Quantcast
Latest Stories

Old Senate Session Hall restored to prewar glory

By

THE RESTORATION, funded mainly by Pagcor, costs P20 million. CHITO VECINA

If the walls of the old Senate Session Hall in the former Legislative Building in Manila could speak, imagine the stories they would tell.

As home to members of the Philippine Senate from 1926 to 1996, the historic venue had been a silent witness as senators from various eras debated and charted the Philippines’ future, from the country’s growing clamor for full independence from America in the 1930s to its rejection of a new US bases treaty in 1992.

Its walls remain mute to this day, but thanks to a two-year, P20-million restoration project undertaken by the National Museum, the old Session Hall along Padre Burgos Avenue in Manila has been restored to its prewar glory, from its rich cream-colored walls down to its vibrant red floors and baseboards.

The old Session Hall was also where then Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and his allies in the opposition delivered privilege speeches during the run-up to martial law in 1972.

It was closed and later turned into one of the National Museum’s galleries during the remainder of the Marcos years. (The Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City housed the parliament in the Marcos era.)

THE POSTWAR ceiling remains, but the damaged balustrades have to go. PHOTO BY CHITO VECINA

When democracy was restored after the People Power Revolution in 1986, the Senate and Congress returned to their old homes in the Legislative Building.

Then in 1996, the old Session Hall was closed again after the Senate moved to its new home at the GSIS Building in Pasay City. Work on the Session Hall’s restoration started in April 2010.

Directly below the Session Hall is another hall once used by members of Congress. It has since been converted to a gallery displaying Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium.”

First event

For its first event, the newly refurbished Session Hall was the venue of a sit-down dinner last Sept. 29 hosted by businessman Ramon del Rosario Jr., chair of both the National Museum and the Philippine Business for Education, a nonprofit organization that recognizes and provides funds to deserving educational institutions and teachers.

During its two-year restoration, Jeremy Barns and Ana Labrador, the National Museum’s director and assistant director, respectively, pored over old pictures in their attempt to produce a newly restored Session Hall that’s as close as possible to the original.

If the National Museum could preserve great works of art, why not its permanent home, which also includes the former Department of Finance building?

By 2014, the National Museum would also take over the Department of Tourism building across Rizal Park.

JUAN Luna’s “Spoliarium” in a separate hall once used by members of Congress. PHOTO BY CHITO VECINA

“Since the National Museum has enough space for its galleries, we won’t be turning the Session Hall into a permanent gallery,” said Labrador. “We can rent it out for private events on a case-to-case basis. The chairman (Del Rosario) envisions it as a venue for important events like state dinners.”

Considered the core of the then Legislative Building, the old Session Hall was designed by American architect Ralph Harrington Doane as a high-ceiling reading room. Doane,  part of the team of the legendary architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham, was also a consultant to the Bureau of Public Works.

When the Commonwealth government abandoned its original plan to house the National Library in the yet-to-be constructed building,  in favor of the Philippine Legislature, Filipino architect Juan Arellano stepped in to tweak the structure’s design and oversee construction.

Heavily damaged during the American liberation of Manila in 1945, the Legislative Building was in near ruins. But for some reason, the Session Hall remained intact with only its intricately carved hardwood ceiling blown off. When the newly independent postwar government worked on rebuilding the structure, it was able to restore much of the Session Hall to its original state.

Its prewar look became the peg of the restoration work started two years ago.  The Session Hall had murals which were painted by Arellano in between the overhead concrete fretwork, as well as garland and statues done by leading Filipino prewar sculptor Isabelo Tampinco.

Barns and Labrador chose the 1930s, because it was during this period that the country’s independence movement started to intensify. But in the absence of detailed pictures of the original, they left the venue’s less ornate postwar ceiling intact.

Missing murals

VARIOUS paint jobs the hall had undergone through the
decades. PHOTO BY CHITO VECINA

Workers searched in vain for Arellano’s murals that might be hidden underneath layers of old paint. The pair decided to simply give both the ceiling and spaces between the statues a fresh coat of paint, which Barns described as a “Bureau of Public Works cream.”

Taking advantage of economies of scale, the bureau, a precursor of the Department of Public Works and Highways, had a standard color for nearly all public buildings during the Commonwealth period.

“We’re mandated by law to preserve this hall where many historic events happened,” said Barns, referring to the 1998 National Museum Law. “Recognizing the historical importance of this hall, then Senator Neptali Gonzales included its preservation in our charter. He was concerned that the hall he and his colleagues and predecessors had held sessions in be preserved.”

The in-house project, funded mainly by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) through the National Museum’s endowment fund, tapped the expertise of the museum’s four heritage architects led by Evelyn Esguerra.

A series of concrete balustrades that bore the weight of a wooden floor that bisected the 15-m high Session Hall was damaged and replaced with faithful reproductions crafted by House of Precast.

The wooden floor, which literally divided the high-ceiling venue into two, wasn’t part of the Session Hall’s original grand and imposing design. With the addition of the wooden floor, Doane’s original intent of providing the hall with a high ceiling was lost.

In the years after the war, the senators sacrificed aesthetics in favor of space when they chose to add the wooden floor, which also effectively obscured the balustrades guarding the mezzanine that doubled as a public gallery. The Senate then met in the Session Hall’s lower level, and conducted its debates on the upper level.

“The space wasn’t exactly rundown,” said Labrador. “But we really needed to remove the wooden floor. It didn’t belong there and was already structurally unsound. We were joking among ourselves that what the war didn’t destroy, the senators did by adding that wooden floor.”

