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22 Things We No Longer See in Manila

22 Things We No Longer See in Manila

Change is the only constant thing in the world, that we know. But sometimes, there were changes we wish never occurred at all.

Take Manila for example. We all know that it was overflowing with grandeur and sophistication–at least according to some vintage photographs we come across once in a while. And then came the war, urbanization, and people who couldn’t care less about our heritage sites.

Also Read: 9 Things You’ll Never See in Manila Again

Soon, some of the things and places we once loved disappeared before our very eyes.

I admit I was born in the late 80s, but seeing photographs of Manila’s glorious past makes me feel like I’m living in the wrong generation. Here are some of the most nostalgic things and places we no longer see in Manila.

Table of Contents

1. The Tranvia

horse drawn tranvia philippines
Tranvias de Filipinas. Photo credit: John Tewell via Flickr.

In case you don’t know, the tranvia is the grandfather of the modern-day LRT. Our ancestors would have remained dependent on the calesa or carruaje had Leon Monssour of Department of Public Works didn’t propose the construction of a streetcar system in 1878.

Monssour’s plan earned the government’s approval, but it only materialized when an entrepreneur named Jocobo Zobel de Zangroniz took over the project. Together with a Spanish engineer and a Madrid banker, Jacobo established the La Compañia de Tranvias de Filipinas in 1882.

Among the five routes, only the Malabon line ran on steam while the rest were horse-drawn. Therefore, it can be said that the first steam railroad in the country was a streetcar.

steam powered tranvia
A steam-powered tranvia in 1883.

The steam-powered tranvia (see photo above) operated from 1888 to 1898. Trips coming from Tondo usually started at 5:30 AM and ended at 7:30 PM. Those that originated from Malabon, on the other hand, ran from 6:00 AM until 8:00 PM.

The tranvia was a major mode of transportation in Manila until 1902 when the company operating it stopped expanding and only 10 streetcars were used for each of the five lines. As a result, a law was passed in October 1902 to build electric power and transportation networks in the city.

This is when Meralco–known then as Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company–came to the picture. The company replaced the La Compañia de Tranvias de Filipinas and by 1913, completed 9 out of 12 lines.

manila tranvia 1900s
Electric street tram. Photo credit: www.philippine-history.org

The slow demise of the tranvia started when it was heavily damaged during WWII. After the war, it was decided to finally end the tranvia operations and just focus on rebuilding the nation. Later, resourcefulness pushed Filipinos to put the remaining army jeeps into good use. The jeepney was born and has since become the country’s major mode of transportation.

2. This 1980s double-deck bus

1980 0827 MMTC Double Deck Bus

You may occasionally see them around Mall of Asia Arena, but double-deck buses are still a rarity in the country’s capital. In the 1980s, however, these giant vehicles usually plied the routes around EDSA, with a capacity that we could only wish for today’s Manila buses.

With a price tag of 1 million pesos, the Leyland Atlantean double-deck bus could accommodate up to 100 passengers, 62 of them on the upper deck. They were ordered from a British company as part of the initiative of the Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC).

3. Virra Mall’s futuristic escalator

futuristic escalator in Virra Mall, Greenhills Shopping Center
Photo via Old Manila’s Facebook Page

Back in the day, Virra Mall was the ultimate haven for shoppers. It’s a part of the Greenhills Shopping Center best remembered for the Space Age escalator inside its lobby.

Eventually, Virra Mall was changed into V Mall and the famous escalators were moved to the sides from its old location at the middle of the mall.

Today, the mall also features a modern facade and a large parking building across the street, with a Bridgeway linking to the second floor of the mall.

4. This classic gas pump at Azcárraga (now Claro M. Recto)

Classic gas pump at Azcarraga Street
Photo via Old Manila’s Facebook Page

Interesting fact: Built in 1898, one of the first gas pumps could pull fuel from an underground tank. It features a glass cylinder on top of the pump where you could see whether the gas you’re getting was dirty or not.

It also has a manual pump to help pull the gas out of the underground tank into the cylinder, and finally into the hose leading to the car.

