De Paul

San Vicente de Paul Church and marker

The chapel built here in 1883 was used as a parish church of Paco from 1898 to 1909 parish of San Vicente de Paul erected in 1909 present church built of concrete in 1912 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Vincentians and Sisters of Charity in the Philippines.

After that, we walked down the street going to Kalaw Avenue, and in the middle of the streets intersecting in Taft Avenue, was a small park and in middle, there was a historical marker, so we crossed and looked at it.

Plaza Salamanca

Plaza Salamanca

The Plaza Salamanca was named in honor of Dr. Olivia Salamanca, one of the First Filipino Women doctors. In recognition of her unselfish dedication in providing medical care to the city’s poor and her pioneering effort of inspiring women to compete in the male-dominated professional field.

Plaza Marker

The redevelopment of the new Plaza Salamanca by the city government under the Buhayin ang Maynila program of the Atienza Administration was aimed to provide a safe and wholesome open space for a better quality of life for the residents of Manila.

Olivia Salamanca

A marker was installed at this site this 22nd day of June 2006, by his honor, Jose L. Atienza, Jr., Mayor of Manila, on the occasion of the 435th Day of Manila celebration.

The square was plain with the marker in the middle and there was nothing in it except for the benches and nice trees shading the area. We walked a couple of blocks and reached our next stop.

Central United Methodist Church

First Protestant Church in the Philippines. Established to preach to the Americans and the Filipinos, 5 March 1899. Inaugurated the first chapel named Central Methodist Episcopal Church, 23 December 1901. Replaced with stone structure, 1906. Renamed Central Student Church, 1916. Cathedral designed by Juan M. Arellano; Inaugurated, 19 June 1932. Occupied by the Japanese and destroyed during the Battle for Manila, 1945. Renamed Central Church, 21 February 1949. Rebuilt following the original design; inaugurated, 25 December 1949. Presently known as Central United Methodist Church.

Then we moved on walking southward along Taft Avenue and reached the University of the Philippines Manila Campus. Within its premises was a historical hospital who witnessed the changes in Manila and faced the horrors of World War II.

Philippine General Hospital

Facade of the hospital and 2 markers

Established under the Act 1688 and Commission of the Philippines as a division of the Department of Health in 1907. Supervised by Dean C. Worcester, the building was laid on December 8, 1908 and finished on December 30, 1909. Opened to the public on September 10,1910. Went to the Department of Interior in 1915. Department of Education in 1933, Office of the President in July 1939. The hospital was brought back under public education during the occupation of the Japanese. Moved into the Philippine Civil affairs Union 1945.  Then to the University of the Philippines in 1947. Renovation and beautification occurred in 1985, stopped in 1986 and continued in 1987 and finished in 1990.

This Memorial marker was dedicated to the entire staff and patients of the Philippine General Hospital and the non-combatant civilian refugees in that hospital who were all victims during the Battle for Manila in World War II. This marker was installed pursuant to board resolution No. 2, 1994 of the National Historical Institute.

Philippine General Hospital

The hospital has a lot of history in it since its establishment and role in WWII. After that we took a jeep (the common public transportation) and went down to Liwasang Bonifacio (Plaza Lawton), which stood one of the most prominent buildings in the city. The Manila Post Office, and in front of it is another square where the statue of one of the heroes in the Philippine Revolution stands, Andres Bonifacio.  This was where we went down and most of the jeeps wait for their passengers.

Andres Bonifacio (1863-1897)

Born of humble parents in Tondo, Manila on 30 November 1863, Andres Bonifacio founded the Katipunan the secret society that launched the revolution against Spain in August 1896.

He wrote the Katipunan Decalogue, some patriotic poems and essays. He has been considered as “The Father of the Katipunan,” “The Great Plebeian,” and “The Father of Democracy in the Philippines.” He died in Maragondon, Cavite on 10 May 1897.

This monument was dedicated by the city of Manila in 1963. The hero’s birth centenary and this plaza was renamed “Liwasang Bonifacio,”

Philippine Post Office

The Manila Post Office with Liwasang Bonifacio

The first postal service was established in Manila in 1767; elated to the District Postal Service of Spain in 1779. Reestablished on December 5th, 1837 and became the Main Central Postal Service in 1839. Became part of the Universal Postal Union in 1877. Under Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo in 1899 it became the official Postal Service. Re-established under the department of Trade under the Commission of the Philippines No. 426 on September 15, 1902.

Post Office Marker

The Current Post Office was designed in Neo-Classica architecture in 1926 by Juan M. Arellano. Destroyed during the Battle for Manila during WWII and rebuilt in 1946. Re-named Postal Services Office under the Department of Transportation and Communication through the Act Np. 125 on April 13, 1987 and Philippine Postal Corporation through the Republic Act of 7354 on April 1992.

