It was twelve noon and it was a scorcher of a day. People with cameras swinging about their necks were milling about in front of the Manila Post Office, chatting and hanging around the shades provided by the huge trees that dot the park in Lawton’s Liwasang Bonifacio.
Everyone present was here for one thing only, the free Royal Postal Heritage Guided Tour spearheaded by the Filipinas Stamp Collectors Club and Apo Philatelic Club.
The tour, which comprises of a walk through the halls of the graceful Manila Post Office, the now derelict Metropolitan Theater and the lush Arroceros Forest Park is being held every third Sunday of the month. I’ve heard about this curious walk from a fellow blogger who previously attended it and I was immediately intrigued.
There is no fee in joining, so I wasted no time in signing up. The rendezvous was in front of the Manila Postal Office.
When the appointed time came, Lawrence Chan arrived with his big buri sombrero and our tour started. Rence, as he likes to be called, is the resident guide for the Royal Postal Heritage Guided Tour. I imagine he makes not a single centavo for doing this, but one can feel his passion in spreading the word about philately and his genuine care for preserving the country’s heritage structures, particularly those in Manila.
The sun was relentlessly hot and we were only too grateful to proceed inside the Manila Post Office.
Designed by Architect Juan Arellano (the same guy who also did the MET) in Neo-Classical motif, the Manila Central Post Office is one of the most prominent landmarks in the country’s capital. Built in 1926, it has stood the ravages of time and war, being heavily damaged during the Second World War. It was restored twenty years later to its current form.
The famous city planner Daniel Burnham (yeah, that guy named after Burnham Park) strategically placed the Central Post Office right along the banks of Pasig River near Jones Bridge. This meant that mails can easily come through from the river and at the same time, easy access is also possible from its three other sides; the east wing for Quiapo, up front for Malate and the west wing for Binondo.
Although designed in Neo-Classical form, hints of Art Deco can be seen inside the post-office’s cavernous but now almost empty halls. Its architect is a notable practitioner of the style, with the nearby Metropolitan Theater a good example of such, so I guess it really isn’t that surprising.
There was once a time when the Manila Central Post Office was one of the busiest buildings this side of Manila. You can just imagine; this is where they congregate all the mails before dispersing them all over the country. But that era is over now. With the advent of the Internet, the art of mailing letters has long since gone passé.
With the current shift of technology, the Central Post Office is now way too big for its operation. There has been talk of converting it into a luxury hotel some years back; with Singapore’s Fullerton Hotel expressing interest in housing a posh five-star hotel inside the five-storey structure.
I saw some of the proposed development plan, which included the MET and Liwasang Bonifacio. It looked really promising but I just don’t know what came of the project.
But even with the decline of that way of communicating, we were surprised to find that philately or stamp collecting, is still very much alive in these halls. I used to collect stamps as a kid, and I was blown away as I witnessed the Filipinas Stamp Collectors’ Club holding an auction for these. An exhibit was also being held. It was a philately geek’s wet dream come true.
The intricacies of collecting stamps and nuances of building a portfolio for such were passionately explained to us by one member of the club. While some got bored beyond tears, not a few were eagerly taking in everything the man was saying. I guess this hobby isn’t really for everybody.
After a while, Rence called everyone back. A few returned with a sigh of relief while others still longingly looked back to the stamps on display. It was time to enter the star of Manila’s bygone nights, the hauntingly beautiful Metropolitan Theater.
Royal Postal Heritage Guided Tour
Contact Number: (0928) 660-4819
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Manila Central Post Office
Address: Liwasang Bonifacio, Manila
GPS Coordinates & Map: 14°35'43.4"N 120°58'44.1"E