5. Nayong Pilipino

Nayong Pilipino
Photo via Old Manila’s Facebook Page

Nayong Pilipino in Pasay City was our very own ‘Disneyland’ during its heyday. It’s a cultural, educational, and historical landmark that showcased the miniature Philippines to foreign travelers coming from the nearby Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Sadly, the 45-hectare park had to be sacrificed to give way to the expansion of the then Manila International Airport. It was also seen as a threat to the safety of the airplanes as the park also served as a sanctuary for birds. In the end, the Visayas and Mindanao areas of the park closed down in 2004.

Although there was a project to revive the park, this was discontinued when the officials of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation were replaced by a new set of appointees in 2010, wasting hundreds of millions worth of taxpayer money in the process.

6. The MRR Train

Manila Railroad Company (MRR) Train
Photo via Old Manila’s Facebook Page

From 1917 up to the 1940s, the Manila Railroad Company was one of the largest corporations in the country.

It was acquired by the government after Act. No. 2547  was passed by the Philippine Legislature on February 4, 1916. As a result, its railway lines had been extended to San Fernando, La Union in the north and Legaspi, Albay in the south.

MRR was heavily damaged during WWII, and out of the 1,140 route-kilometers before the war, only  452 were made operational. The company was renamed Philippine National Railways (PNR) on June 20, 1964.

7. The Matorco double-deck bus

Matorco double-deck bus
Photo credit: John Ward via Flickr.

The Manila Motor Coach (Matorco) bus was the brainchild of Don Carlos Palanca who was also the founder of La Tondeña Distillery. It used to ply Roxas Boulevard from the 13th and Chicago Streets in the Port Area all the way to the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran and back again.

According to Lou Gopal of Manila Nostalgia, rates per passenger were set at 20 centavos in 1975. Children who were less than 1 meter in height were admitted free.

Matorco started to disappear in the early 1980s. It officially stopped operation in 1994 due to high maintenance, overcrowded streets, and increased pollution.

8. These Giant 3-D billboards

Cafe Puro 3D billboard
3-D billboard for Café Puro that sat on top of one wing of the Metropolitan Theater. Photo via www.philstar.com

Long before EDSA became the paradise of sexy advertisements, there were 3-D billboards that were, in fact, entertaining. Take these two memorable landmarks for example. They’re both gone now, but we all wish they’re still here to fascinate the child in us.

Billboard advertisement for Tru-Orange Drink, north bank of the Pasig River west of the Jones Bridge, Manila, Philippines, 1940.
Billboard advertisement for Tru-Orange Drink, north bank of the Pasig River west of the Jones Bridge, Manila, Philippines, 1940. Photo credit: John Tewell via Flickr.

9. Jai Alai Games

Jai alai games in Manila
Photo credit: Lou Gopal via Manila Nostalgia.

In old Manila, Jai Alai was considered the sport of the city’s elite, just like golf. It was launched in 1940 at a four-story building along Taft Avenue.

Dubbed as one of the most stunning Jai Alai frontons in the world, the Jai Alai Club was designed by Welton Becket, the same architect behind the original Los Angeles airport.

A sport of Basque origin, the Jai Alai (which literally means “happy feast”), is usually played in a three-sided court and with slings that are similar to wicker baskets. The players use these baskets to throw the hardball at breakneck speed.

After the war, the Jai Alai building was converted into one of the world’s largest Red Cross service centers. The game, on the other hand, met a slow and painful death.

No thanks to issues of gambling and fixing that had plagued the Jai Alai palace for years, the game was officially banned by the government in 1986. Soon, then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza ordered the demolition of the Jai Alai building to supposedly give way to the construction of a new Hall of Justice.

10. The Love Bus

Love Bus

The Love bus, one of the first air-conditioned buses in the country, was another brainchild of former First Lady Imelda Marcos who was a Metro Manila governor back then.

It was a revolutionary vehicle when it was launched: It was painted blue, fully air-conditioned, and with “no standing on the aisle” policy.

The first terminal of Love bus was in Escolta. From there, the bus goes to Philcoa, then makes a U-turn towards East Avenue and to Ali Mall terminal. There was also a route from Cubao to Rustan Makati and then back to Escolta.

11. Heacock’s Department Store

Heacock's Department Store
Heacock’s Department Store in 1941. Photo credit: Lou Gopal via Manila Nostalgia.

