Remember jai alai: Stop making Manila heritage demolition victim


HERE LIES HERITAGE. 12 years ago the Art Deco treasure was torn down. INQUIRER PHOTO

First it was the jai alai aficionados who cried foul after the sport was first banned in the Philippines in 1986 amid allegations of game-fixing. With the game gone, the building was foreseen to be the next casualty.

True enough, on July 15, 2000, the jai alai building on Taft Avenue in Manila was demolished amid great clamor from the public and heritage conservation groups for its retention.

The destruction of the building was a national wake-up call for the importance of heritage.

The four-story jai alai fronton was among the significant buildings in Asia designed in the Art Deco style by Welton Becket, the same American architect behind the Los Angeles International Airport.

The justification for its demolition? The building was declared unsafe—without prior consultation with conservation architects and engineers.  City engineers were swift in condemning the structure, paving the way for its demolition.

The lot where the former jai alai building stood remains empty to this day, despite the announcement of Manila City Hall during the incumbency of Mayor Lito Atienza that it was badly needed and the building to be torn down to pave the way for a Hall of Justice. Whatever happened to that? What injustice has been wrought upon our heritage?

The jai alai demolition is a glaring example of the fleeting nature of heritage: Once heritage vanishes, it never returns.

The demolition of Manila heritage is alarming.

Despite the passing of the Republic Act No. 10066—the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009—that protects all 50-year-old buildings and specifies that special permission be secured from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts for their renovation or demolition, their destruction goes on.

The trustees of the Heritage Conservation Society have sent this open letter:

“The Heritage Conservation Society, the country’s leading conservation nongovernment organization, remembers the jai alai and the start of its demolition on July 15—12 years ago.

“Public outcry and his promise not to demolish one of the largest and finest Art Deco structures in Asia did not stop Manila Mayor Lito Atienza from ordering the demolition.

Sacrifice in vain

“Like a sacrifice, its loss was part of the genesis of Republic Act No. 10066 of 2009, also known as the Heritage Law. But the sacrifice seems to have been in vain, because the law is flouted today in an unending pillage of the national patrimony.

“In Manila alone, prewar landmarks such as the Art Deco Laperal Apartments on C.M. Recto Street and the old Juan Arellano-designed Meralco headquarters in San Marcelino Street were bulldozed early this year.

“The owners of the old GSIS headquarters right behind Manila City Hall have been asked by Manila City Hall when they were going to demolish this landmark by architect Federico Ilustre.

“In Mandaluyong, the Laurel mansion, which was supposed to be the heart of a condominium development, will now be obliterated by it. Through this open letter, the Heritage Conservation Society calls on the main proponent and implementing agency of the Heritage Law, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, to stop the pillage.”

City’s identity

The society expressed that what is really at stake here is the preservation of the identity of the city.

Intramuros, Binondo, Ermita, Quezon City and Makati each have their own identities that contribute to making Manila a place of beauty and history very much like Paris and Rome that have conserved their heritage buildings so their streets radiate their individual identities which make them unique cities in the world.

The destruction of our urban identities and the construction of generic high-rises and building complexes—that look like they could be anywhere else in the Philippines—are being done all in the name of “development.”

The generic new buildings have removed practically all traces of Baguio, one of the few Philippine cities with a distinct identity and look.

Manila looks like Cebu, which looks like Cagayan de Oro, which looks like parts of Quezon City and Dagupan.  How can residents of different Philippine cities have pride in the interchangeable urban identity that is sweeping the country?

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Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Rico Manila

    I think many of you are not aware of the story behind the supposed Manila Hall of Justice Building Project. It was a project of then President Estrada where he was suppose to give the City of Manila P50Million to build their own Hall of Justice. The project was marked as a priority project by Malacanang since the Manila Courts were all cramped in Manila City Hall. What is sad here is when former President Estrada was ousted, the project was discontinued by the new administration. Atienza, who happened to be the Mayor then, was just implementing a directive from the President.

    • Copernicus99

      As the chief executive of the City of Manila, Atienza could have easily resisted the implementation of the project on that particular site. However, preserving the architectural history of Manila was not among his priorities. Wasn’t it under his administration too that the former train terminal in Plaza Dilao, Paco was also torn down? Manila is such an unfortunate city having the likes of Atienza and Lim in succession.

      • hernandezr047

        ang pagkakatanda ko, time ni president ramos nademolish yung former PNR station sa Paco, at nung time na yun, vice mayor pa lang si atienza. ang mayor nung time na yun si Lim. Oo, time nga ni Atienza nademolish yung jai-alai pero dapat lang yata itama natin na time naman ni Lim as mayor nademolish yung PNR d b?

  • sacrebleau

    For me, ex-mayor Lito Atienza will be known for one thing and one thing only: The one who demolished the Jai Alai building. He has no sense of history.

  • Pulis Na Pogi

    manila has a new heritage:  a whore who services practically everyone and takes on all comers–no past, no future!

  • Ronald_18

    Aside from Jai Alai, Atienza also approved the demolition of Jesuits house in Sta. Ana, Manila.  When Mayor Lim assumed as a Mayor, he made a dialogue with SM and concerned groups to preserved historical structures.

    As a result, SM gave in from the people’s concern and made their Save More adopted design of old Spanish structure.

    • antonias220

       walang pinapademolish si atienza na structure ng Jesuits. Jai-alai, oo dinemolish pero si Pres. Erap at that time ang nagpapalagay nung Hall of Justice na dapat itatayo doon. Minalas lang at natanggal siya sa puwesto kaya d na natuloy yung project.

  • GiantSlayer

    One thing that could add to the historical sense of Manila are new street signs with the old names in parenthesis beneath the new ones.  All history references are lost on the new generation & when one reads the works of Manilenos regarding places, the newer generations does not have any idea where Trabajo, Gov. Forbes, etc. is.  Let us keep the city’s heritage alive.

  • Batz61

    I think the author has to update this article. The lot where the Jai-a-lai used to be and which was reserved for the Manila Hall of Justice seems to have been turned over/ bought (or whatever) by DMCI for their Torre de Manila Condominium project. In fact, they have already embedded large steel posts and boarded the front of the property with advertisements. :)

  • GKLer

    This only proves any new law enacted, is pretty much useless in the Philippines.
    Add to this the Clean Air Act of 1999… we still have no clean air.

  • KurakotNaPinoy

    Politicians only look for how will get voted on the next elections, kaya pakapalan ng mukha sa tarpaulin na kung saan saan nakabitin.

    Besides, puro kurakot lang ginawa ni Atienza habang mayor sya. Buhayin ang MayniLA ba kamo?

    Heritage and sense of history? Wala tayo nun…

  • Freddie Mariano

    Haay naku, Atienza ka! Ang daming baho umaalingasaw sa iyo! Dapat sa yo broker, hindi public official! Huwag na huwag ka ng kakandidato uli dahil ikakampanya kitang huwag kang iboto.

    • antonias220

       wow, lumilihis na sa topic ang usapan. jai-alai pinag-uusapan tapos may mga iba nang sinasabi. halata naman masyado yan. kung talagang importante sa kanila yung jai-alai building, dapat noon pa declared na na historical site d b?

      • Freddie Mariano

        Oo, tama ka dapat noon pa dineclare na historical site ito. Hindi na nga nangyari tapos pinagiba pa! Naku naman!

      • antonias220

         kaya nga e. mahalaga naman pala pero pinabayaang nakatiwangwang nang matagal tapos nung may project na si presidente erap at iimplement na ng city, saka nag-alboroto at naalalang mahalaga pala yun? ba’t ganon?

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