Thriving, evolving scenes of Binondo
It has retained a vivid flavor of a rich, glorious heritage, while embracing the rosy prospects of a promising future.
Binondo, an old district in Manila that is reputed to be the world’s oldest Chinatown, offers a powerful, captivating image: a community that remains deeply entrenched in centuries-old Chinese traditions, but one that has also started to welcome in its midst towering, modern skyscrapers that are reshaping the cityscape by the day.
Centuries ago, Binondo, or Manila’s Chinatown, was considered the hub of the Pacific where the beginnings of global commerce took place.
It was reportedly established by the Spaniards in 1594 as a settlement for the Catholic Chinese, which eventually became the business and financial center in Manila, with one of its streets, Escolta, earning that distinction of being tagged as the “Wall Street of the Philippines” before World War II broke out.
Since then however, Manila’s Chinatown saw periods of stagnation, marked by lagging businesses, worn down roads, and dilapidated structures, according to accounts by some of its long-time residents. But it also saw numerous transformations, and in recent years, it finally broke through the hurdles and has seen a revitalization that has now allowed it to catch up with the modern times.
Today, Manila’s Chinatown is vibrant, thriving and bustling, with remnants of a glorious past still evident, attracting local and foreign tourists wanting to experience that distinct old world charm.
On days leading up to the Chinese New Year, expect multitudes to crowd the streets of Binondo, all seeking to consult feng shui experts and purchase cures and other elements meant to usher in luck, prosperity and happiness to their homes and lives.
On any other day, groups would stroll along the old streets of Chinatown, part of the walking tours and food tours that have gained popularity over the last several years. These tours have allowed tourists to immerse themselves in various Chinese ways and culture.
Lining up the streets of Binondo are decades-old restaurants offering authentic Chinese cuisine; traditional apothecaries and herb stores as well as jewelry shops; and traditional Chinese institutions such as temples and monasteries.
Cathedrals built in the Spanish period, meanwhile, continue to host devout Catholics to this day. These are the Binondo Church, also known as Minor Basilica of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz (1596), and Santa Cruz Church (1608) which occupy each end of Ongpin St. in Binondo. Plaza Calderon dela Barca, now known as Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz, is among the major tourist attractions in Manila’s Chinatown.
Era of high rises
Among these historical structures and places are modern, high rise luxury residential condominiums and new shopping areas that have now lent a unique, modern character to Binondo.
National developers, such as Megaworld Corp., Anchor Land Holdings Inc. and Federal Land, along with a number of smaller players in the industry, are now reshaping Manila’s Chinatown with their projects and respective efforts to revitalize this historical and cultural district. Even nearby areas have benefited from this revitalization with firms like Double Dragon Properties setting up a modern shopping center, Dragon8 Mall, in nearby Divisoria.
Megaworld, meanwhile, is helping breathe new life into Binondo with the establishment of the Lucky Chinatown Mall, which offers a unique blend of history, tradition and modern shopping and world-class leisure experience. It also features a promenade known as the Chinatown Walk, which has Chinese cuisine outlets.
Apart from the Lucky Chinatown, Megaworld also has within Binondo the Cityplace Twin Tower Residence, a ready-for-occupancy (RFO) luxury residential condominium; the 47-storey Noble Place, a high-rise luxury condominium that offers magnificent views of the sunset at Manila Bay, Intramuros Golf Course and Chinatown; as well as a planned 93-room hotel.
As early as a decade ago, Megaworld has been engaged in revitalization efforts, the most recent of which include the rehabilitation of Plaza Cervantes, which was seen to usher in a new glorious era for the Chinatown District. This formed part of Megaworld’s thrust to preserve national heritage sites such as Plaza Cervantes.
Publicly listed Anchor Land, for its part, has also brought its distinct brand of luxury residential projects in Binondo.
Along Ongpin St. is the 56-storey Anchor Skysuites, the world’s tallest China town structure to date. This luxury residential condominium accommodates Filipino-Chinese businessmen and families. A few blocks away is the 39-storey Mandarin Square, also along Ongpin St., and the 33-storey Lee Tower, a low-density condo along Sabino Padilla Street.
Anchor Land has also pioneered high-end residences within Binondo’s Chinese School Belt with Wharton Parksuites on Masangkay Street and Oxford Parksuites on Benavidez Street. The 39-storey Princeview Parksuites along Quintin Paredes Road is located near Escolta’s primary establishments.
And it doesn’t stop there. Anchor Land is expanding its footprint in Binondo with the 63-storey luxury Anchor Grandsuites along Masangkay Street, poised to set another groundbreaking record as the new tallest landmark in all Chinatowns around the world; and the 49-storey Eight Alonzo Parksuites along Alonzo Street.
For sure, Binondo will continue to see more changes in the next decade. Hopefully, all these new structures, all these revitalization and modernization efforts will be able to future proof the world’s oldest Chinatown while at the same time, preserve its rich, historical legacy.
Sources: www.chinatownology.com; oldmanilawalks.com; edition.cnn.com/travel/article/world-best-chinatowns/index.html; www.inquirer.net