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Resurrecting Escolta, the Queen of Streets


Escolta Street still registers in the minds of today's youth, but not as a place to go or see. Most twentysomethings will know it only as a name mentioned in stories – THAT place where lolo and lola went on dates, got to know each other, fell in love.
 
Escolta was the home of Clarke's, the first ice cream parlor in the country, as well as the first tramvia.
 
The street was also a commercial and creative hub, the home of several banks and businesses, like the Berg Department Store, which was the Rustan's of its day. There was even the Capitol Theater, and several film production studios.   
So much went on at Escolta during its heyday, there's no wonder it was once called the Queen of Streets.
 
These days though, the place is much quieter. As the commercial districts of Makati and Taguig began to blossom, many of the businesses on Escolta packed up and moved, or, sadly, closed down. 
 
Now, most of the buildings have an unused, ghostly air about them. Many of them feel empty, even if they're filled with people.
 
Fine architecture still remains
 
Still, there is no denying the street's vintage charm, derelict though the buildings have become. Somehow, the beauty of their architecture shines through the grime and disrepair.
 
For Marika Constantino, special projects head of art collaboratory 98B whose office is on one of the buildings on Escolta, walking down the street is "building-watching" because of the many examples of fine architecture that can be seen there.
 
Constantino mentioned the Calvo Building, an orange and white structure that used to be the house of the studios of the Republic Broadcasting System, known today as the GMA Network. Now, the building has a small museum that hosts the history of Escolta, as well as a collection of old bottles and ads.
 
There is also the once-glittering Capitol Theater, which has been boarded up, though its faded frieze is still a thing to be marveled at. By its entrance, there is a makeshift benchpress where several men do their workouts, seemingly oblivious to the history and the lost grandeur of the building that is right in front of them.
 
Not far from it is the Regina Building, which remains quite a sight. Domed and stark white, it looks especially beautiful against a bright blue sky. Built in 1934 according to the design of Andres Luna de San Pedro, Juan Luna's son, the building is a startling monument to the Beaux Arts style though its arched windows, columns, and cornices, and mascarons are hidden behind a tangle of electrical lines and a sheen of Manila grey.
 
Beaux Arts to Art Deco 
 
Across it is the First United Building, a red and white structure, also by Luna de San Pedro. Though the exterior is already rather grubby, the art deco geometries are still rather captivating. 
 
Last March 9, the building set the scene for yet another first on the Queen of Streets: a vintage market, held inside the rundown skeleton of the Berg Department Store.
 
The market was not hard to miss. Though the interiors were quite dark and gloomy, the wares on sale brightened the place up. Like the building itself, everything that was being sold was pre-owned or pre-loved.
 
There was something there for everyone: brand-name clothes and shoes for the bargain fashionista, crumbly books and comics for the hungry reader, furniture and home decor for the nesters, and even vintage soda bottles, rusty irons, and other old curios.
 
The only thing new at the market was the market itself—a novel idea thought up by the 98B team out of what Constantino said was "a continuing love affair with the street and the history."
 
"I guess as artists, we didn't want the street to just die down. So in our own small way, we wanted to do some intitiatives," she told GMA News Online.
 
She explained that the market is one of the projects under their umbrella initiative for the year, "Hola, Escolta," which aims to create a new buzz about the underappreciated street.
 
"Part of the goal is to have an activitiy wherein, somehow, the visitors would take a bit of history once they leave and hopefully come back again for other stuff," she said.
 
Alternatively engaging history 
 
Constantino shared that, especially, with the more popular hangouts in Makati and Greenhills, Escolta is on the verge of being forgotten, especially since there are no malls in the area, which rather alienates the younger crowd, most of whom are mall-trawlers.
 
"So this is like an alternative something to the younger generation. It's not all about the malls. You can actually look at history in a very engaging way," she said, pointing out that aside from the vendors selling their goods, there was also a photo slideshow of old Manila, as well as an exhibit of scale models of heritage buildings.
 
Gemma Cruz-Araneta, vice-chair of the Manila Historical and Heritage Commission (MHHC), agreed with Constantino, and expressed her hopes that the market will help draw the attention of the younger generation, particularly the students near the area.
 
"I hope we can sustain this for a weekly market kasi we want the students who live in the city of Manila to have another alternative," she told GMA News Online. 
 
"Manila is a university center. There's really a concentration of schools here. And we would like to present something like this that would appeal to their artistic talents, their creative talents. Also, something else to see aside from the regular malls," she said.
 
But according to Constantino, the resurrection of Escolta goes beyond the market.
 
"[The market] is just one component, at least from our perspective in the art collaboratory. It's just one way to help create awareness," she said. "I think together we can all help in having people give a bigger and warmer appreciation for historical sites like these." —KDM/KG, GMA News
 
The next Escolta Saturday Market will be held at the same venue on April 27, 2013.
 
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