This book toasts Art Deco style in the PH, from cinemas to cemeteries, in 500+ archival images 2
The Rizal Memorial Coliseum designed by Juan Arellano was done in the art deco style. Photo courtesy of Deco Filipino

This book toasts Art Deco style in the PH, from cinemas to cemeteries, in 500+ archival images

In memory of our dearly departed Capitol Theater, here’s a tome that celebrates the artistic style that characterizes the Manila landscape of a bygone era. By EDGAR ALLAN M. SEMBRANO
ANCX | Jun 23 2020

An artistic style that originated in the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) in Paris, France in 1925, Art Deco became a lifestyle in the world prior to and after the outbreak of World War II.

In the Philippines, it was introduced by the American colonial government through the Bureau of Public Works, the architects of which, including the famed Juan Arellano, were tasked to design buildings for government and public use.

The artistic heritage spread throughout the country in the form of cinema houses, commercial and apartment buildings, private homes, and even in furniture, fashion, and printed advertisement.

In 2009, the first to foray into the study of this artistic style is Lourdes Montinola of the Far Eastern University with her book ‘Art Deco in the Philippines’ which documented structures of this type in the country.

This book toasts Art Deco style in the PH, from cinemas to cemeteries, in 500+ archival images 3
FEU Main Building (today Nicanor Reyes Hall) constructed in 1939.

Ten years later, ArtPostAsia, the same publisher of the Montinola book, published a more expanded work, Deco Filipino: Art Deco Heritage in the Philippines, this time authored by Manila tour guru and heritage advocate Ivan Man Dy and architectural historian Gerard Lico.

Man Dy is the founder of the Art Deco Philippines Facebook page which aims to promote Art Deco heritage in the country. He serves as one of the board of trustees of the advocacy group Heritage Conservation Society, and conducts regular tours in Manila’s historic districts through his outfit Old Manila Walks.

A graduate of the Master of Arts in Cultural Heritage Studies at the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School, he is an Art Deco enthusiast who have documented the artistic style in its various forms all over the country. This book is the product of his documentation (the book was funded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts). 

This book toasts Art Deco style in the PH, from cinemas to cemeteries, in 500+ archival images 4
The Lim-De La Cruz residence, with its towering Mirador, in Mabalacat, Pampanga (1932).

His co-author, architect Gerard Lico is a prolific author of books on the country’s architectural heritage. Notable titles include Edifice Complex: Power Myth and Marcos State Architecture and Arkitekturang Filipino: A History of Architecture and Urbanism in the Philippines.

Lico is also responsible for the restoration work in 2019 of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, the largest Art Deco sports complex in Asia completed in 1934. The structure is currently used as a coronavirus quarantine facility by the government.


Local adaptation

Deco Filipino: Art Deco Heritage in the Philippines details the history of the artistic style in the country as well as its tangible representations from government and commercial buildings to houses and even funerary architecture.

It is the most comprehensive thus far, covering built and movable Art Deco heritage in the country.

The book was launched in February at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum where guests were also treated with a tour of the historic edifice.

The book notes Deco Filipino is the adaptation of the style which originated in France into the local setting, sometimes but not limited to the addition of Filipino elements such as the local flora.

This book toasts Art Deco style in the PH, from cinemas to cemeteries, in 500+ archival images 5
The book authored by Ivan Man Dy and Gerard Lico

“In adapting this stylistic trend,” notes Dy in the book, “local builders refashioned an imported architectural language and attempted to define modernity in their own terms.”

“The result of which is a remarkable expression that is universally recognizable as part of the global art deco movement but one with a distinct regional and Filipino sensibility,” he writes.

He describes it as a short-lived artistic movement which also radiated to furniture and even fashion but left a wide collective legacy. It lasted in the Philippines from the 1920s to the post war years until 1950.


Wider scope

Dy and Lico’s book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter features residences, followed by commercial buildings, structures used in entertainment, government and public facilities, educational and ecclesiastical institutions, monuments and memorials, and the restoration of deco masterpieces, notably the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

Featured are the residences of the opulent in various localities including Bulacan, Pampanga, Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Iloilo, Capiz, Negros Occidental, Cebu, and Davao City.

