Tuesday 27 February 2018

Manila Art Deco

Manila is not a city that immediately springs to mind when thinking about art deco, but it should be.  Despite the terrible destruction at the end of the Second World War Manila is still home to a large collection of art deco buildings. True, they are in a range of conditions, some lovingly cared for, others scandalously neglected but there is enough to see for the city to be on the wish list of any art deco fan. In recent years, Filipinos have become more interested in this important part of the country's built heritage. This is due in no small part to the efforts of Ivan Man Dy who runs the Art Deco Philippines Facebook group as well as documenting and campaigning and promoting the sale to new audiences through talks, walks and online activity.

I recently visited the Philippines for the second time and was able to see many of Manila's best examples of my favourite architectural style. I have already posted about the amazing collection of art deco mausoleums in the Chinese cemetery and this post will concentrate on some of my favourites from the city's theatres, hotels and residential structures.

Lobby, St. Cecilia Hall, Andres Luna de San Pedro, 1932.
Art Deco was the chosen style of many cities for entertainment venues built during the late 1920's and throughout the 1930's. Manila was no exception. St. Scholastica College has a long history of excellence in music. In 1932 the College built a concert hall in the name of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Designed by architect Andres Luna de San Pedro it has a sumptuous lobby with dramatic symmetrical staircases, balustrades decorated with metal curlicues and wooden pineapples, stylised figures guarding the door to the auditorium and an orange, green and ochre ceiling painting. His work has been described as "Egyptian art deco".

The hall suffered substantial damage during the liberation of Manila in 1945 and it was not until 1954 that restoration work commenced under the direction of architect Roberto Novenario. The following year the hall re-opened and continued to host concerts by major performers from home and abroad. In 2001 it was declared a National Cultural Landmark, affording it a degree of protection. There are also deco features on the exterior summit. These can be seen from the side street as well as from the access controlled grounds of the college.

Andres Luna was a fascinating character. Born in Paris in 1887, he designed the legendary Crystal Arcade on Escolta Street. The first building in the Philippines to benefit from air conditioning it was devastated during the fighting of 1945 and the remains demolished in 1960. He was the City Architect from 1920-24 and was also responsible for the major renovation of the Manila Hotel in 1935. The Luna family gained notoriety when Andres' father shot and killed his mother in Paris in 1892 only to be acquitted the following year.

Staircase detail, St. Cecilia Hall.
Auditorium entrance, St. Cecilia Hall.
External detail, St. Cecilia Hall.
Lobby detail, Metropolitan Theatre, Juan Arellano, 1931
The Metropolitan  is perhaps the best known of all Manila's theatres. Completed in 1931 and designed by architect Juan Arellano, it is in the process of being restored to its former glory. I was able to see the early stages of restoration two years ago and had another look on my recent visit. Although the facade is now encased in hoardings it is easy to see that progress was being made, especially with the restoration of many  original details including the fabulous murals in the auditorium and the banana and mango motifs on the ceiling. The first performance in the re-opened theatre needs to be spectacular in order to keep attention on the stage rather than the works of art surrounding the audience. 

Detail, Metropolitan Theatre
Detail, Metropolitan Theatre
Capitol Theatre, Juan Nakpil, 1930's.
News on the former Capital Theatre on Escolta is less good. Closure came in 2008 due to falling audiences - a common fate for single screen cinemas. At the time of my visit the interior had been demolished leaving only the facade and main tower behind which apartments are being built. The Capitol was designed by architectural genius Juan Nakpil. Constructed in the 1930's it's one studio was able to seat 800 people.  The symmetrical tower was designed with recessed tiers similar to a ziggurat as well as with geometric details in the top corners. A metal grille decorated with squares and circles runs most of the length of the tower and it is from here that the theatre's name is displayed on a protruding vertical sign. The relief figures on the facade were the work of Italian Francesco Monte. They are of two Filipino women wearing traditional clothing as well as of images from nature. Monte's works also adorn the Metropolitan Theatre.

