15 heritage buildings in Metro Manila that should be turned into hotels or something

If these buildings could talk, they’d be like, “Rescue us!” We hear you, beautiful creatures. And, not to get your hopes up, but now that Luneta Hotel has been fixed and expected to reopen after decades of neglect, who knows, maybe the next restoration project could be you!


Circa: 1914
Location: 117 Juan Luna Street cor Muelle dela Industria, Binondo, Manila

History: This classic example of the Beaux-Arts school of design was built in 1914 by Antonio Melian, a self-proclaimed Peruvian count who formed the El Hogar Mutual Association, a financing cooperative. It was his wedding present of sorts to wife Margarita Zobel (of the Zobel de Ayala clan) and their initials adorn the staircase of the building.

Designed by architect Ramond de Yrureta-Goyena with engineer Roque Ruaño, the Spanish Dominican priest credited for building the first earthquake-resistant building in Asia (the UST Main Building in Sampaloc), El Hogar Filipino was occupied by the Japanese during World War II and heavily damaged during the American bombings. After the war, it was restored and a new floor was added. 

What it is now: It is still in use today as an office building. Though it looks run-down, you can still get a glimpse of interesting architectural details on its facade and interiors. Since the late 1990s, the building has been a favorite location for film and TV productions such as the movie Mano Po and the music video for Bamboo’s hit song “Hallelujah.”

How I’ll fix it: We asked Michelle Pe, whose family bought and revived the Art Deco design Miramar Hotel across the US Embassy on Roxas Boulevard (it is now a 40-room boutique hotel with a restaurant called Bistro Michelle on the ground floor), how she would rescue El Hogar Filipino: “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.”


Circa: 1931
Location: Corner of Arroceros Street and Padre Burgos Avenue, Ermita, Manila

History: “The dream of Filipino architect Juan Arellano calls to mind a modern expressionistic style where the theater’s face is a great rectangular window of translucent glass. Highlighted on either side in tapestries of colored tiles and its forehead crowned the stylized Muslim minarets. Inside two mural paintings, ‘The Dance’ and ‘The Spirit of Music’ by the country’s national artist Fernando Amorsolo complement the modern sculpture of Italian designer Francisco Monti. The auditorium has a beautiful rectangular stage decorated with bas relief figures symbolizing music, tragedy, comedy and poetry. The ceiling was decorated with a motif of mango fruits and leaves,” from the book Landmarks of Manila.

What it is now: Abandoned. The theater’s future looks in doubt as it is the subject of a legal battle between GSIS and Manila City Hall over its ownership.

How I’ll fix it: “The Metropolitan Theater may be transformed into a five-star hotel which can also showcase theatrical productions on the ground floor as its main highlight. I will not change any of the original color of the facade but instead will just clean and restore its original charm. I will probably change the stained glass design and color and add complementing iron droplights to the building entrance and redo the landscaping,” says Miramar Hotel’s Michelle Pe.


Circa: 1952
Location: Arroceros cor Concepcion Streets, Manila

History: The old GSIS building, built from 1952-1954 by architect Federico S. Ilustre.

What it is now: A parking lot.

How I’ll fix it: We asked architect and London School of Economics-trained urban planner James Jao how he would rescue the old GSIS building: “This building can be gentrified into a mixed-use development. By retaining the existing structure, it can be the podium of a high-rise building behind including an atrium. This way you can have a feel of the old and the new. The existing GSIS Building can host upscale retail shops and some restaurants, with a lobby/reception on one side for the hotel or condominium (office or residential). This approach can complement the existing SM City mall. An underground walkway can connect both the GSIS and SM,” says architect and urban planner James Jao.


Circa: 1939
Location: Pedro Gil Street, Paco, Manila

History: “In the district of San Francisco Dilao, better referred to as Paco, straddling Estero de Paco stands Pako Bulding. Though its architect is unkown, the structure built in 1939 is an Art Deco masterpiece. Occupying an irregular lot, the almost trapezoidal structure utilizes its restricted frontage by undulating the faced with curves and defined flat overhangs,” from the book Art Deco in the Philippines.

