It may be 9 decades old now, but this iconic Escolta structure is still bustling with life. Photographer LEAH DE LEON captured this when she attended the building’s party last Saturday.
The First United Building celebrated its 90th anniversary last Saturday the same way it spent the best years its existence: by being at the heart of the bustle.
Ever since it was unveiled to the public back in 1928, the now iconic structure along Escolta Street has been a witness to the story of Manila. Its art deco design planned by architect Andres Luna de San Pedro has stood by Escolta through all of its ups and downs. When Manila was rising as one of the most promising cities in Southeast Asia, First United was among the tallest structures in the national capital. When Escolta became the center of commerce in the city and a home to immigrant merchants bringing the outside world to the Philippines, it was among the structures that housed its industry. When Manila became one of the warzones bombed and ravaged by World War II, the building became a survivor, standing tall amidst the surrounding devastation. And even after Escolta’s declined during the 1960s—after Makati rose to become the center of business in the National Capital Region—First United remained as a reminder of Escolta’s former glory.
These days, Escolta is seeing something of a resurgence. After years of neglect, artist groups, business owners and residents who saw the potential that remained with it banded together to bring more life back into the street. And as one of the sturdiest and most resilient structures in it, First United became something of a headquarters for such efforts. Nowadays, the building houses several ventures. For instance, the trendy barber shop Folk 1006 now occupies its ground floor and its decision to do this has added a more youthful vibe to the building’s otherwise archaic facade. There is also a business group called HUB: Make Lab that turned the place into its home turf and because of its decision to champion unique, locally made products, First United became a source of novel trade. Now housing weekend markets and mostly youth-centric events, the once celebrated, then discarded and now redeemed structure is once again at the center of much activity. And, our photographer Leah de Leon got to see that during Hang Out, the building’s anniversary bash.