OPINION: A ‘nostalgia walk’ through old Manila

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Nov 24 2018 08:13 AM

My first job was in Binondo. Clerk/messenger with the Rapid Customs Brokerage Company, at the corner of Dasmariñas and Rosario streets. That was in 1953-1954 when the minimum wage was 4 pesos a day.  Never did my monthly income reach a theoretical Ph 120 pesos a month. 

My daily routine was to take the bus  (JD/MD at 15 centavos fare, I recall, or was it 10 centavos?) from Legarda (between Alejandro VI and Gastambide--now renamed de los Santos and Dalupan, respectively) in Sampaloc;  through Azcarraga (now Recto Avenue) towards Divisoria, turning left on Reina Regente, just before the Tutuban Manila Rail Road station; passing the Binondo  church and plaza, to Juan Luna street.  There, I would alight from what may have been a 20-minute bus ride, at the corner of Dasmariñas for a very short walk to the corner of Rosario street. 

On Saturday, last October 10, some 64 years after,  I took the same route. On foot! A nostalgic walking tour from Sampaloc, through Quiapo, Santa Cruz, Binondo and back.  

My starting point was, of course, Legarda. From there I turned right on Recto Ave., walking along the right side towards Divisoria, crossing Quezon Blvd. and Rizal Avenue all the way towards  Tutuban, ascending the pedestrian footbridge where Reina Regente begins on the left side, across Jose Abad Santos Avenue. 

Then comes the venerable old church (now a Minor Basilica in honor of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz)  at Binondo Plaza, also renamed after San Lorenzo Ruiz. Across the church is Juan Luna street, perpendicular to which is Calle San Fernando leading to San Nicolas, beyond which lie the environs of Manila’s North Harbor. Ongpin street connects with San Fernando. I did not cross the San Fernando estero but instead proceeded along Juan Luna towards Pasig River. I turned left on Dasmariñas (2 blocks from the river),  stopping at the corner of Rosario (now Quintin Paredes) musing over memories. 

At this corner once stood a two-story structure of timber construction painted in dirty pale turquoise, as I recall.)  My first workplace! Rapid Customs Brokerage Co. was owned by “Mr. Chip” (Ang Chiok Chip) and its GM was Mr. Jose Guasch. There was a Chinese cafeteria next to our stairs in the ground level where I occasionally took my snack, usually a piece of ‘Kequiam,’ an elongated Chinese meat roll with sauce.
Next corner. The  gutted Insular Life building, across from the still existing iconic Uy Chaco, Manila’s century-old ‘art noveau' building. This is where Plaza Cervantes and Plaza Moraga converge. I ambled along the Escolta towards Santa Cruz church behind which is old Plaza Goiti, now renamed Lacson, whose statue faces the approach to MacArthur bridge, once known as Santa Cruz bridge.  

On one side, the neo-classical Roman Santos building, facing the intersect of Rizal Avenue with the ever-crowded  Carriedo. Carriedo ends, after traversing equally crowded Evangelista, at the Black Nazarene Basilica, Quiapo Church--where I was baptized. It faces the historic Plaza Miranda. Then, through the Quiapo underpass, beneath Quezon Blvd., up and out, into old R. Hidalgo street, all the way to the steel basilica of San Sebastian dominating Plaza Del Carmen. This is where Legarda ends or begins, depending on your orientation.  Calle San Rafael begins here, too, where the Department of Social Welfare and Development has held offices for decades.  

I crossed  Recto Avenue, along Legarda and headed for Bustillos (now Figueras)  where the plaza features the twin churches of ancient Sampaloc. One is the Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto Parish and the other, Franciscan  mission church locally referred to as “V.O.T.” with hardly anyone ever knowing anymore what the initials stood for!  

When Sampaloc was burning in early February 1945, families with bundled and boxed possessions south refuge and camped out in the huge patio space between the churches, facing Bustillos. 
Thus, I ended my “Nostalgia Walk.”    

