Mementos from The Past: The Importance of Heritage Buildings

May 26, 2023



Shan Arcega

There are some moments that are small and only seconds long but bulldoze your mind and heart with impactful memories. The memory of walking into a new office that intimidates you with unfamiliar walls, the slight excitement of stepping foot unto a distant relative’s fancy, almost-hotel-esque home. The awe that engulfs you as you step into a freshly cleaned museum’s high-ceilinged lobby and hear the echo of your slow steps. The quiet familiarity of your home’s lanai where the world is commanded to pause. When one walks into new or old places, a specific memory transforms into an identity that attaches itself to these places. Some of these places though are more important though and have identities that are especially vital for the community while hiding important lessons for the future while keeping the sentimental memories we need as humans. 

Just last May 21, 2023, the beloved Manila Post Office was engulfed in a massive, 8-hour-long fire that started from the basement and spread throughout the almost one-century-old building housing parcels. Though 39 Bureau of Fire Protection trucks worked with 60 volunteer trucks to battle the fire, the building still burned completely against the strong fire that easily devoured the interior’s wooden designs and features. According to Postmaster General Luis Carlos, the Manila Post Office–a structure declared by the National Museum as an Important Cultural Property (ICP) must now be preserved. Over the past few days, the news pertaining to the loss of this famous heritage site has become a heavy strike to the hearts of many people from different walks of life and urged government officials to find a way to restore the heritage site.

The Manila Post Office by Elmer B. Domingo
A view of The Manila Post Office from the other side of Pasig River. Image by Elmer B. Domingo

Related read: Dominic Galicia notes on the Manila Central Post Office

Senator Alan Cayetano filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into just how well-protected the national heritage buildings and artifacts are. According to this resolution, “the state should make use of this unfortunate event as a learning opportunity on how buildings of cultural, artistic, and historical significance to the Philippines should be better-taken care of as it is important that future tragedies of this scale be prevented.”

details of the Manila Post Office by Ramiltibayan
A close-up on the corner details of the Manila Post Office. Image by Ramiltibayan

Through Senate Resolution No.635, Cayetano urged the chamber’s culture and arts committee to investigate the blaze and to “put in preventive and investigative measures to prevent the same tragedy from happening to other national treasures.” 

Cayetano also stressed that though the government still isn’t fully equipped or developed to care for these heritage sites, they should exercise good management to protect these national assets. Alongside Cayetano, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda and Senator Robin Padilla also called for investigations into the fire since according to the National Cultural Heritage Act, ICPs may be funded by the government for their protection, conservation, and restoration. 

Alongside the fact that the Manila Post Office is a place of rich history and is said to be Juan Arellano’s architectural masterpiece designed with Ralph Doane and Tomás Mapúa, its neoclassical-styled interiors added to the sentimental air for several movies over the years. Some of these include “Hintayan ng Langit”, “Ikaw Lamang Hanggang Ngayon”, and “Fangirl Fanboy”. It was also supposed to be the set for “Simula sa Gitna”, a spin-off series for “Hintayan ng Langit”.

Related Read: WATCH: Arts Serrano on the construction of meaning

Manila Post Office facade details by Ed Simon
Regarded as the grandest building in Manila at the time, the Manila Post Office possesses a grand facade that can catch hearts. Image by Ed Simon

Whatever heritage site it is, the loss of these historic buildings means losing a part of a culture’s identity–a loss that could heavily affect the views of a culture in itself in the future. So far, the country has lost several historical buildings that either succumbed to fire, deterioration brought by neglect or fell victim to the destruction brought by wars. Some of these include the Insular Life Building in Plaza Moraga–one of the tallest structures in Binondo during the 1930s, the Meralco Head Office Building by Juan Arellano on San Marcelino St., the PNB Office on Escolta by Carlos Arguelles, the Hotel de Oriente by Spanish architect Juan Jose Huervas y Arizmendi in Binondo, and the Crystal Arcade by Andres Luna de San Pedro on Escolata among many others.  

The Importance of Heritage Buildings

As said by architect Dominic Galicia of Dominic Galicia Architects, heritage buildings contribute to the study of historical vicissitudes and social development. They are the physical embodiment of a city’s identity–special novels written by culture and the community. Like novels, these structures represent the different achievements a culture had during the time these buildings were created, making them spaces of archival value and practical significance. As a country rich in culture and history, the preservation of these buildings is an essential part that can help the country paint a clearer and more accurate picture of its identity and the future identity it wishes to show the world. 

Download this month's BLUPRINT magazine digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]