In the 19th and 20th century, Manila was nicknamed the “Venice of the Orient.” While it’s hard to see these days, the Manila of old was a trendy, glamorous place with architecture to behold due to the influence of our Spanish colonization. Like Venice, there were waterways called “esteros” that people used to travel from one place to another. And much like Venice, Manila was a center for beautiful structures.
Many of the prominent families established themselves further by building large homes, more akin to mansions, that reflect the trends of the era. Some of the more famous houses, like the Legarda Mansion, have survived the test of time. The vast majority of others have sadly fallen through the cracks.
While the bygone days of Manila are only a memory—with most of the structures lost to either war, general neglect, or the march of time—some of these old buildings and fabulous houses have endured. And we have adaptive reuse to thank for it.
Adaptive reuse is the practice of taking an old structure and giving it a new lease on life by renovating or restoring it for another purpose. A common example of adaptive reuse is when you take an ancestral home, restore and update it, and use the space as a restaurant.
In all cases of adaptive reuse, a lot of the charm from the old structure is maintained as a nod to its history. We’re seeing this trend more and more, which is a good sign for heritage advocates.
Here are some restaurants and spaces that have been carved from the old and given new life and purpose in the modern age.
Palacio de Memoria
95 Roxas Blvd, Tambo, Parañaque, Metro Manila
Open from Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Before World War II, Roxas Boulevard was the address of choice for the named and extremely wealthy. Many sprawling estates populated the street, but few still exist to this day. One of the last remnants of this era is the Villaroman Mansion—which was reborn as Palacio de Memoria.
This seven-story pre-war mansion and estate was formerly home to Dr. Francisco Villaroman who was said to have acquired the building in the mid-20th century. There’s not a lot of information on who originally owned and built the mansion, but it’s currently in the possession of the Lhuillier family.
Since opening to the public in 2019, the estate has been transformed into a museum, events space, restaurant, and the new home of the Casa de Memoria auction house.
Grand Cafe 1919
117 Juan Luna St, Binondo, City of Manila
Open from Monday to Sunday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Overlooking Binondo’s Plaza Cervantes, a neoclassical building from 1922 sits in all of its preserved glory. That building—which is said to be the oldest structure in the area—is now the residence of Grand Cafe 1919. According to the restaurant, the structure used to be the HSBC branch that served the Chinese-majority residents of old Binondo.
The restaurant’s interiors and design pay homage to the time the building was built in through the restored structure, while updating it with more modern furniture and bold colors. You can still see the intricately designed aspects from the 1920s, such as the carved cornices and grand pillars.
You might expect traditional Filipino cuisine if you dine here, but they actually serve a wide array of dishes from across the world. Entrées like pasta, pizza, steak, and Filipino favorites, as well as pastries are in abundance.
Las Casas Quezon City
134 Roosevelt Ave, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City
Open from Monday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
You’re probably already familiar with Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, the Filipino-themed resort composed of heritage houses in Bataan, but did you know that there’s another Las Casas in Manila?
Much like its grander older sibling, Las Casas Quezon City replicates the Spanish-era experience—albeit on a smaller scale. The sprawling estate-turned-events-space is a miniature version of the resort, with its own plaza, two restaurants (one Filipino and one Italian), and function areas for events.
Originally built in the 1960’s by businessman Felipe Sangil Juico and his wife Maria Ella Juico, the house that once occupied the space served as a family home for over 50 years. The art-deco style mansion was designed by National Artist for Architecture, Pablo S. Antonio.
After the estate was sold to Las Casas, ancestral homes were transplanted onto the site, with the addition of a newly-built church designed to look like the churches from the 18th century.
Due to its theme, ornate designs, and variety of buildings, Las Casas Quezon City has become a destination for weddings and prenup shoots. The Italian restaurant, La Bella, is the brainchild of Margarita Forés, so you’ll likely be pleased by your meal if you decide to dine there.
First United Building
413 Escolta Street, Binondo, City of Manila
Escolta was once a bustling business district in Manila—and the First United Building is one of the last physical reminders of what the area used to be. Built in 1928, the building (formerly known as the Perez-Samanillo Building) is an art deco structure that housed former consulates, Dolphy’s film studio (yes, that Dolphy), and an old department store.
It was designed by National Artist for Architecture Juan F. Nakpil and Andres Luna de San Pedro, the son of famed artist Juan Luna. After being completed, it was regarded as the tallest building in Manila at that time, standing at five floors.
The structure was purchased by the Sylianteng family in the 1970s, and they’ve since opened up the building and prevented its fall to disrepair.
Today, the building most notably houses HUB: Make Lab, a creative collective that cultivates homegrown talent. The building’s other tenants include the new location of vintage shop Glorious Dias, an art space and coffee bar called The Den, the Escolta offshoot of the popular Cubao bar Fred’s Revolucion, and a coworking space called First Community Coworking.
14 St. Mary St., Cubao, Quezon City,
Tucked away in one of Cubao’s rare quiet parts is an ancestral home-turned-boutique cinema. Before Sine Pop was Sine Pop, it was the home of Sotero Pasion Eugenio, a civil engineer, and his wife Lourdes Sabas Segui, a pharmacist.
After the home was completed in 1948, the couple went on to live and raise their family there. Like most homes of the period, the house is a mid-century, post-war style house. The family stayed there for almost 70 years before it was restored and converted into a boutique mini cinema.
The restoration was spearheaded by architect Justin Guiab, while his partner, Jondi de Guzman, worked on the space’s design. Majority of the home’s original features were retained to honor the space.
Aside from serving as a cinema, Sine Pop has also become an events space and creative venue. It regularly hosts movie screenings, art exhibits, and even live venues. It’s also currently home to Meisner Studio Manila, the only studio that teaches the Meisner acting technique in the country.
Another of Sine Pop’s highlights is the bamboo garden in the middle of the property. Cubao—and the Metro Manila area in general—lacks lots of greenery, so the bamboo garden is a sight for city-sore eyes.