Created as a corporate body by Virtue of Republic Act 7354 otherwise known as “Act creating the Philippine Postal Corporation, defining its powers, functions, and responsibilities, providing regulation of the industry and for other purposes. Connected therewith” authored by Congressman Eduardo P. Pilapil and signed into law by H.E. President Corazon C. Aquino on April 3,1992. The law transformed the Philippine Postal Service from a government line agency into a self-sustaining and controlled corporation. The first regular board of directors of the corporation was constituted by H.E. President Fidel V. Ramos.


The Manila Post Office was strategically located by Daniel Burnham at the foot of Jones Bridge because of two reasons. First was that the Pasig River could be used conveniently as an easy route for delivering mail and secondly, the post office could be accessed from all sides including QuiapoBinondoMalate, and Ermita.

Postal Service Marker

Considered to be Juan Arellano’s magnum opus, it was designed in the neoclassical style that expressed order and balance. It was built in 1926 and was worth one million pesos. Fronting the huge, rectangular volume are the 16 Ionic pillars lined that are lined up above the steps just before entering the lobby. The main body of the building is capped by a recessed rectangular attic story and flanked and buttressed by two semi-circular wings. Inside, the main lobby has subsidiary halls at each end housed under the semi-circular spaces roofed with domes.

The plans on completing the post office building were made public on November 28, 1927, but the awarding of the project happened a year after in 1928. From August 2, 1920, up to January 9, 1922, the foundation was laid out. The work was put on hold because of the scarcity of funds but was reported to be 56% complete towards the end of the year. The completion of the building was continued on February 1928.

The backside of the building with the Pasig River

Proposals for the completion of the Manila Post Office Building were made known on November 28, 1927, but the awarding of the project was made only in 1928.

Then we walked behind it and saw the Jones Bridge which was also destroyed during WWII but unfortunately was not rebuilt to its former glory.  We went back along the Liwasang Bonifacio, and to another secret garden in the area. A small park by the overpass which a marker and statues stands.

In Memory of the Victim’s of Military Sexual Slavery during the Second World War

Statues in the memorial

This historical marker is being offered in memory of the Filipina victims of Japanese military sexual slavery during the Second World War. During the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. Approximately 1,000 women became victims of military sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army.


All over the country, in these “Comfort Stations” or sites were the institutional and organized rape and abuse of women by the Japanese Military were committed.

Through this historical marker, memorialization of the history of the women victims will be achieved in the hope that this tragedy will never happen again and that henceforth, no generation of Filipino victims will never be memorialized as victims of military sexually slavery. Unveiled by his honor mayor Jose L. Atienza Jr. on this 22nd day of April 2003.

Across the street, we went to see another gem in the city. The Manila Metropolitan Theater, which unique architecture of Art Deco and location is easily noticeable. Unfortunately, it looked neglected but said under renovation.

Manila Metropolitan Theater

It started as the National Theater designed by the architect Juan Arellano. Opened in 1931, and became the theater for Filipino and foreign artists. Operas, pageants, Spanish plays and English plays translated into Tagalog for the Filipinos were held here up to World War II. Partly destroyed in 1945, and the building was used as home to squatters and became a boxing area. Restored in 1978 by the Commission of Trade of Manila.

“Juan Arellano, one of the first pensionados in architecture, also known for his other major projects such as the Legislative Building and Manila Central Post Office Building, designed the Manila Metropolitan Theater in January 1930. He was sent to the United States to be guided by one of the experts in designing theaters, Thomas W. Lamb of Shreve and Lamb.

One of the decors in the roof

Arellano was influenced by early Filipino art which uses local motifs and diverse imagery of Philippine flora. Aside from his knowledge of Filipino art was the factor of an economy which both helped the architect in having a modern design approach to the theater. Meanwhile, the phrase “on wings of song” gave the structural configuration, a box-shaped auditorium flanked by pavilions on both sides. The mix of modernization and romanticization resulted in A. V. H. Hartendrop labeling it as modern expressionism.

The theater’s roof and walls were partially destroyed during World War II. During the post-war period, it was misused as a boxing arena, low-quality motel, gay bar, basketball court and as a home for squatters. In 1978, a restoration of the theater was initiated by the then Governor of Metro Manila Imelda Marcos which was headed by Otilio, the nephew of Juan Arellano. Its prestige as a cultural center was redeemed but proved to be short-lived. It closed down its doors again in 1996 because of conflicts of ownership between the Manila City Administration and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).”

 It was in a sad decay as we looked at this abandoned building encircled with wooden barriers. After that, we moved on to our next destination. The Manila City Hall. Read it in our next post.

Here are the links for more information:

_San Lazaro (fan)
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