After standing abandoned for many years, the Luneta Hotel near the corner of Roxas Boulevard and T.M. Kalaw Ave. in Manila underwent a series of reconstructions and is set to open to the public on Manila Day, June 24.
People who were alive when the hotel opened in 1918—and even those who saw it only years later as a reminder of a more genteel past—have fond memories of the hotel.
Filipino Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the papal nuncio to Haiti, was a student at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and recalled how he used to pass by the hotel and marvel at its French architecture including its huge windows and intricate wrought-iron grilles.
After he blessed the hotel last Friday, Auza had the opportunity to sleep in the U-shaped room that US President Dwight D. Eisenhower used to book during his stay in the Philippines in the 1930s. A hotel employee, who declined to be named, said that Auza described his brief stay “like reminiscing Paris.”
In fact, with its sloping Mansard roof, French windows and iron grilles, the hotel calls to mind architecture during the French renaissance. According to the hotel employee this writer interviewed, only the exterior has remained intact.
The hotel survived the bombing of Manila by Japanese forces in World War II, and its ownership changed hands several times. But the years saw a sad deterioration in the state of the building.
All the gargoyles that peer at pedestrians from above have since been cleaned and repainted. The same goes for the elaborate grilles twisted into curlicues and embellished with metal flowers and four-leaf clovers.
While the interior walls were all still standing, almost all of them needed to be strengthened and retrofitted.
The hotel is now operated by Beaumont Holdings.
Once it reopens, the first floor lobby will consist of the reception area and a coffee shop, Café Yano, named after Cipriano Lacson, the hotel’s new owner who hails from Malabon.
The second floor will house the second F&B outlet, Restorante Filomena, named after Cipriano’s wife. It will share space with some of the hotel’s offices and function rooms. Many of them have black-and-white checkerboard tiles, and French windows that open out into balconies.
A consulting chef, Norman Paguio, is in charge of the menus at both outlets. While Café Yano will offer mainly hot and cold beverages, sandwiches and other short order items, Restorante Filomena will offer full meals with a distinct Filipino-Spanish bent.
F&B supervisor Novem Villahermosa said the hotel wants to stick to this kind of menu since these were the dishes that were familiar during its heyday. Expect items like callos and cocido.
The guest rooms are located on the third, fourth and fifth levels with nine rooms on each floor.
Unlike rooms in contemporary hotels that are arranged in neat rows, the ones at the Luneta Hotel require turning a number of corners.
Inside the rooms, however, modern creature comforts such as carpeted floors, easy chairs, ottomans, a mini-ref and air conditioning are in place.
A round dresser mirror in a wooden frame mimics the round windows in some of the rooms, while the headboards are basically thin pieces of wood with a diamond pattern etched into them.
The bathrooms use a combination of clear and frosted glass. Some of them have white ceramic tubs while others are outfitted with glass shower stalls with rainshower heads.
The sixth floor will be turned into a lounge offering cocktails with a view of Manila and its famed sunset.
Most remarkable about the rooms are the high ceilings measuring well over 20 feet, which give the semblance of expansiveness; the floor-to-ceiling windows also help do the trick.
“We’re not like other hotels with a gym and a business center,” said the hotel employee we talked to. “We cater to very distinct clients, mainly those who love history and who choose a certain hotel because they want to learn more about the place they are visiting.
“When you stay at the Luneta Hotel, you can choose to read a book while having coffee at Café Yano, or you can go to the National Museum, Intramuros and Luneta to find out more about Manila and its place in history.”
The hotel employee said that since the blessing last Friday, they have been fielding inquiries from children of American servicemen who were posted in Manila during World War II.
“They are eager to know more about the place where their fathers fought, died or spent an important part of their lives,” she said.
While booking for functions are now being accepted—there is already a birthday party scheduled for December—room bookings are still on hold pending the rating to be handed down by the Department of Tourism.
In the speech she gave last Friday, general manager Grace Torres said that while Luneta Hotel was a part of Philippine history, its reopening heralds the start of a new era: “Sa pagbubukas ng Luneta Hotel, makakaasa kayo na ito ay maghuhudyat ng panibagong pahina ng kasaysayan…”
History and culture buffs must be rejoicing. With the reopening of Luneta Hotel, an important heritage site has been preserved for old and new generations to appreciate.