The Rebirth of Taft Avenue

When I was growing up, Taft Avenue was the major artery in Manila, extending from the Post Office building along the banks of the Pasig River, all the way to Pasay City, Parañaque, Las Piñas, Bacoor and the main junction of Tagaytay.

Along the way, sections of this main artery were known mainly as National Road, or Calle Real. When the President of Mexico came for a state visit, the sitting president was so overwhelmed he named a section from Parañaque to Tagaytay as Mexico Avenue. By the 1960s and 1970s, this was all forgotten and the local governments started naming their portions after local heroes.

The section crossing my hometown was renamed Father Diego Cerra Avenue after the priest who created the Bamboo Organ, our town's major tourist attraction. Parañaque's portion was named Quirino Avenue and starts from the corner of Taft Avenue and EDSA, ending at the boundary with Las Piñas near the Iglesia Ni Cristo church on the lot where residents used to go Sundays with their favorite fighting cocks.

Taft Avenue passed through several public markets: Zapote Kabila in Bacoor near the historic Zapote Bridge, Las Piñas Market across the street from the Bamboo Organ Church, Palanyag town market in Parañaque beside the St. Andrew's Church, Baclaran Market across from the Redemptorist Church and the main Pasay Libertad Market in what was considered downtown Pasay.

Taft Avenue was the major road that everyone from south of Manila had to pass to go to downtown Manila, whether the destination was Divisoria, Quiapo or Sta. Crus. It was also the only road link from Southern Luzon to Central and Northern Luzon.

It was where thousands were sent to high school and college after graduating from public elementary schools. Most popular were Southeastern College and Arellano south of the corner of Buendia.

Pasay City movie houses, without air conditioning, were still considered a notch above the smaller, hotter sinehan in adjacent Parañaque; those with a bit more money went to downtown Manila where movies were released weeks, sometime months, earlier.

Mansions of the very rich were built on Taft. On the Parañaque side, there was a castle-like white edifice along the beach with sections opened to the public; the compound was called Malibu Beach Resort. Next door, in the 1960s, the Lorenzanas developed a compound from where they exported seafood products and building components made of wood.

In Pasay, the elegant Tomas Mapua mansion with a vast yard and garden always seemed empty; no children played outside the huge house. We observed all these through the elaborate iron grills surrounding the compound. The elegant Rufino mansion closer to Buendia became an OB Montessori school in the 1960s; today the Rufino property hosts a mall connected to an LRT station.

Seventh Day Adventists settled along San Juan Street, with members of the church living around the church and hospital from Taft Avenue to F.B. Harrison street. The International School was at Taft corner Donada, where the rich Gomez family built a medium-rise apartment and where the country's first pizza company, D'Marks, was established.

A few meters away is Vito Cruz, where stands the Rizal Memorial sports complex, built in 1934 for the Far Eastern Championship Games that's supposed to be the precursor for the Asian Games, held there in 1954. It was constructed on part of what was the Manila Carnival held in Manila from 1908 until shortly before WWII.

Going further north on Taft after Vito Cruz (now called Ocampo St.) is De La Salle Univercity, and its sister institution St. Benilde. In the 1950s-1970s, there were several embassies in the vicinity. One of them was the Indonesian Embassy where Caviteno Alfredo Saulo, then chief of propaganda of the Communist Huk rebel movement, sought political asylum.

The last remaining diplomatic building on Taft (near the corner of Quirino Avenue) is the Apostolic Nunciature, the top-level diplomatic mission of the Holy See to the Republic of the Philippines. It is where the Holy Father stays when visiting the country. So far, two Popes have done so: Pope Paul VI during the Marcos administration, and Pope John Paul II twice.

The Philippine General Hospital, between Pedro Gil (formerly Herran) and Padre Faura, stands proud, serving the country's poorest of the poor and remembered as the only medical facility that remained open throughout World War II. Next to it are the halls of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. South of the PGH stood the University of the Philippines Law School and now the Colleges of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing.

The Philippine Women's University and the Philippine Normal College are both also along Taft, while Adamson University, with a walkway entrance on Taft, is a short walk away. Manila's City Hall is on Taft; so is the East entrance to the vast Luneta or Rizal Park. The House of Representatives and the Senate shared a building which still stands on Taft, now being used by the National Museum.

With all this history, it is no wonder Taft Avenue continues to flourish despite a temporary halt in development after the intrusion of the Light Railway Transit in 1985.

Today, Taft Avenue is slowly reclaiming its position as a premier area for education, medical care, government and private offices. And finally, after several decades Taft is again becoming a prestige address, thanks to dozens of high-rise condominium projects simultaneously going up in the historic avenue.

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