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The Heritage of Manila Hotel

The Heritage of Manila Hotel
By Franz Sorilla IV
By Franz Sorilla IV
August 14, 2014

For over a century, the Grand Dame of hotels in the Philippines withstood pivotal moments in the country’s history and welcomed notable personalities. Find out the roots of the historic hotel and the new path it paves.

The Manila Hotel Ante Lobby

No other hotel in Metro Manila exuded Filipino opulence during the 20th century more than the Manila Hotel. Its reverence for Filipino culture and traditions together with its American and European influences have made it one of its kind and earned it the title of “the address of prestige in the Far East.” With the service personnel in tailored costumes designed by Bon Gavino Gautier that are reminiscent of the golden period in Philippine history, walking upon the steps of the Manila Hotel’s grand staircase is like entering a time-machine.

But amid its efforts in maintaining the old-world charms, the Manila Hotel welcomes the 21st century with much fervour by keeping up with modernisation and the new standards of luxury. Hence, the Manila Hotel’s executive vice president, Dr. Enrique Yap, stands at the helm of the hotel’s “transformation plan” and envisions it as a luxury heritage resort hotel that embodies both the old and the new, the classic and the modern, heritage and innovation.

Early Years

The architect and city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham, known as Baguio City’s mastermind, drew a vision for Metro Manila in 1898. He planned to have a tree-lined boulevard that began at Rizal Park and ended at the fabled Manila Bay, where a majestic hotel would welcome local and foreign guests. With the rising demand for first-class accommodations brought by the increasing number of entrepreneurs, heads of state, and other notable personalities in various professions arriving upon the city’s shores, the vision was later drawn into blueprints by the architect William Parsons.

The Champagne Room

Constructed in 1908, the Manila Hotel was at the turn of the 20th century. The Filipino bourgeoisie had kept the luxurious life the Spaniards left and altogether persisted with American commercialism, education, technology, and culture. Thus, the Manila Hotel was designed with white magnificent walls and a green-tiled roof in California Missionary-styled edifice. The old-world splendour of the Grand Lobby is evident in the original marble floors, hardwood accents, and impressive chandeliers that are retained to this day. Having 149 rooms, the hotel was specifically built not only to serve guests with Filipino hospitality but to show the grandeur of Manila Bay’s sunset, Corregidor Island, Intramuros, and Luneta Park. On July 4, 1912, during the commemoration of American Independence, the Manila Hotel first opened its doors to 400 guests and served them dinner with American roast, Philippine lobster, and French champagne. The hotel flourished in the twenties and became the residence of honourable guests in the thirties like General Douglas MacArthur and his family.

The Superior Deluxe Room

Although it suffered damages in World War II, especially during the liberation of Manila, the Manila Hotel was reconstructed and continued to usher in illustrious guests when it reopened in 1946. Besides being a witness to the pivotal moments of the country’s history from the fifties, it kept track of its records of Philippine history through its list of guests. Bob Hope, the Beatles, Prince Charles, President William “Bill” Clinton, Secretary John Foster Dulles, Senator Robert Kennedy, Sir Anthony Eden, Charlton Heston, Michael Jackson, the Rockefeller brothers, John Wayne, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, then-Vice President Richard Nixon, President Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson are among the foreign dignitaries, heads of state, celebrities, and Philippine government officials that stepped into the hotel’s lobby, slept in the suites, dined in its restaurants, and indulged themselves in the glorious sunset of Manila Bay. As Ernest Hemingway puts it, “It’s a good story if it’s like Manila Hotel,” as he was also once a guest.


As the Century Turns

Café Ilang-Ilang

Currently, Manila Hotel is in its “transformation phase.” Since 2009 the management has been renovating the rooms of the Tower Building and opening new restaurants that showcase the country’s other heritage roots. In 2009 the Mabuhay Palace was opened and offered gourmands and gourmets authentic Cantonese cuisine. Café Ilang-Ilang was opened in 2011 as a chic casual dining place that brings together a wide range of the world’s cuisines. The delectable desserts and open kitchens of Café Ilang-Ilang have painted new colours to Manila Hotel’s grandeur. The Champagne Room meanwhile epitomises old European splendour with its distinctive décors and the French-Mediterranean cuisine it serves.

The event spaces, however, have undergone extensive renovations since 2012, particularly the Centennial Hall. Fiesta Pavilion’s pillars and chandeliers will be taken down to accommodate up to 2000 conference participants and install customisable lighting facilities in a theatre-like setup. This decision anticipates the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in 2015. To put this project into fruition, the hotel teamed up with Manny Samson and Associates.

The Manila Hotel ensures that guests will enjoy the same-old Filipino heritage spirit without depriving them of the gratifications given by modern technology. The same grandeur and elegance that it radiates have never been tarnished and made more dazzling with its modernised facilities complementing its intricate Filipino interiors. The Manila Hotel continues to reflect the heritage of Metro Manila, the culture of its residents, the influences of its guests, and treads on a new path to globalisation as the century turns again for it. 


Manila Hotel, 1 Rizal Park, Metro Manila, +632.527.0011


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