the rise of modern manila

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After the capital was occupied by the Americans, ‘modern’ Manila began to emerge even while the U.S. military was still fighting Aguinaldo’s army. Parks, promenades, thoroughfares, and new buildings were constructed. An immense ice factory was erected on the south side of the Pasig River, and Clarke’s ice cream became available (in 1899) at an ice cream parlor/candy shop/café set up at Plaza Moraga in Binondo. The Colegio Filipino was established in 1900, the first private non-sectarian university, founded by Mariano Jhocson and later named the National University. The first hanging by the American government also took place.

The first American teachers (the “Thomasites”) also arrived in the Philippines starting in June 1901 to staff the public schools which were being opened all over the pacified areas. In 1903 the first government scholars (pensionados – boys and girls of high school age) were sent to the United States to become teachers, engineers, doctors and lawyers, on condition that for five years after their return they would be liable for government service. For better or for worse, the American period was underway, and henceforth, the struggle for independence would be fought solely in the political arena.

manila4Travel in Manila

Travel on Manila’s roads was by carriage and several kinds of rigs. There was the calesa, driven by a uniformed coachman (cochero), two-wheeled (sometimes four-wheeled), with wide seats, a folding top and deep upholstery, hired like a taxi. There were also the calesin (tilbury), a single-horse chaise with a liveried coachman; and the auto calesa, introduced in the 1880s, a horse-drawn tram car with bench-like seats for 8 passengers or more, precursor of the tranvia or electric streetcar introduced in the 1920s. The victoria, introduced in 1838 from England, was owned by the Manila well-to-do, drawn by two horses, driven by a liveried coachman and footman, with seats for passengers facing one another. The Spanish Governor General traveled in a carriage drawn by six white horses! The commoner’s carriage was the carromata, a canopied rig seating one passenger. A carretela was a passenger and freight vehicle for shoppers and businessmen of the Quinta and Divisioria public markets. In 1901 the first automobile, a ‘Georges Richard,’ was brought to Manila. By 1916 Manila had a traffic problem created by about 500 vehicles clogging the bridge called Puente de España!

manila5Cascoes on the Pasig River

The Pasig River, which had a lighthouse (farola), was a thoroughfare for all classes of watercraft. There could be large bancas of fishermen with huge nets catching fish, or bancas with outriggers with passengers perhaps en route to Cavite, or Chinese junks discharging and loading goods for or from large Spanish galleons on the Bay, or steam launches and sailing craft, or warships of the Spanish Navy. The boats shown here are cascoes, which have grass mat canopies and are used for transporting both freight and passengers. Propelled by pushing with bamboo poles and also by oars or paddles, they are flat-bottomed and thus could navigate the Pasig River and the shallow estuaries (esteros) that used to crisscross Manila.

manila6Calle Carriedo, Santa Cruz District

A typical street scene in turn-of-the-20th-century Manila. Seen here is an auto calesa running on tracks, a calesa behind and a carretela in the distance, and a bamboo sled (paragos) used for carrying heavy loads. Note also a water carrier balancing his cans on a bamboo pole, and ambulant street vendors. The huge houses were typical of the late Spanish period — two-story Antillean stone houses. Calle Carriedo runs into the district’s main shopping street, which became known as Avenida Rizal (Rizal Avenue). It had an assortment of shops and bazaars catering mainly to the mass of Filipinos.

manila2“The Escolta,” The Fashionable retail street in Manila.
Building with American Flags is the Post Office.

The most exciting place in Manila was Binondo, the business district, founded as a Chinese town in 1594. Under the ministry of Dominican friars, it eventually became a community of married Catholic Chinese and their mestizo descendants. The Chinese shops were located on Calle Rosario. Calle Escolta was the most prestigious shopping street, with all of the establishments European and American-owned. Here one could find the best restaurant – the Restaurant de Paris, at which, after a dinner served in the ‘European style,’ one could enjoy the best Manila cigars produced by La Insular or La Flor de la Isabela, reputedly on a par with the Havana. The name “Escolta,” which means escort, convoy, guard, was given during the British occupation of Manila (1762-1764), because the British Commander-in-chief would ride down the street daily with his escort.