NATIONAL Museum director Jeremy Barns. PHOTO BY CHITO VECINA

Removing the wooden floor supported by a network of steel beams cemented to both sides of the overhead balustrades proved to be the toughest part of the restoration.

“Since the huge wooden floor was attached to the balustrades, we had to slowly and painstakingly chip away bit by bit the cement to remove it,” said Esguerra, the architect. “In the process, almost all the balusters were destroyed.”

Even the concrete arches just below the overhead statues as well as portions of the geometric fretwork and sculpted garland that came into contact with the wooden floor were damaged. Using intact portions as their patterns, sculptors from House of Precast went to work doing spot corrections.

 

Untouched section

But almost all the balusters had to be replaced. To give the public an idea of how damaged the balustrades were after the wooden floor was removed, Barns and his collaborators decided to leave untouched a small section on the right side of the Session Hall.

They did the same to a small portion of a pillar to show the various paint jobs the hall had undergone through the decades—from cream to off white to light gray, and back to cream again.

Not only was the wooden parquet flooring on the first level not part of the Session Hall’s original design, it could also lead to termite infestation. It definitely had to go, too.

“When we removed it, we discovered all sorts of electrical wirings underneath,” said Labrador. “After the surface was refurbished, we decided to go for red floors and baseboards in keeping with the Session Hall’s original look. Back then, they used only red floor wax to keep floors shiny.”

This time, though, they decided to seal the red floor with epoxy. The team also replaced the venue’s lighting system and had a more modern, energy-efficient air-con system installed.

Windows that were permanently locked from the outside because of a concrete barrier were replaced and opened up. Upon Barns’ instructions, workers also had to fashion a French-type window that leads to an outdoor veranda.

“You couldn’t go to the balcony before because they locked the doorway,” said Barns. “We also had to clear the place of various stuff, from tanks to air-con units (compressors), before we could even begin cleaning and refurbishing it.”

In the absence of any drawings or plans, there was no room for any “subjective” decision, Barns added. The task was pretty straightforward.

Perhaps to avoid being criticized by architects and historians, they made sure they didn’t add or leave out anything based on what they saw in old pictures.

“Without sounding self-serving, feedback so far has been all good,” Barns said. “No one expected it to be done. Most people have already forgotten about the Session Hall.”

They could have finished the work much earlier, but they were just within schedule because most projects of this nature had a two-year life span, Barns added.

Enough funds

“Money was really not a problem because everyone agreed that it was a worthwhile project. It was a very important project, but it wasn’t a mega project. It just needed to be done with care and attention. I think we’ve basically achieved our objective of restoring something that would evoke the sense of grandeur and purpose of this building.”

On Oct. 29, President Aquino, patron and honorary chair of the National Museum, will inaugurate the newly restored venue.

As a senator himself early in the new millennium, Aquino never had the chance to debate with his colleagues or deliver privilege speeches within the old Senate Session Hall, but his late father Ninoy once did, and did so brilliantly, with grace and conviction.

Visit the author’s blog at alexyvergara.wordpress.com


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Legislative Building , National Museum , Philippine Senate , Senate Session Hall

  • andrew lim

    Congrats to the team who worked on this!

    May I suggest that you allow private dinners or events be allowed in the building for additional income which can go to the maintenance fund of the place.

    Bravo!



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  3. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  4. No tourist draw, Malang the croc will remain wild
  5. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  6. The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  7. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  8. Homemade yogurt, bread blended with pizza, even ramen
  9. What has happened to Barrio Fiesta and Singing Cooks & Waiters?
  10. Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. How to enjoy Buntod
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  5. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  6. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  7. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  8. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  9. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  10. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer

News

  • Ukraine FM: We are ready to fight Russia
  • Slain officer’s ‘diagram’ rocks PNP
  • 2 contractors fined P25,000 for delays in Edsa rehab
  • Luisita beneficiaries take over renters
  • 5 years of hard work pay off for top UP grad
  • Sports

  • Sharapova advances to Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • Galedo caps ride of redemption
  • Beermen, Express dispute second semis slot today
  • Lady Agilas upset Lady Bulldogs in four sets
  • NLEX roars to 7th D-League win
  • Lifestyle

  • Wear a rainbow on your wrist
  • Wearing Kate Moss
  • Sail into summer
  • Life lessons from the Ultimate Warrior
  • Young actor profile: Teejay Marquez
  • Entertainment

  • Kristoffer Martin: from thug to gay teen
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Cris Villonco on play adapted from different medium
  • OMB exec’s assurance: We work 24/7
  • Business

  • Gaming stocks gain, PSEi eases on profit-taking
  • Cebu Pacific flew 3.74M passengers as of March
  • Corporate bonds sweeteners
  • Professionals in the family business
  • Foreign funds flowed out in Q1, says BSP
  • Technology

  • Vatican announces hashtag for April 27 canonizations
  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Opinion

  • Editorial Cartoon, April 25, 2014
  • No deal, Janet
  • Like making Al Capone a witness vs his gang
  • MERS-CoV and mothers
  • A graduation story
  • Global Nation

  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 American doctors
  • Career diplomat is new PH consul general in Los Angeles
  • US4GG: Aquino should ask Obama for TPS approval, drone technology
  • Complex health care system for California’s elderly and poor explained
  • Tiff with HK over Luneta hostage fiasco finally over
    Marketplace