Sugar Sun series location #11: Manila Port

sugar-series-map-manila-with-port

Have you heard romantic stories of evenings strolling on the Luneta, once upon a time? Or racing along the Malecón? Did you wonder where these entertainments took place? Maybe all you know is the enormous port that eats up Manila’s shoreline. If you look at the 1902 map above, though, you will see that port is not there. Not yet.

Manila port expansion photo for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Before 1908, a visitor’s steamship would anchor two miles offshore in the rough seas of Manila Bay. The passenger would transfer to a lighter, known as a casco, and ride with their luggage into the city this way:

[Della’s boat] pulled past a large fort flying the American flag and headed into the mouth of the Pasig, a river as wide as the Potomac but ten times as crowded. Bossy American steamers, lighters heavy with food and livestock, outrigger fishing boats, and single-man canoes fought upstream for a space at the north-side dock. Her boat won a place and tied up in front of a huge warehouse marked Produce Depot.

Hotel Oriente

Manila port expansion photo for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

This original port was on the north shore of the Pasig: in front of the San Nicolas fire station and across the river from Fort Santiago. The Yankees did not like this casco system, though, because they thought it was dangerous and inefficient. Something had to be done, they said. Hence, one of the first major infrastructure projects of the new century was born. (The other from this time was the Benguet Road to Baguio.)

Manila port expansion map for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Between 1903 and 1908, the Americans would add 200 acres to the shoreline through land reclamation. The breakwater was expanded, and numbered piers lined the bay. It was supposed to cost $2.15 million, and certainly no more than $3 million, but—as with all infrastructure boondoggles—it ran to $4 million before the construction was over. (That is $108.4 million in 2016 dollars.) Compared to Boston’s $24.3 billion for the Big Dig (a highway and tunnel project), you still might say that Manila port was a bargain. But before you believe this an example of American largesse, remember that all expenses of the Philippine Commission were paid from local tax revenues.

Manila port expansion photo for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Moreover, the real cost would be paid by the Filipino families who used to enjoy a safe, leisurely promenade on the beach. At what expense, progress?

(This post was originally published on the outstanding website, Filipinas Nostalgia, where I will be a guest contributor. Photographs from the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.)

Sugar Sun series location #3: Escolta

Described as the Fifth Avenue of Manila, the Escolta was the central business district of the city. Named after the escort (escolta) that accompanied the Spanish governor-general in his excursions here, the street developed a reputation as the ritziest row in Manila. Felice Sta. Maria explained its appeal, as one could always find here “the snobbish precursors of the large department stores and the best of the limited-line stores.” A contemporary account said:

What cannot be bought on the Escolta…is hardly to be found in the city. Harness and hardware, dry goods and diamonds, beer, whisky and cigars, stationery, clothing, drugs, books, notions and wares from India, China, and Japan…

Advertisement from the Witten’s Directory (1902) of Manila, as found on the website of the Pinoy Kollektor.

This busy entrepôt was located outside the Spanish walled-in core of Intramuros—not so surprising when you learn that the whole area, Binondo, was also Manila’s Chinatown. For several hundred years, Hokkien merchants came from the reclusive mainland, loaded with silks, porcelain, and tea to sell to Spanish galleon crews, who were flush with Mexican silver.

Escolta tour by Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The post office along the Escolta, part of the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive.

But though the Spanish needed the trade, they also distrusted their partners. For a long time, all Chinese—even those who had converted to Christianity or had been born in Manila, some to Filipino mothers—had to live within a cannon shot from the Crown. And that was not a passive-aggressive threat; it was aggressive-aggressive, as they did use their cannons on occasion. Hence it is especially ironic that while the Chinese built the prosperity of Binondo, the Spanish would later claim the most prosperous street, Escolta, as theirs.

Crop of 1901 photo of Escolta from the photo collection of John Tewell.

When the Americans first arrived, they installed their own cultural touchstones—bars. Helen Taft, the wife of Philippine commissioner and eventual governor, William Howard Taft, wrote about the “beery” odor and dangers to women there. By 1899, the saloons were forced to close at 10 pm, and in February 1900 they were banned from Binondo altogether. (Of course, bars did not disappear from the city entirely. By August 1900 there were over 1100 liquor-selling establishments in Manila. In the first ten months of the American occupation, alcohol imports quadrupled.)

An Escolta street scene from 1901</>. Note the liquor billboards in the upper right corner.

Once this street was again safe for women and their pocketbooks, new stores opened to cater to their needs, including Clarke’s Ice Cream and Heacock’s Department Store. Anyone who was anyone shopped and ate on the Escolta, and then headed out to the Luneta to be seen in the latest Paris or New York fashions. Not bad for a bunch of carpetbaggers.

Escolta was destroyed by the American bombing of Manila in World War II, but it is rising again. Check it out!

Left: Ben and I at the Oarhouse. Right: Ben, Gina, Paul, Derek, me, and Regine at the Fred’s Revolución in Escolta.

Featured public domain image (1899) at the top of this post by J. D. Cress, found the Library of Congress.

Sugar Sun series glossary term #2: Casco

Since we’re on the subject of transportation, we cannot forget the casco—or, as the Americans dubbed them, “lighters.” These were the workhorses of Manila. Until 1908 there was no port where ships could dock directly on shore, so cascos were sent out to meet them in the bay. All foreigners, therefore, had their first glimpse of Manila aboard a casco. They would pass Fort Santiago, enter the mouth of the Pasig River, and dock on the north bank, next to the warehouses of Binondo. A casco pilot often lived in his boat, along with his wife, children, and of course fighting cocks. As a person who raises chickens, I can say that had to smell lovely. Poor family. (Featured image in the public domain at the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive.)