What it is now: An extension of the Paco market. “I remember the building used to house a library up until the 1990s, but I never got to go inside,” says Coconuts Manila writer Anson Yu. 

How I’ll fix it: We asked architect and London School of Economics-trained urban planner James Jao what he would to rescue the Pako Building: “Right in the heart of a busy market street, Pako Building can be gentrified into retail shops and restaurants to complement the economic activities around it. It must be repainted with Art Deco colors, making it the landmark of the area. A boutique hotel perhaps can be done with the addition of a mid-rise central structure at the core. Good lighting must make it more interesting at night.” 


Circa: 1939
Location: 468 Quezon Boulevard, Quiapo, Manila

History: “Built in 1939, Times Theater was designed by Luis Araneta. During its inauguration General Douglas MacArthur lead the celebrities of that time graced the modern theater first presentation. Designed like a billowing curtains, this massive curvilinear walls were made dramatic by the central glass block-clad facade that glowed at night, a new and popular material at that time,” from the book Art Deco in the Philippines.

What it is now: It is still screening movies but watching a show there now is not something that we recommend.

How I’ll fix it: “This building right across Quiapo Church is a very interesting iconic building. Until now it is used as a theater showing second-run films. I would recommend to retain the concrete façade of this building and build a mix-use development at the back with the lower floors, at least four storeys, for retail and restaurants. The upper floors can be the hotel rooms. A changing LED lighting at the façade will create a very interesting feature for this Times Theater which stood the test of times for generations,” says architect and urban planner James Jao, FUAP.


Circa: 1930s
Location: 245 Escolta Street, Binondo, Manila

History: “Built in the 1930s by architect Juan Nakpil, this Art Deco jewel once mounted on its balcony wall a mural by Filipino modernist Vitorio Edades. The building is designed with a generously lighted commercial block, tail ended by spire-like towers, with its Western tower dominated by an Egyptian-inspired step pyramid. Along the face of the Western tower are bas reliefs attributed perhaps to the atelier of Francisco Monti. The building’s demise began in the late 1970s when Escolta lost favor to more prominent shopping districts like Cubao and Makati,” from the book Art Deco in the Philippines.

What it is now: There is a restaurant bar occupying the ground floor. They tried to draw in the Binondo crowd by showing Chinese films, but that didn’t work. Eventually it started showing second-run feature films and then closed down. There was an attempt to convert the theater into a restaurant with a performing art stage, but that didn’t work as well. The theater is now closed, while a portion is now used by a downmarket eatery.

How I’ll fix it: “I remember very well how my father used to bring us to Escolta Street for a Sunday lunch or dinner at Savory and we would pass by the Capitol Theater building. Capitol could be the perfect boutique hotel for this very busy street. The lower floor can be a mix of retail stores and restaurants/coffee shops. The existing lobby can be retrofitted to a hotel lobby/lounge and reception. It must be repainted into the vibrant Art Deco colors and at night the facade should be lit with colored LED which will reflect into the water of the river, similar to Miami, Florida,” says architect and urban planner James Jao, FUAP.


Circa: 1915
Location: Plaza Dilao Road, Paco, Manila

History: Said to bear semblance to the Penn Station in New York, the Paco Station of the Philippine National Railways was designed in 1908 by William Parsons, the same architect who designed The Manila Hotel and Philippine General Hospital. It “was also the scene of a heroic battle during World War II and the recapture of the station led to the crucial defeat of the remaining Japanese forces in Manila,” writes blogger South Bike. “In 1996, a contractor of a 7-storey mall partly demolished the PNR station but due to the lack of funds it stopped, leaving behind a skeleton of a the first four floors of the mall and the facade of the station.”

What it is now: Gutted and abandoned. 

