Friday, August 17, 2012

Sites in the Book: The Manila Hotel

"And at the end of it, they built the Manila Hotel."
The Americans wanted to remold the sleepy Spanish city of Manila into a showcase of American modernity and power. One of their first big projects was a hotel. When it was completed in 1912, the Manila Hotel was the grandest and most modern in all of southeast Asia. Amenities that had never been seen in the region, such as air conditioned rooms and hotel elevators beckoned to first class world travelers who were lucky enough to sleep under its roof. It was the place to be.
In the early 20th century before World War 2, American Manila was considered just as appealing as Hawaii for an exotic vacation, and was thought to be much safer and cleaner than the Asian mainland.

 Celebrities and world leaders flocked to the hotel, the most notable being General Douglas MacArthur and his family, who lived there in the penthouse suite like royalty for years. That is, until December 1941, when they had to run for their lives, leaving most of their possessions behind. When the Japanese arrived they turned the hotel into a barracks and military headquarters. They left the MacArthur suite untouched and used it as a de facto museum for visiting dignitaries.

During the Battle of Manila, fighting came to the hotel. It continued from room to room, floor to floor. By the time it was over, the grand dame of Manila was a burnt out shell. MacArthur's penthouse was totally obliterated. (Click on the "after" picture to see it better.)

Surprisingly, the hotel was rebuilt in just a few years, utilizing the original walls. In the 1970s, under the direction of First Lady Imelda Marcos, the Manila Hotel got a major face lift and two new annex towers were built behind it. Some people say the new renovations made the hotel lose its charm, but hey, business is business. If you'd like a little nostalgia, go take a cup of coffee in the original lobby and watch all the people go by. It will be an hour well spent.

The Manila Hotel in 2013.

B&W photos compliments of John T Pilot. Click to view larger images.

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