(SPOT.ph) With its massive size and ecru-colored pillars, the Manila Central Post Office (a.k.a. Manila Post Office) in Lawton is a heritage structure that's hard to miss. It has always been there, a silent witness to the history of Manila throughout the American colonization, World War II, post-war development, and the rise and fall of letter-writing. But in the wee hours of May 22, a six-hour fire that reached General Alarm status engulfed the Manila Central Post Office. That a heritage structure was gutted by fire right during National Heritage Month can be no less than ominous for a people who constantly fight to never forget.
Early History of the Manila Post Office
Manila's first-ever post office was established in 1767, more than a century before the structure of the Manila Central Post Office even came to fruition. With the Philippines then under the control of Spain, the postal service was organized under the colonizers' new portal district in 1779 with overseas mail coming from the Philippines to Europe by Spanish ships following an eastbound route via Mexico. Local delivery, on the other hand, was made possible through horse-riding couriers. By the late 1830s, Manila became a leading center of postal services within Asia.
After the Philippine Revolution under the Aguinaldo administration, the Philippine postal service was established as a bureau under the Department of Trade (currently known as the Department of Trade and Industry) in 1902. By 1922, the Philippines joined the Universal Postal Union as an independent country.
Four years later, the structure we now know as the Manila Central Post Office was built in Manila to serve as the home of the Philippine Postal Corporation (formerly Bureau of Post, which was renamed the Postal Service Office in 1987).
Architectural Design and Construction
The construction of the Manila Central Post Office took place in 1926 and featured a design collaboration between Juan M. Arellano (known for his work on the Manila Metropolitan Theater and the Old Legislative Building), Tomás Mapúa (the architect behind De La Salle University's St. La Salle Hall), and Ralph Doane.
The building's frontage showcases a rectangular mast adorned with 16 Ionic columns that are lined up above the iconic steps while flanked with two semi-circular sides. The interiors are characterized by a main lobby that branches out into subsidiary halls.
Although it suffered significant damage during the war in 1945, the Manila Central Post Office was reconstructed a year later faithfully to its original design.
Preservation Efforts for Historical Significance
The National Museum of the Philippines recognized the Manila Central Post Office as an Important Cultural Property on November 24, 2018.
An Important Cultural Property (ICP) is defined as "a cultural property that possesses exceptional cultural, artistic and/or historical significance." Other ICPs in the Philippines include the Philippine Center for Population and Development in Taguig City, Diplomat Hotel in Baguio City, and Sornito House in Iloilo City. Declared ICPs may receive government funding for protection, conservation, and restoration.
The declaration of the Manila Central Post Office as an ICP prompted the Philippine Postal Corporation and the National Commission for Culture and Arts for the renovation and retrofitting of the building. In 2021, several plant boxes and landscaping were added to the front of the structure.
Fire at the Manila Post Office
Just before midnight on Sunday, May 21, visible smoke coming from the Manila Central Post Office was reported to the fire department. The status reached General Alarm at around 6 a.m., which means that the fire was so big it breached alarm levels from first to fifth and Task Force alarms from alpha to echo. A general Alarm in the fire district of Manila meant that all available firetrucks in the city were called to action. "Fire under control" was declared only past 7 a.m.
According to Postmaster General Luis Campos of the Philippine Postal Corporation, "The whole building has been burned down from the ground floor, from the basement, all the way up to the fifth floor." Aside from mail, parcel, and National IDs that are for delivery within Manila City (only), the Manila Central Post Office also houses an extensive collection of stamps, including vintage ones that were being sold and other collectibles on exhibit.
Authorities have yet to assess the extent of the damage to the structure and other items inside.