How I’ll fix it: “This is a building I am very familiar with because during my childhood our family would travel via the Bicol Express on the first class car from Paco all the way to Legazpi City. The grandeur of the lobby as you enter gives you the excitement of travel to the south. This cannot be a boutique hotel since the train is passing through this terminal building with the noise and vibration it causes until now. But the government must definitely modernize the mass train transit infrastructure and this should be the ‘Grand Central Terminal’ of Manila with retails shops and restaurants on both sides, just like the Victoria Station in London,” says architect and urban planner James Jao, FUAP.


Circa: 1920s
Location: Corner of Quintin Paredes and Dasmariñas Streets, Binondo, Manila

History: Originally known as Chaco, after prominent Chinese businessman Mariano Uy Chaco who commissioned the building to house his hardware firm. When he went back to China in 1910, he turned over his business to his son Uy Vet, who transformed the company from a general hardware store to direct importer and distributor of tools and machinery. Uy Vet later went on to become a leader in the Chinese community, sitting on the board of a number of community and business organizations. It was he who hired architect Andres Luna de San Pedro to design the current building.

What it is now: Philtrust Bank, although the building’s future is in doubt as its internal framework is rusting from the inside. However the bank has been using the building’s facade as a design template for its branches.

How I’ll fix it: Do you have an idea on how to turn this into a hotel? Leave a comment below (and don’t forget to specify the building).


Circa: 1935
Location: Corner of M de Santos and Folgueras Streets, Binondo, Manila

History: Inaugurated in 1935 by a Dr Isidro de Santos, the original plan for the building was to be a cold storage. It is said that Dr de Santos’s German son-in-law, a civil engineer, oversaw the construction of the building, hence the reason why it is still standing despite the numerous fires and earthquakes it has encountered.

In 1936, Dr de Santos’ cold storage business failed and was foreclosed. It was later sold to a Japanese confectionery company. During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army took over the building and installed machine guns on the roof. When the Americans returned, they converted the building into a storage space for their troops. Before the Americans left, they turned over the property to the Philippine government who are still the current owners of the building.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the upper floors of the building was used by various government agencies like the National Abaca Corporation and the National Cooperatives, while the lower floors were leased to shop owners. But what fires, wars and earthquakes could not destroy, time and neglect have. 

What it is now: Still used as an office building, a number of its tenants have organized themselves into an association and are battling against time and bureaucracy to have the building declared a historical landmark, so that the building can be restored to its original beauty.

How I’ll fix it: Do you have an idea on how to turn this into a hotel? Leave a comment below (and don’t forget to specify the building).


Circa: 1921
Location: 115 Juan Luna Street, Binondo, Manila

History: Built in 1921 by American businessman Oscar Campbell and designed by American architect GH Hayward, this building’s claim to fame is that it once housed the Manila office of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, which recently celebrated 125 years of operation in the Philippines. The bank moved out sometime in the 1980s, after which another financial institution took over the lease.

What it is now: Abandoned.

How I’ll fix it: Do you have an idea on how to turn this into a hotel? Leave a comment below (and don’t forget to specify the building).


Circa: 1922
Location: 120 Juan Luna Street, Binondo, Manila

History: Originally called the Pacific Commercial Building, this corner building near Calle Escolta was built in 1922 with funding from the El Hogar Mutual Association. This is where the First National Bank of New York (today’s Citibank) was located in the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1960s, most of the businesses that occupied the building had moved out and consequently abandoned.

What it is now: Sometime in the aughties, the building was brought by a new owner and restoration work began. It is now known as the E Business building and houses BPO firms.

How I’ll fix it: Do you have an idea on how to turn this into a hotel? Leave a comment below (and don’t forget to specify the building).


