OPINION: Ayala beef, oranges, cowboy hats and booze

Buddy Gomez - Cyberbuddy

Posted at Aug 31 2017 09:57 PM

There was a time when venerable Ayala was in the business of selling beef, Valencia oranges and cowboy hats! 

Among my cherished Ayala memories, exactly where all this rather humdrum commercial activity happened remains to be my favorite spot in all of Makati. That was in the early to mid-1960s. The use of that space and occupancy have changed drastically and now, there is not even a trace of its past. Legions of Ayala employees may not even know about it. The operations I speak of all belonged to a wholly owned Ayala subsidiary known as “Las Arenas.”

For Makati denizens and habitues, and for the simply curious as well, I speak of that stretch of real estate fronting Makati Avenue between Dela Rosa Street and Arnaiz Avenue when it was still officially known as Pasay Road. Esperanza Street (where the “Residences” condo complex is located) which connects Makati Avenue with Paseo de Roxas was not even thought of yet.

Yes, I am speaking of the general vicinity of the Greenbelt where the Ayala Museum and its six-storey edifice, repository of Filipino culture (ethnographic and archaeological artifacts), now stands, at the very corner of Dela Rosa. And a few steps towards the west, there is the Roman Catholic Chapel, a distinctive fount and symbol of Filipino piety and religiosity, in the very heart of the country’s Central Business District. I bet very few of its churchgoers know that it is formally known as “the Santo Nino de Paz Community Greenbelt Chapel.” Being familiar with its schedule of holy activities, both liturgical Masses, novenae and other devotional exercises, I reckon this Chapel could vie for the title of being one of the busiest in the world. And perhaps, even in the level of financial success. Sacerdotally speaking, of course!!

Walled off from Makati Avenue, where the Chapel and pond are sited, was a fattening feedlot for cattle that doubled up as an abbatoir! In other words, that Chapel and pond space was once a “matadero.” It was an open-air slaughter area next to the pond, where cattle was quartered and dressed, and then hung in an adjacent concrete one-story building that had refrigeration, freezing and chilling facilities. That was also the meat shop. And that is where the Museum now stands.

The actual slaughtering was contracted out to a slaughter house operator/meat dealer from Mandaluyong. His name was Macapagal. In exchange for his services, he was compensated by appropriating for his own gain the hooves, heads and the hide of the slaughtered animals. Hides were immediately heavily salted and rolled up into a bundle with the Meycawayan, Bulacan tanneries as its eventual destination. (At least, Ayala did not directly go into the tannery business!) Water hosing and rinsing off the detritus all flowed into the pond. That was a natural pond at the time.

Ayala was, in fact, then venturing into the quality beef market, hoping to develop a regular clientele among Makati residents, principally. It stood to reason that a commercial outlet was needed for the production coming out of the Ayala-owned ranches. And of necessity, an experienced butcher had to be hired. I just do not recall how his employment position was described payroll-wise! A real butcher in the Ayala ‘plantilla'!

The cattle came from various locations where Ayala had agricultural and ranching interests. Batangas, of course, where the Ayala family Calatagan estate is located, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, Masbate and Davao.

It is further very interesting to note that the very first project of Filipinas Foundation, Inc. (now known as Ayala Foundation, Inc. whose most visible undertaking is the Ayala Museum) was a Cattle Nutrition Research project located in Sumilao, Bukidnon. It called for the cultivation and experimentation of types of grasses best suited for cattle raising in the Philippine. The project was supervised through the Agriculture Department of Ateneo in Cagayan de Oro. I recall that the project director was a certain Jesuit, Fr. Mondonedo.

All these reflected the avocation of then up and coming President and CEO of Ayala, Enrique Zobel, an avid horse lover, cattleman and agriculturist. When I was invited to join Ayala from the insurance companies, EZ, as Mr. Zobel was referred to, was already a ‘Managing Partner’ and General Manager of Ayala y Compania. The family business partnerrship was reorganized as Ayala Corporation. That was a momentous event. It was the swan song of Col. Joseph R. McMicking, upon his retirement in 1968.

And so, Ayala also had orchards of Valencia oranges. The citrus farms were located in Lapanday district of Davao City but the market was in Greater Manila. The fruits were degreened, waxed, sized, crated and transported to Manila thru the North Harbor. They were stored in the same building where the meat shop was. And there, Las Arenas was also selling Valencia oranges. We had a small sales crew selling to groceries and sari-sari stores.

Las Arenas had for its first Manager Mickey Ortigas who left for greener pastures. Ariston Estrada Jr. and I took turns managing the shop until Laddie Salas came along, to preside over the demise of Las Arenas.

And the cowboy hats? It was a rather fanciful happenstance. From what I can remember, it appears that during a cattle-buying trip to Texas, one of the ranches visited had a discontinued operation for assembling, wiring, stiffening and molding cowboy hats. The foundation sires of Enrique Zobel’s ranches purchased Indu-Brazil and Santa Getrudis bulls. I do not recall if the entire cowboy hat equipment set was being given away or was being sold for junk! 

In any case, EZ took a fancy for it and had the equipment shipped to Makati. Ayala was in the business of assembling and selling cowboy hats made of straw, somewhat like heavily starched ‘buntal.’ I acquired mine at the gift shop of Davao Insular Hotel in 1963, while on an assessment/critique assignment of the hotel operations. The hat-pressing equipment ended up with the heirs of Don Toribio Teodoro of the “Ang Tibay” shoe fame, as I recall.

And before I forget, the booze! Didn't I mention much earlier that old Ayala also engaged in booze. Ginebra San Miguel, the famed “cuatro cantos.”
 
Why did Ayala get out of the alcoholic beverage business and dispose of Ginebra San Miguel Cuatro Cantos? The Destileria, after all, had been a long-time major income source for Ayala y Cia. 
This happened in 1924 at about the time when “Prohibition” in the United States was already ramping up. Prohibition, let us get refreshed, was a constitutional ban in the U.S. on the production, importation, transport and selling of alcoholic beverages. 
 
Here is the scuttlebutt that I remember learning from Ayala oldtimers and elders. I was always an eager and inquisitive listener. Lunch break and the cocktail hour at the B&B (Bull & Bear - bar and resto) on the top floor of the old and first Makati Stock Exchange Bldg., also along Ayala Avenue, the very first edifice within the Triangle. That was the usual venue for story telling and sharing recollections. It is evident that my sources may have been themselves passing on hand-me-down tales from their seniors.

The leadership of Ayala y Compania, Enrique Zobel de Ayala, feared that ‘Prohibition’ in the mainland might also extend to and encompass U.S. territorial possessions, especially the Philippine Islands being her only colony. 

Ayala decided to get out of the booze business and sold the Destileria to a willing taker, a smaller competitor. That was the La Tondena, founded and owned by Carlos Palanca, Sr. Palanca was Manila’s top and very prominent Chinese businessman and philanthropist of the era. Before being baptized a Christian, he was Tan Quin Lay. So influential was he that he was appointed the very first Chinese Consul in the Philippines at the outset of the American regime.

As the world spun, Prohibition never reached Philippine shores. Did Ayala’s fear of Prohibition become an unfortunate business miscalculation? Quien sabe? Who knows!

When the US abolished Prohibition in 1933, Ayala y Cia, was well on its way towards establishing roots in a new business. Ayala had already ventured into real estate. 

For other articles, click CYBERBUDDY

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.