Monday, 3 March 2014

Mocking Heritage, Counter-Nostalgia

Mocking Heritage, Counter-Nostalgia

It was yesterday when this writer had read an article about the state of the old building at the banks of the murky Pasig River. Grimy in its appearance, the edifice had been endured for many decades, suffered by war and tear, yet keeping all its strength to remain still in then commercial district of Manila.

But this time threatened by the wrecking ball by its new owner "for the sake of a fucking warehouse" or a "prime lot" with a condo in the future.

"Our "Hogar", Our Home.

Now that tenants of the centuries-old building being evicted, everyone is all but thinking whether the place be preserved for posterity or just, simple demolished for the goddamn sake of "development." Based from articles such as from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the centuries-old "El Hogar Filipino", through its new owner, had been a state of question coming from conservationists, historians, and architecture enthusiasts citing importance of the building.

Built in 1914 and located at the corner of Juan Luna Street and Muelle de Industria in Binondo district, Manila, the four-floor structure was designed by Ramon Irureta-Goyena and Francisco Perez-Muñoz with elements of Neoclassical and Renaissance styles. It was made for Antonio Melian, a self-proclaimed Peruvian count who formed the El Hogar Mutual Association, a financing cooperative also supported by British-owned Smith Bell and Co., and it was also made as his wedding present of sorts to his wife Isabel Zobel (of the Zobel de Ayala clan) and their initials adorn the staircase of the building.

The building had endured the tide of war, being occupied by the Japanese and bombed by Americans, it was rebuilt and even added a new floor with the same design as well as meeting the demands of then-present clients such as businessmen and traders. It was also served as favorite location for movies, videos, advertisements, and even photographs courtesy of camera-carrying enthusiasts thirst for using historical edifices for their so-called craft.

But this time, after the years of being used as an office building by different establishments, it had been bought by a new owner whose intention is far from its original purpose: such as demolishing it an having a warehouse to be build in its lot.


It may be a rumor for some in regards to the issue having El Hogar being threatened by demolition thanks to that "new owner" who had bought the entire lot. Regardless of its European features and age-old beauty had to be unfold, the new owner rather disregard it those just for the sake of profit.

For sure to some people, that the new owner would possibly be a Chinese or any other "narrow minded" foreigner, or even a Filipino whose idea is all but "" and doesn't care about heritage for that person doesn't give a damn about it, hence a rootless cosmopolitan so to speak like no other exploiter. There were even rumors earlier that Andrew Tan's Megaworld Corporation had bought the building and be "developed" like any other high rise building, only to be turned down by the latter as a rumor with its statement given. And with that kind of threat made by these so-called "developers" most conservationists had "scrambled", sorry for the term to take pictures, or even sketching every old, sculpted feature according to the latest article this writer had read; but the good thing on the other hand, is the attempt to save the building as much as possible.

Citing the failure of saving the modernist Jai Alai and leading it into its demise (thanks to that goddamn Manila City Government), El Hogar Filipino and other age-old edifices are being threatened by greedy profiteers whose intention is to destroy and replace it with a mere nonsense edifice that even putting with pseudo-historical bullshit (like any other eye candy buildings) conservationists may likely describe it as a mockery, a counter-nostalgia that tramples the community's history and heritage trying to relieve and preserve.

Reading a series of comments
(especially those mocking heritage and counter-nostalgia)

Also from an online article of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, this writer had read various comments stating in favor of preservation or just demolition for sake.

First citing Eric B. Zerrudo, director of the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School-Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the Tropics and professor in the Master of Arts in Cultural Heritage Studies program of UST, he says that the threatened El Hogar has architectural and historic value, hence liable for preservation.

“It has architectural significance because it is very representative of the architecture of business establishments of that era,” says Zerrudo, who’s also the Philippine representative to the World Heritage Committee of the UNESCO.

Zerrudo even stated that the building is representative of the rise of American business and industry—a representation of American boom years that had affected its territories like the Philippines. And the setting of the building is significant as well because “it is one of few surviving American-period buildings along Pasig River" aside from the old Citibank office.

In an ABS-CBN news article, Michelle Pe of Miramar Hotel had also profound interest in saving the building and had it rehabilitated:

"This building has so much potential especially because it is strategically located. I would develop it into a boutique hotel and I'll probably paint the building facade in ivory with a hint of tallow yellow. I will also replace all the ground floor doors with French doors with a canopy where I plan to have a restaurant overlooking the Pasig River. Exterior lights will highlight the building at night."

On the other hand, in a comments portion of the Inquirer also has its share of those in favor of demolition. One of which, by a pseudonym "Ako'y PagPag Lover", he simply think of old buildings as mere urban blight and hindrance to progress like any other pseudo-future leaning individual, as he said:

"This building is a blight along the Pasig Riverfront. Time for a new one. Let the past go. The building lot is so valuable. A new building built will exude a new sense of hope and aura of development, not some colonial string attached even to this day. Those days are over folks! NO one cares what this old building stands for anyways. Besides that building is molding really really fast. It is unhealthy to even go in and smell the molds and fungi. Those are toxic to the lungs."

That somehow for this writer would say "is that so?" than he should had go to Singapore, Jakarta, or Vietnam. He may had been too subjective and trying to inject some intellectualism in it to justify the two-faced "moving on" attitude. "If the building is structural not sound, time to let it go down. This is for safety purpose" also according to that same commentator, citing ignorance that the building was also designed by UST's Roque Ruano who's also a structural engineer! Much more if there are structural engineers willing to support in preserving like those who had attempted to preserve old churches and houses.

Another comment, made by "slicenziuten" seemed to be stupid, appealing to the people, especially using tragedy as its reference:

"its just a building, many in Tacloban are left with only bankhouses to restore their simple lives."

If that's just a building, then so is the Metrobank tower, Petron, or even Greenbelt at Makati. And despite agreeable that there should be houses for the poor, so should be educating everyone the importance of reviving its national identity, not just preserving old buildings but also in reviving for the purpose of using it for the future. 
Even in the old Soviet bloc whom used to sacrifice old buildings tagged as urban blight, had to preserve most as possible knowing its valuable, age old contribution in the history of its people (and even rebuilt some according to old pictures, blueprints). And that was and is more than eye candy so to speak. 


Reading comments from an article at Inquirer had brought irreconcilable differences such as preserving heritage vs. just moving on. "Ako'y PagPag Lover"'s comment had meant just "moving on" and even mocking the past as all but "greed alone." If so, then how come Paris, London, or even Singapore had been attached to their pasts? Yes, they do have demolished some, if not most of their age-old heritage just like Hong Kong, until years passed citing the contribution of a place for their city's history of Development.

So should be Manila and its trying hard attempt to keep its heritage firm. As a ContemporAntiquitarian would say that the future can't be just let alone by those who exploit, knowing that it will end up rather "rootless" and "too cosmopolitan" like any other city around the world, including those whom reducing heritage into just churches and old houses, an eye candy for tourists than a part of everyday life just like those from Paris and Barcelona.

And if people wanted to go beyond treating the old as if a "just eye candy" while leaving the rest be exploited, why not stand up and let anyone stop mocking heritage and instead reviving it for the greater good? 

Anyways, if old buildings had took months to create it by hand, it should be left and continue using, with dignity, all for posterity, a chance to march towards "progress" while keeping its roots firm and strong thanks to those who had afford to refurbish, conserve, and use.