Circa: 1938
Location: E. Fugoso Street, Sta Cruz, Manila

History: “It was born to be a poor man’s bank. Founded by Franciscan monk Rev Fr Felix Huertas saw it wise to utilize these funds from unexpended donations to the church to establish a bank that would save the poor and needy from usurers and money lenders. It opened originally in 1882 on the ground floor of the Real Colegio de Santa Isabel in Intramuros. It later opened its office on a lot on Plaza Goiti in 1894. (from the NHI plaque on the building) Former president Manuel L. Quezon was at one time employed as a clerk here. The bank then moved to its present site in front of Sta. Cruz Church in 1938. The edifice was destroyed during the liberation of Manila in 1945, rebuilt in 1946 and resumed operations in 1947,” from the book Landmarks of Manila.

What it is now: An apartment and commercial space for a jewelry shop and Chinese drug store. The bank folded up in early 2000 due to bad loans. It was later sold to GE Money Bank.

How I’ll fix it: Do you have an idea on how to turn this into a hotel? Leave a comment below (and don’t forget to specify the building).


Circa: 1823
Location: Magallanes Drive, Intramuros

History: This abandoned old building, commissioned to be the intendencia (administrative house of the Spanish governor) was originally the Customs house. “The building was considered a beautiful piece of classical architecture, well-proportioned and monumental in appearance. The building had three principal entrances, two courtyards and two principal staircases,” writes Rene Javellana in CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art.  It was built from 1823 to 1829 by Tomas Cortes, with Luis Cepedes helping in its reconstruction in 1874. The building also once housed the Comelec and the Central Bank. It caught fire in the 1970s and for a while was a popular film set. 

What it is now: Gutted and abandoned, though now earmarked as the new home for the National Archives if funding pushes through.

How I’ll fix it: Do you have an idea on how to turn this into a hotel? Leave a comment below (and don’t forget to specify the building).


Circa: 1950s
Location: Plaza Sta Cruz, Sta Cruz, Manila

History: It is said that this seven-storey building is the first pinned-wall building in the Philippines. 

What is it now: Office building.

How I’ll fix it: Do you have an idea on how to turn this into a hotel? Leave a comment below (and don’t forget to specify the building).


Circa: 1934
Location: 410 Escolta St, Sta Cruz, Manila

History: Designed in the neo-Classical style by Andres Luna de San Pedro in 1934, although a fourth floor was added by its new owners who commissioned UST College of Architect founder Fernando Ocampo.

What it is now: Due to its proximity to the port area, this four-storey building is now used as an office building by several freight forwarding companies.

How I’ll fix it: Do you have an idea on how to turn this into a hotel? Leave a comment below (and don’t forget to specify the building).


Text: James P. Ong, Anson Yu
Photos: Aileen C. Dimatatac and Anson Yu

Correction: El Hogar was built as a wedding present by Antonio Melian in 1911 to Mercedes Zobel, not 1914 nor Isabel Zobel as we earlier wrote. 

7 thoughts on “15 heritage buildings in Metro Manila that should be turned into hotels or something

  1. Sadly, the El Hogar and the Ides O'Racca building are to be demolished very soon.
    An Opinion: I do not agree with turning the Manila Met and the Times Theatre into hotels.

  2. aduana is the perfect place to turn into a hotel because of its location.
    just take a shower then walk around intramuros, your there!

  3. the Aduana (aka Intendencia) is on its way to house the Spanish collection of the National Archives of the Philippines.

  4. The National Archives of the Philippines(NAP) together with technical personnel of the Intramuros Administration just awarded a contract to an architectural firm to do the restoration plan and to make the ruins into a repository of all the collections of NAP.

  5. I am not agree with Times Theater to be converted.Because that is the only remaining operational stand-alone theater in the Quezon Boulevard Quiapo area.The rest of the theaters in that area had been demolished recently.

  6. One creative reuse for some of these buildings such as the Hamilton, El Hogar and the Metropolitan would be to rent them out to film, TV and even for photography (such as pre nups or fashion editorials). They don't have to restore the entire structure but perhaps say a certain section (lobby or rooftop) or a certain feature (grand stair case or just a room)

  7. Impressive article. I was only familiar with a few of these venerable structures. Like many communities including the one where I currently reside, it is only recently we recognize the importance of preserving our history.

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