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Remember jai alai: Stop making Manila heritage demolition victim

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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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  • http://twitter.com/MarLouWang Marlou Wang

    We need “developments”  in order to earn “kickbacks”.

  • daniboy2012

    Manila is a shxt hole…demolish those junk houses and old buildings! 

  • DGuardian

    Ang pag-demolish sa gusali ng Jai Alai na tunay na isang historical landmark at architectural jewel ang isa sa pinakagrabeng ginawa ni Lito Atienza. Napakahirap na ang isang taong hindi cultured at walang appreciation at sense of history ang nagiging public official na naghahawak ng decision kung pananatilihin o gigibain ang isang structure o lugar na historical ganoon o ng isang environmental treasure na lugar sa anumang parte ng ating bansa. Isa pa, sana ay bigyan ng ating pamahalaan ng pangangalaga ang ating mga heritage sites tulad ng Vigan at ng mga iba pa sa Laguna at mga siyudad at probinsya na bahay ng ating mga heroes o lugar ng kasaysayan ng Pilipinas. Kung nakakagasta ang Department of Tourism ng milyum-milyon para sa promotion ng turismo, bakit hindi muna nito ipa-ayos,pagandahin,at pangalagaan ang mga tourism sites na kabilang sa pupuntahan ng mga dayuhang turista? Sa Vigan ay may mga old Spanish-style houses na sira-sira na. Paano naaatim ng Tourism Department na ipakita ito sa mga turista? Dapat ay sila ang mag-restore ng mga ito dahil mahirap at walang pera ang salin-lahing nagmana sa mga bahay na ito. Napakarami pang heritage sites sa bansa na tunay na napabayaan. 

    Nananawagan ako kay Mayor Alfredo Lim ng Maynila. Mawalang-galang na, Mayor. Sana ay ipaayos ninyo at itama ang mismong walk sa Manila Baywalk. Ipina-demolish po ninyo ang mga tindahan ng pagkain doon, pero imbes pong maging uniform na Adobe ang flooring ng baywalk ay pinatapalan lang po ng semento ang mga parte na iinalisan ng mga tindahan. Mura lang po naman ang mga batong Adobe. Bakit po hindi pinag-parehas ang flooring sa kahabaan ng baywalk? Tunay pong napakasakit sa matang tingnan. Marami pong foreign tourists na nagpupunta doon. Nakakahiya po para sa ating bayan. Maging sa mga Pilipino po na nagpupunta doon. Wala po ba silang karapatang magkaroon ng maayos at world-class man lang na pasyalan? Sana po ay gawan ng solusyon ni Mayor Lim at ng Tourism Department ang bagay na ito pati na ang pagkakaroon ng itatalagang taga-linis at taga-kuha ng mga basura na laging naiipon sa baybayin sa gilid ng baywalk  

    Mayor Lim, sana rin po ay pagandahin at lagyan ng maayos at magandang tiles ang mga sidewalks sa university belt, Quezon Blvd overpass, at iba pang lugar sa Maynila. Gapat po sana ay may fee na hihingin sa mga establisimiento para rito dahil extension ng struktura nila ang sidewalk at dapat ay kasing ayos at ganda rin ng kanilang buildings, shops o houses.

  • dequis

    iyong national library sayang ang lupa sayang ang kikitain natin dian. ipagiba na rin iyan, lipat na lang bandang carmona o spang palay kaya.

  • UrHONOR

    I used to walk to this building once in a little while to get my jeepney ride back home from Muralla.  Ang mahal-mahal pa ng coke noon sa Jai-Alai….dalawang piso daw, e, dies lang sa labas.  Mayayaman at ma-kwarta lamang ang nakakapasok doon.  Nakikinig lamang kami sa kwento ng mga nakapasok na doon.  Those were indeed the days.  Like the proverbial King Solomon story, those who have no heart for the art and the finer things in life, “SIGE, GIBAIN na yan para PAGKAKITAAN!” (SAYANG DIN NAMAN ANG PORSYENTONG MAKUKUHA DYAN)

  • http://alasfilipinas.blogspot.com/ Pepe Alas

    A priest in La Laguna once quipped that heritage conservation has no chance in a Third World country such as ours. Let us prove him incorrect.

  • mnlmad

    Manila has no soul. While our Asian neighbors are lovingly restoring their colonial buildings and other heritage sites, we destroy  our classic buildings. Its no wonder very few tourists ever visit Manila.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/66IS3CYAAZYSRMPVINWJBJ7VRY pedro

    sad state of our heritage sites. kaya baka in the very near future fort santiago will be totally demolished and all that is inside the old intramuros ….. regarding Jail Alai building, the keg room, sky room sayang ….. pati nga sa mga patio nang mga lumang simbahan tinayuan nang mga bagong building na hinde nagharmonize sa church building ….. i hope magising na ang mga liderato natin sa kahalagahan nang heritage sites. I admire Hanoi city up to now there is still an air of her previous grandeur inspite of the bombing she received during the so called vietnam war …. pero Manila is a symbol of decaying city ….. sayang …

  • blade_29

    The criminals behind these demolitions have no sense of history or they may have been absent when these were being discussed in class. Such a sad state in our rich collective culture where the call for individual financial profit weighs much heavier than preserving the heritage of the entire Filipino people. This wanton disregard for our history must stop now, not only in the City of Manila but in the whole of the Philippines as well.

  • alexobana

     the root of the problem is lack of knowledge and appreciation of our cultural heritage. this is what Filipinos are missing. Singapore has a way in conserving their diverse, yes, Singapore heritage is more diverse than the Philippines and yet they can preserve old buildings that remind them of their history. no matter how old and unsafe the building, i am sure filipino engineers and architects (most of them go overseas to use their talents) are intelligent enough to work on preserving old buildings and structures. politicking is the problem



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