During the prewar years, Heacock’s was considered one of the modern stores in Manila and the largest of its kind in the country. It was air-conditioned and was even equipped with an electric door that automatically opened via a photoelectric cell.

Also Read: Fantastic 116-Year-Old Color Pictures of the Philippines

The history of Heacock’s started when Mr. H.E. Heacock opened a retail store next to the Hotel Metropole by the Sta. Cruz bridge. Due to popularity, the store was moved to Echague Street, Quiapo in 1908. The following year, partners H.E. Heacock and Freer decided to sell the business to Samuel Gaches and other partners.

By 1918, the store was already in a four-story building at Escolta and soon became a one-stop-shop offering office equipment, firearms, and sporting goods among others. A new building was eventually opened on the southwest corner of Escolta and David streets.

Although it was heavily destroyed during WWII, the Heacock’s Department Store was reconstructed and emerged as one of the popular stores in the ’50s.

12. Insular Ice Plant and Cold Storage

Insular Ice Plant and Cold Storage
Photo via Old Manila’s Facebook Page.

After the Spanish-American War, there was an increasing demand for ice in the Philippines. This was mainly due to Americans who decided to settle here with their families. As a result, The Insular Ice Plant and Cold Storage were born in 1902.

Designed by an American architect named Edgar Bourne, Insular Ice Plant offered distilled water, ice, and cold storage services to the US military as well as the general public.

Unfortunately, it was demolished in the 1980s to make way for additional structures that were part of LRT1.

Interesting fact: According to Nick Joaquin’s Almanac for Manileños, the popular saying  “mabilis pa sa a las Cuatro!” originated from the ice plant’s whistles which regulated people’s lives at that time.

The whistle usually sounded three times a day: At 7:00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 4:00 PM which signaled that it was time for people to go to work, take the lunch, and rush back home, respectively.

13. Ysmael Steel Robot

Ysmael Steel
Photo via Old Manila’s Facebook Page.

Ysmael Steel, once a leading manufacturer of electric appliances in the country, is best remembered for its giant, 5-story mascot.

Known as Ysmael Steel Robot, this iconic Filipino giant once stood on the front lawn of the company’s factory along E. Rodriguez from the 1950s to the 1960s.

Ysmael Steel Robot
Photo via www.philstar.com

Ysmael Steel Robot was well-loved by children back then that the company regularly held a month-long activity every Christmas season.

During this special event, the robot was either dressed as Santa Claus or was part of the belen. Aside from film showing (mostly sci-fi movies), the company also built a rocket ship for children and their families to ride on.

14. The Rizal Theater

Rizal Theater
Photo via dmcinet.com

Back when people still used real theater curtains to unveil the silver screen, Rizal Theater was considered the real deal.

READ: 20 Beautiful Old Manila Buildings That No Longer Exist

Rizal Theater was part of what used to be called Makati Commercial Center. It was frequented by middle-class families who preferred it over Cubao and Recto cinemas. Rizal Theater would later be replaced by Shang-ri La Makati.

15. The Acme Super Market

Acme Supermarket
Acme Super Market, 1953. Photo credit: Lou Gopal via Manila Nostalgia.

If you’re born in the ’50s, you probably remember Acme Super Market as the store where kids would sneak in to buy their favorite Sen-Sen candies, Double Bubble Gum, or comics.

Found on Padre Faura between Mabini and M.H. del Pilar, this grocery store was also the first choice of families who wanted to buy imported chocolates, potato chips, and other food items from America, Europe, and Australia.

16. Balintawak Beer Brewery

Balintawak Beer Brewery
Photo via Old Manila’s Facebook Page.

Some jeepneys plying Valenzuela and Bulacan still use BBB to indicate their destination. The name actually originated from Balintawak Beer Brewery, a Japanese-owned company that once replaced San Miguel Brewery during WWII. They used this place to brew Asahi beer.

After the war, the Balintawak Beer Brewery was liberated from the Japanese, and San Miguel Brewery took over again.

17. Globe fountain and skating rink in Rizal Park

The skating rink in Agrifina Circle that almost served as the base of Luneta Tower. It is now occupied by the Lapu-Lapu monument.

In the 70’s, the Agrifina Circle in Rizal Park was famous for its globe fountain and skating rink where kids and adults practiced their moves. Both are gone now, replaced by a huge Lapu-Lapu monument.

