the world as I see it

Then and Now – Escolta

Posted by BCS on October 10, 2008


Escolta in 1884 - Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections (http://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/) and the U.S. National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/)

Present day Escolta (Photo taken on September 27, 2008)

Present day Escolta (Photo taken on September 27, 2008)

One of the footnotes found on the book “The Philippine Islands” by John Foreman, F.R.G.S. (1906) states that:

“Escolta (meaning Escort), the principal thoroughfare in the business quarter (Binondo), is said to have been so named during the British occupation (1762-63), when the British Commander-in-Chief passed through it daily with his escort.”

You may have heard of it countless times before, but I’ll say it again. Escolta was THE business center of the Philippines. Second to it, as far as what I’ve read so far is concerned, would be Calle Rosario (or Quintin Paredes Street today).

I’ve been there countless times in the past… and just recently, twice, over two consecutive Saturdays. Compared to what it was in the past, it is now relatively deserted and quiet. If it were not for the students of the City College of Manila, the street would look very much like a ghost town.

My mother used to take us there to go and buy things at Syvel’s, Fairmart, or St. J Square. I also remember having a snack at a Mister Donut branch there long ago.

I think I remember that this street was also one of the pick-up/drop-off points of the “Love Bus”, going to and from Cubao. (Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

Escolta was indeed a very popular place from as early as the turn of the century, perhaps, even earlier, as there exist tons of accounts from that time written about it. In fact, I had a hard time picking the ones I’m going to cite here.

From “The Philippines and round about” by George John Younghusband (1899)

“…The shops, especially in the Escolta, are surprisingly good for such an out-of-way place and compare favourably with those of Hong Kong, Calcutta, or Singapore. Prices, in spite of the war, are certainly lower than those which obtain at British ports in the East.”

From “The Philippine Islands” by Ramon Reyes Lala (1899)

“In the Escolta are many fine shops owned by Spaniards, mestizos, Germans, English, and Americans. The Escolta, in the daytime, presents an animated appearance: about ten thousand carriages pass here daily, and a great volume of business is transacted. The commerce is yearly increasing, too. The principal articles of export are honey, tobacco, cigars, sugar, coffee, and indigo.”

From “Yesterdays in the Philippines” by Joseph Earle Stevens (1899)

“…Escolta, is as busy with life and as well fringed with shops as a Washington street or a Broadway.”

From “The Great White Tribe in Filipinia” by Paul T. Gilbert (1903, Jennings and Pye) – Chapter II – “All About the Town”:

“Here the bazaars and European business houses are located, while the avenues that branch off lead to other populous and swarming districts. La Extrameña, a grocery and wine-store; La Estrella del Norte— “The North Star”—diamond and jewelry-store; the Sombreria, hatstore, advertised by a huge wooden hat hung out above the street; and a tobacco booth, are situated on the corners where the bridge and the Escolta meet.”

“Armenian and Indian bazaars, where ivory and the rich fabrics of the Orient are sold; cafés and drugstores, harness-shops, tobacco-shops, and drygoods-stores, emporiums of every kind,—are found on the Escolta, where the prices would astonish any one not yet accustomed to the manners of the Far East.”

“At noon the corrugated iron blinds of the shops are pulled down; all the carriages have disappeared; the only sign of life in the Escolta is the comical little tram-car, loaded down with little brown men dressed in white, the driver tooting a toy horn, and all the passengers dismounting to assist the car uphill.”

“At four o’clock the shopping begins again in the Escolta. Apparently the whole town has turned out for a ride. Since the Americans have come, odd sights have been seen in Manila,—cavalry horses harnessed to pony vehicles, phaetons drawn by Filipino ponies, and victorias, intended for a pair of native horses, hastily converted into surreys. Not only do the Spanish women come out in their black mantillas, but the Filipino belles and the mestiza, girls, in their stiff dresses of josé and piña cloth. A carriage-load of painted cheeks and burnished pompadours of Japanese frail sisterhood drives by upon its way to the Luneta. Army officers in white dress uniform, the wives and daughters of the officers, bareheaded and in dainty gowns, stop off at Clark’s for lemonade, ice-cream, and candy. Soldiers and sailors strolling along the street, or driving rickety native carts, enjoy themselves after the manner of their kind. A brace of well-kept ponies, tugging like game fish, trot briskly away with jingling harness, with the coachman and the footman dressed in white, a foreign consul lounging in the cushions of the neat victoria. A private carruaje, drawn by a sleek pony, hastens along, the tiny footman clinging on for dear life to the extension seat behind.”

And from “An army officer on leave in Japan” by Louis Mervin Maus (1911)

“…Here, on the Escolta, are located La Estrella del Norte, the famous Spanish jewelry store of Manila, Watson’s depot for drugs, soda and Scotch, The Extremenia, Paris-Manila, and a dozen other celebrated bazaars where the wives of officers and officials turn their husbands’ money loose with great regularity at the end of each month.”

Note on the use of the old photograph:

From the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections website:

“The University of Wisconsin Libraries generally do not own the copyrights to materials in their print and electronic collections. Consistent with their public university mission, the Libraries encourage the use of content in these collections for study, research, and teaching.

“Most works published after 1923 are protected by U. S. and international copyright laws. The publications of the United States government are not copyrightable and may be freely copied and/or re-published.

“Fair use of copyright-protected works for study, research, and other purposes does not require the permission of the copyright owner provided that the use meets the standard specified in Section 107 of the U. S. Copyright Law.”

From the United States National Archives website:

“The vast majority of the digital images in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) are in the public domain. Therefore, no written permission is required to use them. We would appreciate your crediting the National Archives and Records Administration as the original source. For the few images that remain copyrighted, please read the instructions noted in the “Access Restrictions” field of each ARC record.”


4 Responses to “Then and Now – Escolta”

  1. carlota said

    what’s a love bus?

  2. BCS said

    “Love Bus” is an air-conditioned bus line (a pet project of Imelda Marcos) that was very popular during the time when she was Governor of Metro Manila. 🙂 If my hunch is correct, I think a few buses from the Love Bus fleet are still being used by some small bus operators today… recycled, so to speak. Nakakakita pa kasi ako paminsan minsan ng mga bus na may color scheme ng Love Bus eh… which are primarily blue with hearts (of varying colors and sizes) painted all over it. 🙂

  3. … i was in escolta few days ago… yeah, you were correct with the love bus and admittedly they are gone now… i think buses are not allowed anymore as i have not seen one as i walked around… walking along escolta reminded me of my grandmother who used to bring me there when i was still a kid.

    • BCS said

      Thank you very much for the comment, Eileen. 🙂 Sadly, there’s not even a shadow of Escolta’s old glory in its present state… and I’m just talking of its recent history, the part which I have personally witnessed. Paano pa kaya yung mas luma pa?

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