Manila’s Art Deco residential gems are likewise featured such as the Vera – Perez mansion in Quezon City; Villongco house in Malabon; Castro house in San Juan; Villa-Real mansion on Pablo Ocampo St. in Manila (now Orchid Garden Suites; and the Mapua residence in Pasay.

The Art Deco details of these edifices are gleaned on either the entire structure or the details such as the perimeter wall, gate, grills, portholes, and decorative steel railings.


Rich built environment

Extant prewar apartment buildings in Manila are also featured in the book which includes the Magsaysay Apartments, Bel-Air Apartments, and Astoria Apartments in Ermita; Sy-Quia Apartments and Mayflower Apartments in Malate, and the Gomez Apartments in Pasay.

This book toasts Art Deco style in the PH, from cinemas to cemeteries, in 500+ archival images 6
Entrance to the Uy Su Bin Building in Binondo, Manila. Currently also being demolished.

For commercial buildings, these include the Pako Building in Paco, Manila; Aguinaldo’s Building, Edificio Perez-Samanillo, Ides O’Racca Building, Zuellig, and Cortes-Ochoa buildings in Binondo; Elpo building in Tondo; Philippine National Bank building in San Fernando, Pampanga; Rodriguez-de la Cruz Building in Angeles City also in Pampanga; Bayanihan Hotel and Commercial Building in Baguio City; and the fantastic and well-preserved art deco buildings in Iloilo’s Central Business Dictrict.

Documented entertainment sites include the Metropolitan Theater in Manila by Juan Arellano; Saint Scholastica’s College’s Saint Cecilia’s Hall; Assumption Convent School’s Saint Anne’s Hall; Pines and Plaza theaters in Baguio; Che Silay Building in Silay, Negros Occidental; and Marina Theater in Bais, Negros Oriental.

This book toasts Art Deco style in the PH, from cinemas to cemeteries, in 500+ archival images 7
The Neilsen Tower (1937) in Makati, repurposed as an upscale restaurant, was Manila's first airport.

Lost Deco structures were also included in the book to show historically and artistically significant edifices either destroyed by war or demolished for commercial reasons. These include the San Lazaro Hippodrome in Sta. Cruz, Manila; Crystal Palace and Ideal Theater and Capitol Theater on Escolta and Avenida Rizal; Ideal Theater, Tivoli, and State Cinema on Avenida Rizal; and Life Theater on Quezon Avenue, Quiapo.

For government and public facilities, documented and featured are the Bulacan Provincial Capitol in Malolos, Bulacan; the municipal halls of Tanauan and Bauan in Batangas; the twin municipal halls of Sariaya, Quezon and Jaro, Iloilo City; Cebu Provincial Capitol; Surigao del Norte Capitol; Quezon Institute in Quezon City; Rizal Memorial Sports Complex; and even the Caliraya Intake Tower in Lumban, Laguna and the Arsenio Escudero Hydroelectric Power Plant in Tiaong, Quezon, among others.

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The art deco buildings inside the University of Santo Tomas and the famed Far Eastern University buildings as well as the Quezon Memorial Monument and the Rizal Monument in Malaybalay, Bukidnon are also included in the book, a visual treat with over 500 archival images and photographs. The images include graphic designs on archival posters, magazine covers, book illustrations, and other printed materials.

An interesting feature is the funerary architecture in various cemeteries such as the Chinese and La Loma cemeteries in Manila; North Cemetery straddling Manila and Caloocan; and the Catholic Cemetery of Silay, Negros Occidental.

This book toasts Art Deco style in the PH, from cinemas to cemeteries, in 500+ archival images 8
The Dy Buncio Mausoluem at the Manila Chinese Cemetery.

Covering a wide array of fine Art Deco samples all over the Philippines, ‘Deco Filipino’ is indeed a good resource material for the appreciation which will hopefully lead to the protection and conservation of the structures and objects of this particular stylistic heritage in the Philippines.