Capitol Theatre
Staircase, former Villarreal house, now the Orchid Garden Hotel, Pablo Antonio, 1935.
Staircase, former Villarreal house.
Turning to residential properties, Pablo Ocampo Street (formerly Vito Cruz street) was the location for several art deco houses built during the 1930's. Some were destroyed during the Second World War but a few remain. One of these is the former home of Justice and Mrs Antonio Villareal, built in 1935 and designed by Pablo Antonio who also oversaw works to repair damage sustained during the war. The house was later used as an Embassy for Russia and then Indonesia before being converted into the Orchid Garden Hotel in 1995. The former Villarreal home has been lovingly preserved with its cool white exterior and original internal features. However the star of the show is the fabulous dark wood angled staircase with its twisted wooden bannister and ironmongery.

Orphaned at the age of 12, Antonio managed to complete his school days, secure a job as a draftsman and study architecture under the tutelage of genius Tomas Mapua. He earned his degree from the University of London, completing a five year course in just three years. He was also to design most of the Far Eastern University. Antonio believed that design should be simple and uncluttered, lines should be clean and curves integral to the structure. He seems to have relaxed this a little for the staircase on Pablo Ocampo Street. We should be grateful.

Another of his works, the Angela apartments has not fared so well. It was the first Manila building to have an elevator incorporated into its design, benefited from a modern approach to ventilation and boasted a series of portholes on the facade. Despite being considered an Important Cultural Property (ICP) under legislation enacted in 2009,  after being acquired by a developer, demolition began only to be halted following a legal intervention. It now stands part demolished, its future uncertain.

Former Villarreal House.
Uy Su Bin building, details unknown.
Whilst the former Villarreal home was designed as a luxurious residence, not all art deco buildings were aimed at the most affluent families. The Uy Su Bin apartment block in the heart of Chinatown has a faded facade but retains a supremely elegant doorway to its apartments which are accessed by a still stylish staircase. Although relatively spacious, the Uy Su Bin apartments are offered at a reasonable rent although the two that I was able to see lacked much in the way of natural light. This would have been compensated for by the light central courtyard which now houses a restaurant. The date of construction and details of the architect responsible for the design are not known. 

Other apartment blocks have not fared quite so well and have either changed function or suffered a worse fate. The former Salvacion building, next door to the St. Scholastica College is an interesting case. Built in the 1930's in a streamline, almost Bauhaus style it now serves as a school but has had external decorative panels added to reflect those on the exterior of St. Cecilia's Hall. Those who carried out this work did an excellent job as I at least was convinced that the panels were part of the original design before being advised otherwise. Just across the road from here, the Mayflower, completed in 1938, is now also an educational establishment. The ground floor cafe is open to the public (and has very good patisserie) which means visitors can still see the (almost) spiral staircase.

Uy Su Bin building
Former Salvacion apartment building, details unknown
Staircase, Mayflower building, 1938.
Tombstone detail, Jewish Cemetery
Most art deco fans would expect to find theatres, cinemas and residential buildings in our favourite style, but deco can also turn up in unexpected places. Manila has a small Jewish burial ground, not far from the Chinese cemetery. it contains adjoining graves for Fani and Lazaro Tani. The upper parts of the headstones carry the expected Star of David and biographical details but unusually, the base of each stone is covered in a beautiful art deco design complete with sunbursts and floral motifs. And a short step from here, the already mentioned Nakpil family has a very impressive tomb, proving the flexibility and suitability of the style to just about any area of design. If you love art deco and you haven't seen Manila you need to book a flight. Now.

Thanks to Ivan Man Dy for suggestions of places to visit and thanks also to Joanna Abrera of INTAS for arranging access for me. 

Mausoleum of the Napkin family.
You might also like Picture Post 65 - Art Deco in Manila's Chinese Cemetery or Fun, food and fortune telling - Manila, the People in the Street
You can see more pictures of the Philippines here and here.

