Then and Now – Plaza de Cervantes
Posted by BCS on October 9, 2008
A footnote in the English translation of Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo” by Charles Derbyshire (copyright, 1912, by Philippine Education Company) states:
“Originally, Plaza San Gabriel, from the Dominican mission for the Chinese established there; later, as it became a commercial center, Plaza Vivac; and now known as Plaza Cervantes, being the financial center of Manila.—Tr.”
In Chapter 2 (entitled “All About the Town”) of the book “The Great White Tribe in Filipinia” by Paul T. Gilbert (1903, Jennings and Pye), Plaza de Cervantes is described as:
“The banking center of Manila, built around a dusty plaza in the Tondo district, and consisting of low buildings occupied by offices of shipping and commercial companies, suggests a scene from “The Merchant of Venice” or “Othello.” English firms—such as Warner, Barnes & Co.; Smith, Bell & Co.; the Hong Kong-Shanghai Banking Corporation, where the silver pesos jingle as the deft clerks stack them up or handle them with their small spades—are situated hereabouts.”
As you may have noticed, Gilbert said “Tondo district” and not Binondo. But then, this paragraph is preceded by a paragraph about Escolta and followed by a paragraph about Plaza Binondo (which he only referred to as “an emerald plaza” with which he mentioned about Oriente Hotel and Insular Tobacco Company).
Moreover, writing about Plaza de Cervantes in his article “A Walk in Binondo”, Anson T. Yu mentioned that:
“Just across Juan Luna St. from the BPI building, you will see a five-story structure of neo-classical style. This building was known in prewar Manila as the offices for Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Corporation. In fact, HSBC has been on that site since 1875, when it was originally house in a two-story wooden building.”
What Gilbert failed to mention (or simply ignored) is that Banco Español-Filipino de Isabel II (now the Bank of the Philippine Islands or BPI) was also situated there.
In his book “The Philippine Islands” published in 1906, John Foreman had this to say about the bank:
“In Manila there were (and are still) two foreign bank branches (one with a sub-branch in Yloilo), three bank agencies, and the Philippine private banking-house of J. M. Tuason & Co.; also the “Banco Español-Filipino,” which was instituted in 1852, with a capital of P400,000, in 2,000 shares of P200 each. The capital was subsequently increased to P600.000.12 Authorized by charter, it issued notes payable to bearer on demand from P10 upwards. The legal maximum limit of note issue was P1,200,000, whilst the actual circulation was about P100,000 short of that figure. This bank did a very limited amount of very secure business, and it has paid dividends of 12 to 15 per cent.; hence the shares were always at a premium. In 1888, when 12 per cent, dividend was paid, this stock was quoted at P420; in 1895 it rose to P435. The Obras Pias funds (vide p. 245) constituted the original capital of the bank.”
By the way, the site on which the present BPI building is standing is said to be the same site where Banco Español-Filipino de Isabel II was established.
Below is another photo of “Plaza de Cervantes” from 1899. I can’t figure out for sure how the old photograph was taken (I mean to which direction the photograph was pointing his camera at), but then, by the looks of the tram rails (and the sign on the wall), I’m thinking that it is more of a photo of Plaza Moraga than Plaza de Cervantes(?).
My sincerest and endless thanks goes out to the Cornell University Library and Fiona Patrick (Project Coordinator, DCAPS & Copyright Services) for granting me the permission to use and post on here the first image on this post.
Note on the use of the other old photograph:
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