18. Autocalesa or Jeepneys (that aren’t OVERSIZED!)

Classic jeepney

Jeepneys back then were not as oversized as today.

‘Nuff said.

19. The Meralco Building

The Meralco Building
Photo via www.philstar.com

Just like the Jai Alai Palace, the Meralco Building was also an Art Deco masterpiece that once served as the electric company’s headquarters.

Known as one of the country’s first air-conditioned buildings, the Meralco Building was sold off in sections and all that remains is “The Furies”, a relief sculpture made by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti.

20. The Manila Aquarium

The Manila Aquarium
The Manila Aquarium, early 20th century. Photo credit: John Tewell via Flickr.

The Manila Aquarium in Intramuros is the precursor of today’s Manila Ocean Park.

Opened in 1913, the Manila Aquarium was under the management of the Bureau of Science. It had 27 exhibition tanks where you could see bright-colored fishes and other sea animals found in Philippine waters.

QUIZ: Can You Guess These Famous Manila Landmarks By Their Old Photos?

The place was abandoned during WWII but was later revived by the City of Manila. A private charitable organization called the Zonta Club of Manila added an Orchidarium and managed it until 1983. It was later revived and renamed Acuario de Manila in 1998.

Finally, in 2004, the aquarium was refurbished by the Intramuros Administration and renamed Acuario de Real.

21. Manila’s Megabus

Metro Megabus
1990 1219 Megabus. Photo via Old Manila’s Facebook Page.

Manufactured by Santarosa Philippines Motorworks, this Megabus has a 400 seating capacity.

Its operation, unfortunately, was short-lived either because commuters were not used to it or its size made U-Turns on narrow streets a complete impossibility.

22. Bullfighting

Bullfighting in Manila, 1890s.
Bullfighting in Manila, 1890s. Photo via Old Manila’s Facebook Page.

The bloody sport of bullfighting was brought to Manila in the 1890s. The gory event, which was held in a bull ring somewhere in Paco, was described by an American named Trumbull White in his 1898 book entitled Our New Possessions:

“The sports of Manila are materially different from those to which we are accustomed, for their favorites have been bull-fighting and cock-fighting.

The bullring in Manila, in the suburb of Paco, draws great crowds when the entertainment is offered, in spite of the fact that the performances are by no means spirited.

Also Read: 10 Greatest Filipino Athletes You’ve Never Heard Of

Neither Spanish bullfighters nor Spanish bulls are brought to the island, so that native talent has to be obtained for both roles. The bulls are timid and lazy, the bull-fighters are little better so that the traveler does not see bullfighting of the same sort that he would in Spain, Cuba or Mexico.”

Bullfighting in Manila
Bullfighting near Manila City Hall. Photo via Flickr.

In the same year, American writer Joseph Earle Stevens  published a book that describes yet another animal cruelty disguised as sports which was held early in February: A battle between two innocent animals described in posters as a “Struggle between wild beasts — grand fight to the death between full-bloodied Spanish bull, and royal Bengal tiger, direct from the jungles of India.”

During the 1953 Manila International Fair, bullfighting made a brief comeback. The event was held at the sunken gardens outside Intramuros and featured bulls and matadors from Spain.

Although it was a big hit, the bloody sports failed to return in 1999 after a group rallied to block its comeback.


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Alcazaren, P. (2012). Christmas in the 1960s. philSTAR.com. Retrieved 23 April 2016, from http://goo.gl/AoQL4q

Brief History of PNR. PNR.gov.ph. Retrieved 23 April 2016, from http://goo.gl/KBFUlx

Cruz, N. (2012). Site of new Nayong Pilipino now abandoned. Inquirer.net. Retrieved 23 April 2016, from http://goo.gl/Kl4mW9

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Gopal, L. (2013). Malate – Ermita District: Part 1. Manila Nostalgia. Retrieved 23 April 2016, from http://goo.gl/vnDySG

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Pamintuan, A. (2013). Ride at your own risk. philSTAR.com. Retrieved 23 April 2016, from http://goo.gl/0tCPiF

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Written by FilipiKnow

in Facts & Figures, History & Culture, Nostalgia

Last Updated


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