Thursday 22 February 2018

Picture Post 65 - Art Deco in Manila's Chinese Cemetery

Art deco influences can be found in every area of life - architecture, furniture, painting, clothes, transport and industry. It should not be surprising then that the style has also influenced the design of tombs and mausoleums. The Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires contains many art deco structures whilst others can be found in Asmara, Eritrea and Pittsburgh, USA.  I recently toured the Chinese Cemetery in Manila which is full of art deco.

Li Chay Too family mausoleum, built 1948 and recently refurbished 
The cemetery is the second oldest in the city. It was established in the 19th century in response to the Spanish colonial authorities denying Chinese Filipinos the right to burial in a Catholic cemetery. It contains Catholic, other Christian denominations and Taoist graves as well as some exhibiting symbols of more than one faith. Ton Quien Sien, also known as Don Carlos Palanca was responsible for the its establishment and fittingly there is a memorial for him here. It is one of several memorials including one to those brought here and executed by the Japanese during World War Two.  The victims included prominent artists, soldiers and community leaders, many of whom, although not all, were Chinese.

Li Chay Too mausoleum details
Li Chay Too mausoleum metalwork 
The tombs are in a range of styles and sizes. Some are maintained in pristine condition whilst others show signs of neglect or even abandon if the family has moved away or if remains have been removed and placed in a burial plot elsewhere. The dead hold an important place in Chinese culture and ancestors are held in great respect. Visitors to the Chinese cemetery may be surprised to see that some of the structures include bathroom and cooking facilities, air conditioning and even parking space for several vehicles. This is not for the benefit of the deceased but for the living who come to pay their respects and can spend a significant amount of time here during a visit.

Tomb for Bautista Napkil family (close to the nearby Jewish cemetery)
Villa Yu Tuan, Yu Tuan family mausoleum
Deco speed lines and Chinese influenced metalwork, Villa Yu Tuan 
The largest, most ostentatious structures are the plots of the wealthiest families and many of these were built from the 1920's through to the 1950's in the art deco style, which lasted longer in the Philippines than elsewhere. Little is known about who the architects were although a number of the tombs bear the name of the Oriol Marble Works company. Ivan Man Dy is Manila's art deco expert and an aficionado of the cemetery. He led me through its alleys and lanes for two and a half hours  pointing out a range of deco styles including streamline moderne, classic deco complete with speed lines, ziggurats, portholes and stylised lettering and a hybrid style incorporating Chinese influences.  He is documenting these structures as well as working on a book about Manila's art deco buildings.

Ang O Kin mausoleum, 1939.
Entrance to Eusebio Tankeh family mausoleum
Ivan leads walking tours of the cemetery as part of the Old Manila Walks programme and also runs a Facebook group dedicated to art deco in the Philippines. His tours are highly recommended.

You may also like Art Deco in the Philippines - Manila's Magnificent Metropolitan Theatre

Eusebio Tankeh Mausoleum, built 1948
Portholes, sunbursts and curlicues
Many tombs display images of the deceased. This picture is framed by a deco ziggurat.
Koh family mausoleum, streamline moderne!

Monday 19 February 2018

Fun, food and fortune telling - Manila, the people in the street

There are more than 20 million people living in Metro Manila. And despite the often oppressive heat and humidity, for me the city is best enjoyed in it's streets. That said, these streets are not for the feint hearted. They are crowded, noisy and the traffic is a nightmare, but it is the place to see the people and it is the people that make the place. Manilenos are friendly, eager to help and many of them have a story. It only takes a smile and a few words for them to open up and share it.

Madame Carmella, Plaza Miranda
Plaza Miranda is a place of many stories. Adjacent to the Church of the Black Nazarene it represents an interesting meeting of devout Catholicism and belief in older traditions. At service times it is not unusual to see large crowds of devotees standing outside the church, unable to get a place inside and following the mass on large screens. Just a few metres away from the church doors at the heart of the plaza, sits a group of mainly older women, offering to read palms and tarot cards for 100 pesos each before attempting to sell you various potions for your health or a talisman to keep away the evil eye. Most of these women consider themselves Catholics and see no contradiction between that and using their "gift". Some even profess a special devotion to the Black Nazarene, represented by the life-sized, dark skinned Christ figure, carved in the 17th century and housed in the church. Continuing the contradiction,  the stalls outside the church sell religious artefacts as well as herbs allegedly used for causing abortion.