manila7A bevy of Filipina Beauties from the Affluent class

The Filipinas in this photograph, obviously from affluent families, are wearing attire typical before the Americanization of Philippine dress. The Philippine dress was called the traje de mestiza (mestiza dress), and was worn by the better class of Filipinas. It consisted of a long skirt (saya), sometimes with an overskirt (tapis), a short blouse (camisa or baro), and shawl (alampay), which was later replaced by the panuelo (starched neck kerchief), as worn by all women in this photograph. For dressy occasions the skirt was fashioned from silk, satin, velvet or brocade and the blouse from expensive embroidered piña (pineapple) cloth. The sleeves are wide “angel” sleeves of Victorian fashion. Glittering jewelry and other accessories (golden necklaces with huge medallions or coral or pearl rosaries adorning the neck, pearl studded golden combs, or fresh jasmine flowers on long straight hair drawn tightly to the back of the head in a chignon or pusod) complete the attire. Small feet were thrust into gold or silver embroidered satin chinelas (slippers). And a Spanish fan – that “dexterously displayed weapon of womanhood,” useful both in attack and defense against the opposite sex, “without which she would feel lost!” The lady on the far left, front row, is wearing a long skirt with a train (cola). Usually the cola was swished around and tucked onto the saya’s front, especially when walking or dancing. The Philippine terno (with stiff butterfly sleeves) evolved from this mestiza dress.

manila8Country Women drawing water from a communal well
in a Pangasinan town, Northwestern Luzon

Everyday wear for peasant women was simple, consisting of a stiff sinamay (abaca or Manila hemp) baro and a short saya, sometimes enveloped in a tapis, generally of cotton. The skirt is a simple rectangular piece drawn very tightly around the waist. The figure of a peasant woman was described as “erect and stately,” due to the practice of carrying jars of water (as seen in the photo) or baskets of produce on her head with a pad of coiled cloth to steady the load.”

manila9Filipino children in Sunday best

The children in the photo are dressed in diminutive outfits similar to those worn by their elders, the boys very obviously wearing apparel copied from American or European styles.

manila10Filipino Theatrical Troupe

For entertainment, there were theaters for all classes of people, presenting musical dramas (zarzuela) and metrical romances (comedia de capa y espada), moro-moro (plays depicting love and war between Christians and Muslims), and comedia chinica for the Chinese. Theaters abounded in Manila and surrounding suburbs. There were small neighborhood suburban theaters and seasonal open-air theaters, especially during town fiestas and church festivals.

The actors in this photo portray characters from a comedia, which superseded the moro-moro by the second half of the 19th century. Comedias are European metrical romances of chivalry, full of battle, romance, fantasy, and visual splendor as seen in the elaborate costumes. No longer focusing on the religious conflict between Islam and Christianity as depicted in the moro-moro, the conflict lay instead in knights fighting over the hand of a “devastatingly” beautiful princess.


Captain James Liddell

The photographs were taken from an album collected by Captain James Liddell of Carrollton, Mississippi, who went to the Philippines with the American army in 1898 at the time of the Spanish-American War. The album has 82 photographs of important historical events and scenes of Philippine life towards the end of the Spanish colonial period in 1898 and the beginning of the American regime after 1898. Each photograph was meticulously labeled by Capt. Liddell, some of the captions reflecting his impressions of Philippine events and of the people they recorded. [Two photographs are not of the Philippines and one photograph was probably not correctly labeled.] A good part of the photographs have not been published before, and they provide a rich record of Philippine life at the time Capt. Liddell lived in the Philippines.

James Monroe Liddell (1853-1915) was with the 5th U.S. Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War (1898), and with Company D, 29th U.S. Volunteer Infantry during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). He remained in the Philippines after his military service and served as judge in a municipal court in Manila. He also engaged in the timber business in Mindoro, where he had a homestead planted to coconuts, which he thought would give him a good business when they matured. He also operated a Chevrolet car agency in Manila. He died of cholera in 1915. His son, Frank, was interned at the University of Santo Tomas during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines (1941-1945) and survived the internment “only because of Filipino friends who surreptitiously passed food to him through the fence surrounding the prison . . . at considerable risk to their own lives,” in his own narration.

Thanks and Appreciation

Capt. James Monroe Liddell’s album was a gift to the Philippine Arts, Letters and Media Council (PALM) by Jeane Olson and her daughters, Alexandra and Sarah. Jeane Noordhoff Olson’s husband was the late Lawrence Alexander Olson, Jr., only child of Wanda Liddell Olson. Wanda Liddell Olsons’ father was Dr. William Walker Liddell, younger brother of Captain James Monroe Liddell. Alexandra and Sarah are great-great nieces of Captain James Monroe Liddell.

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