Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sites in the Book: Dewey Boulevard

In 1912, a monumental thoroughfare was built...

In the early part of the 20th century, the Americanization of Manila began in earnest. One of the grand plans that came to fruit was Dewey Boulevard, named after Spanish American war hero, Admiral George Dewey. Its original concept came from architect Daniel Burnham, the man responsible for much of the new spatial planning for the cities of Manila, and Baguio City up north. Mr. Burnham was an early proponent of "the City Beautiful" movement which advocated building beautiful cities along scientific lines. One could say that with Dewey Blvd. that he succeeded. The 1930s postcard you see can give you an idea: a sweeping double lane thoroughfare runs along the shore of Manila Bay. Mango and coconut trees were installed to offer shade and protection from the sea. (If you squint your eyes, you can see some beach at the far end.) A favorite thing to do in those days was to cross over to the park, walk its broad sidewalks, fish or swim, and watch the famous sunset over the Bay. It was beautiful and useful, just like Mr. Burnham wanted.

Just before the Battle of Manila in 1945, large sections of Dewey Boulevard were blocked off with barbed wire and heavily guarded, so that it could be used as an emergency aircraft landing field. This would severely hamper escape from Manila by its residents.

Flash forward to the 21st century. Dewey Boulevard is still there, however in the 1960s it was renamed Roxas Blvd. in honor of President Manuel Roxas, the 5th president of the Philippines. That's not the only thing that's changed; since the war there have have been many land reclamation projects that continue up to this day. Large parts of the boulevard are no longer on the Bay. I have mixed feelings about this, because a lot of the beauty has left. However, Manila is on its way to becoming a "super city" and the needs of its citizens come first. Dewey/Roxas doesn't look that special any more. (However, it's still one of the easiest and fastest roads to navigate in Metro Manila.) If you have the time, park your car (I recommend near Malate Church) and carefully cross over the boulevard to Manila Bay. If a breeze is blowing and the air is clear, it can still be a pleasant sight.

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