Most of the fortune tellers have been coming to the plaza for many years. Concesa aged 74 says that she first knew she had "the gift" at the age of 7 and has been using it to help people since then. Many of her clients come seeking advice on romantic matters. She told me that despite this she had not been lucky in affairs of the heart and that her deceased husband had been a philanderer. She is still hopeful of finding true love. Madame Carmella sits beside Concesa. She carries a fan branded with the name of the Nazarene, wears silver jewellery and on the day I met her, her striking appearance was exacerbated by her having received ashes for Ash Wednesday . She has a special devotion to the Black Nazarene and claims it was he that directed her into fortune telling. I later noticed the reflection of the surrounding scene in her very large sunglasses. Perhaps she really can see everything.

Concesa, Plaza Miranda
Norma, Quiapo
Street markets are great places for people watching. In Manila the Quiapo and San Antonio districts are home to organised markets as well as hundreds of less formal street vendors. Practically anything can be bought in these places. People come for cheap shoes and clothes, household items, fresh fruit and vegetables, all kinds of rice, herbs and spices, meat and fish. There are also some unexpected specialisms. For example in San Antonio there are butchers that only deal in chicken feet. More commonly there are thousands of street food stalls selling a bewildering choice of dishes for immediate consumption. 

The vendors can be just as interesting as the goods. I met Norma in the Quiapo street market, just around the corner from Concesa and Madame Carmella.  I noticed her talking to a customer and was struck by her kind face and smiling eyes. Retracing my steps a little later she was still there and happy to  chat and to be photographed. Aged 72, she began helping out on the family vegetable stall in 1950 at just four years of age. She is the third oldest of 14 siblings, 11 of whom are still living.

Suman vendor, San Antonio
Cheap rates all the way to London!
Chicken feet stall, San Antonio
Walking in San Antonio I noticed a woman preparing and selling suman in the street. Suman is a simple but delicious sweet made from glutinous rice cooked in coconut. milk, prepared on a grill and wrapped in a banana leaf. Some restaurants offer more sophisticated versions of this but you can't beat the street version. The vendor uses a fan to encourage the flames, giving the operation a slightly theatrical air. I devoured three pieces before asking her if she would mind being photographed. She agreed but thought it amusing and turned her head to one side laughing allowing me to capture a natural, unposed shot. 

San Antonio is not a part of the city that attracts many foreign visitors and I became the object of some curiosity. A tricycle driver asked me where I am from. When I told him I live in London he told me he has a relative in the UK, in Saint Helens. I have never been to Saint Helens but it seems an unusual place to move to from Manila. He was a bit of a comedian and offered to take me back to London in the tricycle saying he could offer me a good price. A few moments later a young woman stepped forward and pointed out her little boy to me. Aged perhaps three, he had very little hair. She laughed, pointed to his head and then mine and said "you are the same". Indeed we were, although I suspect little Erman has more follicle hope than me.

Erman, we have the same hairstyle
Sitting together, Singalong
Basketball in the street, Singalong
Upon seeing the camera street children often come forward and ask to be photographed. Before doing so I always try to spot either a parent or adult relative to secure approval. This is sometimes followed by the adults joining in for a family picture but more often results in the gathering of a rapidly increasing group calling out "just one more picture sir" or "how about me" before striking a series of "street" poses that must have been culled from TV shows or advertising hoardings. I like to show them the pictures which usually results in laughter or comments about who looks the best. Not for these children the luxuries of Nike trainers, I-phones or the latest tablet, instead they must make their own entertainment including traditional street games like the girls I saw doing what I think is called "French skipping". Of course as children grow their interests become a little more sophisticated and in Singalong two teenage girls sat outside their home looking impossibly glamorous whilst waiting for the transport that would take them to their high school prom. The difference in their expressions is striking. The girl on the left looks a little tense tense, perhaps nervous about the prom. The other girl, her cousin lit up the street with her smile, excited, confident and looking forward to the evening. I wonder how the evening went.