In a leisurely 2½ hours, I covered the districts of Sampaloc, Sta. Cruz,  Binondo, Quiapo, and a bit of San Miguel. Apart from the many old familiar streets I passed, many of which had changed names over the decades, I also covered six churches and seven plazas, not to mention traversing several open veritable septic tanks, once upon a time known as esteros! All are now very tightly clogged stagnant, populated by god-awful shanties attempting to shelter the most utterly destitute of our brethren! Anyway, not bad, really, for a sprightly octogenarian, out on a sentimental lark!  

I did pause every so often. Once to partake of a glass of iced buko juice with slices of young coconut from a pushcart vendor. Also, to note, to observe, to gawk and ask questions, with the thought of sharing this urban adventure.

Let me share with you a few selected  significant sightings from the many; of memories my foot journey evoked. I am intentionally omitting descriptions of decay and detritus, the abjectly depressing deterioration of our beloved  Manila, all offensive to sight and to smell in full array all along my route.

Instead, let me  start with what will, for  sure, lift Lou Gopal’s heart. It was Lou  Gopal who conceived, initiated, organized and launched the ever popular, perhaps now a Philippine internet institution, the Facebook site: “Manila Nostalgia.” You see, Lou Gopal’s dad owned and operated a store along the Escolta, and nearby was “MY San,” a celebrated and well remembered very convenient café and refreshment parlor.  It must have been the narrowest frontage along Escolta. (I estimate about four meters wide!) They are the makers of the enduring and ever popular product: “Skyflakes Crackers,” which is now available even in San Antonio through the Texas giant grocery/supermarket chain H.E.B.
Well, lo and behold! “MY San” is still in the very same spot, still owned by the heirs of the old family. The sign, however, now says: “Escolta Ice Cream & Snacks.” The caretaker I spoke to mentioned a “Carolyn MarCheong(?)” as the heiress who still owns the place.

I wish to also  happily report that there are three pre-World War 2 edifices still standing along Escolta. The Calvo Building (weren’t Soriente-Santos Haberdashery and the Villar Record/Music Store in the ground floor?). The Regina building and the Perez-Samanillo still proudly erect. Samanillo’s estero front, somewhat askew of Escolta, was the entrance to  Berg’s Department store. 

The corner of what was Nueva street (now Yuchengco) where stood P.E. Domingo’s piano store (Imelda Romualdez’s first Manila employment as  ‘despachadora’/salesgirl,  before meeting Ferdinand Marcos). Next to it was Kairuz,  (bicycle shop also selling schoolboys’ shirts with a very distinctive V-collar) is now occupied by “Polland Hopia Factory!” A hopia factory along the Escolta?  

Well, not to be outdone, Savory Chicken which once occupied space at the foot of Jones bridge after WW 2 has apparently acquired the former site of  Manila’s once priciest jewelry emporium, the “La Estrella del Norte” across the street. The cordoned-off construction site is billed as the new home of “Savory.”

Funnily, walking these parts of Moraga and Cervantes, Binondo’s twin plazas, where the colorful and ornate Gateway to Chinatown now looms, reminded me of hamburgers! “Bob’s Big Boy!” was  perhaps post-war Manila’s very first hamburger joint, (most probably a knock-off and unfranchised from the California original). It was on the second floor of a two-story building across Cervantes along side Moraga, diagonally from the Globe McKay offices, ground floor of the Insular Life, for those who can close their eyes and see the past! 

I remember that when advertised, the draw of “Bob’s” as its receptionist-manager. She was the comely and shapely Filipina beauty of the era, Noemi de Leon, then hailed as contest winner for the title of “Miss Press Photography of the Philippines.” That was the first time I ever took a bite off a burger bun!

There is an alternative and more facile, practically effortless stay-at-home way to vicariously experience my Saturday morning episode. Just Google a street map of Manila, walk the route with your forefinger, imagine and simply enjoy  your  memories. Thus, you avoid personally witnessing the ghastly death of our “Noble and Ever Loyal” Manila!   
I am still in pain.  But not from walking! I am  in solemn mourning!  



Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

His e-mail is: [email protected]

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