Ready for he prom, Singalong
Adults too make their own entertainment. Basketball is played everywhere by both adults and youngsters, whilst in Singalong, another Manila neighbourhood, I noticed a large group of serious looking men playing cards. I later found out that they were playing beside the coffin of a man who had just died and that amongst some communities this is a tradition. A little further down the same street people were taking it in turns to sing karaoke as you might expect in an neighbourhood of this name. In these areas much of life is lived in the street. People call out to each other and acknowledge passers-by. Most Filipinos know at least some English and it is easy to strike up a conversation. 

Jump! San Antonio
Hey mister, one more picture! Singalong

Friends, Singalong
Walk the streets long enough and you will find what we used to call characters. In Quiapo I noticed a man wearing shorts, long red socks with white detailing, black and red trainers and a show stopping red jacket covered with images of Mickey Mouse. The ensemble was accessorised with a black despatch riders bag, black and red baseball cap, bracelets, rings and several laminated ID tags. We walked along the same street for several minutes before I finally managed to see him face-on when he stopped to examine a large bunch of keys. He appeared to be in his late 60's or possibly older. Great style and perhaps it is time that someone discovered some older male models to match the super stylish octogenarian women who have recently achieved notice. 

Fashionista, Quiapo
Walking Manila's streets might be tiring, but it is not an activity I could ever get tired of. People are happy to be photographed if asked and it is relatively easy to take candid pictures too, avoiding the very human tendency of people to want to look their best and begin to pose. Conversely, the advantage of asking permission is that it offers the potential for conversation and the chance to hear their story. Manila is a relatively undiscovered city, tourists preferring to head to the beaches rather than spend time here believing there is not much to see. They are mistaken. 

A few more of my Manila street photo favourites below...

Banana stall, Singalong
What would you like? Street food stall, Quiapo
Smile, street food stall, Quiapo

Will I have to wait very long? Quiapo
Holding on to her sweets, Quiapo
You might also like Jaffa - the people in the Shuk or A Postcard from India 6 - the people in the street

You can see more pictures from the Philippines here

Thursday 1 February 2018

Picture Post 64 - The Hitchcock Murals at Leytonstone Station

There is a long history of public art on London's Underground including the iconic advertising posters of the 1930's and the Paolozzi murals installed at Tottenham Court Road Station in the 1980's.   Leytonstone Station at the eastern end of the Central Line is home to another set of murals - a series of 17 mosaics paying tribute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone in 1899 in a flat above his parents' grocers shop on the High Road, just a short walk away from the station. He was to make more than 50 films including some of the most iconic suspense movies of all time. His achievements are celebrated in the murals displayed a short walk from his birthplace. 

The Wrong Man
The brightly coloured works were produced by the Greenwich Mural Workshop. They took seven months to complete and were installed in 2001. There are 80,000 mosaic pieces in total, made from vitreous glass tesserae. They include scenes from Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and Strangers on A Train as well as images of Hitchcock relaxing with Marlene Dietrich and one of the director as a young man.

The station has two entrances linked by a long corridor with the murals arranged along its full length. There is also some interesting vintage advertising and a strange wooden triangular display unit just outside the High Road exit, displaying three paintings of Hitchcock and scenes from two of his films. The wooden unit has been colonised by pigeons giving it a distinct Hitchcockian feel, think The Birds. Leytonstone is just five stops east of Liverpool Street on the central line. There are a couple of good places to go for coffee on the High Road including the Wild Goose Bakery  whilst the library in Church Lane, just two minutes from the station has several original art deco features. The Olympic Park at Stratford is not too far away and a visit to both can easily be combined.

To Catch A Thief