Warning: If you’re expecting a blog on how these two very prominent families of the Philippines’ alta sociedad are related or how their wealth began, then I’m sorry to tell you but this blog entry isn’t for you.
This blog, however, will relay how these two commercial centers promote the practice of walking and at the same time, how these two complexes are products of vision and history.
Dramatic as it may sound but I thank the Araneta and Ayala centers for catering to people like me who opt to commute on certain occasions. As I ended my internship yesterday at the Ayala family-owned Ayala Museum, I realized how helpful and beneficial these two centers’ lay-outs and planning have been to countless workers, tourists and patrons. During my internship, my days started and ended at the Araneta MRT station. There was no escape from engaging with the Araneta Commercial Center. Likewise, as I spent long days in the Ayala Museum, I had to negotiate and make my way through Ayala’s malls and walkways before reaching the museum, during lunch and snack breaks as well as during hellish rush hours going home to Cubao.
Araneta Center and Ayala Center are two products of foresight, trust and confidence. Right after the war, businessmen tried to take the opportunity to put up businesses and enterprises. Ayala and Araneta are exact products of this confidence in the Filipino market and also the vision of international acknowledgment (though I must admit as early as now that Ayala is the more successful one on this aspect.)
In the 1950s, Don J. Amado Araneta and his wife, Doña Ester Araneta, decided to purchase 35 hectares of land at the corner of Aurora Boulevard and Highway 54 (now EDSA). In this plot of land, they built their beautiful “white house” compound and the commercial center that would become synonymously known as Cubao. The Araneta Center’s crowning glory, however, was when it constructed the Araneta Coliseum, today still Asia’s biggest indoor facility. It has been witness to countless historical events – from a Papal Visit, to legendary boxing matches and basketball tournaments (of course, the last few decades’ Ateneo vs La Salle!) as well as star-powered musical concerts and cultural presentations. Araneta Center, in its height, became the favorite of Metro Manila’s Middle Class for its entertainment needs. Its malls, namely the well-loved Aguinaldo’s Department Store, Ali Mall, Shoe Mart Department Store, the old Rustan’s Center (which my entire family loved!!! I just loved the old Rustan’s in Cubao!), Farmers’ Plaza, COD, UNIWIDE and lately, Gateway and Shopwise Grocery, have catered and continue to cater to countless patrons and the many passers-by who penetrate Araneta Center. Of course, there is Farmers’ Wet Market, one of the biggest in the Metropolis that is really a heaven for cooks like me. The variety of produce found in one place is amazing.
And that’s one reason why Araneta Center must be recognized: its walkability. Things are accessible. And mind you, MANY THINGS are accessible in Araneta. From high class products found in Rustan’s to the fresh flowers in Farmer’s, Araneta is a good place to spend an entire day shopping. It’s a walkable place because you have the foot bridge that connects Ali Mall to SM, and the very helpful footbridge that connects Gateway to Farmers through the Coliseum. Through this footbridge, commuters comfortably transfer from the MRT to the LRT3 line, thus no longer requiring them to go down and cross streets. Likewise, these commuters are able to purchase what they need in their homes along the way. I have benefited from this so many times.
In the evenings, it is now wonderful to spend hours in the private commercial center. The wide red-brick sidewalks and the many lights that illuminate Cubao allows one to have a relaxing stroll while feeling secure because of the many people around. This is Cubao’s edge: the small drinking joints as well as the call centers allow people to make the place alive at night. There are the cafe’s and Cubao Expo, making sure that even at the dead of night, Cubao is still exciting and not scary and boring. I strongly believe the Aranetas should properly manage Cubao Expo, and make sure it does become a thriving and popular watering hole. They should monitor, support and market it vigorously before a beautiful dream gets shattered and lost in obscurity. Likewise, it should imitate Ayala’s over-all and holistic effort to incorporate its peripheries and to engage and not exploit and alienate the other enterprises located outside (or even inside) the center. It must be a leader in Cubao so that the place becomes more unified and harmonious.
Around the same time after the war, the Ayala Compañia, with the vision of respected matriarch Doña Mercedes Zóbel de Ayala McMicking and her real estate whiz husband, Col. Joseph McMicking, developed their former Hacienda de San Pedro de Macati into a thriving high-class city that would later be known as Makati. Indeed, the entire city of Makati owe the Ayalas a great, great deal.
Their first project after transforming the swampy land to livable land were the subdivisions or “villages”, which were namely Forbes Park, Dasmariñas, San Lorenzo, Urdaneta, Magallanes, Bel-Air, Salcedo and Legaspi. These would later become associated with the country’s rich clans and also a few lucky ones.
Then, there was the Makati Commercial Center, the nucleus from which the present Makati Central Business District (CBD) would develop from. Until the 1960s, the tallest “skyscrapers” in that area were only 20-stories high, and the highest along Ayala Avenue was the Gilarmi Apartment, which was very chic during its time. I’m lucky to have stayed there for about two months when I was in high school. It has already been demolished.
The Makati Commercial Center was comprised of the Rizal Theater (where the Makati Shang now stands), the Maranaw Arcade (Landmark now stands where it used to be), the Makati Supermart, Anson’s, Shoe Mart, which is still located in its original spot and the once-colorful and all-time favorite department store, Rustan’s. Soon, the Intercontinental Hotel would rise. Through the years, these old arcades would be replaced by air-conditioned malls such as Park Square, Greenbelt 1 and eventually, the Glorietta series.
Today, the Makati Commercial Center is now known as the Ayala Center. Here, SM, Glorietta 1-5 [I can’t recall which one was destroyed by the 2007 explosion], Greenbelts 1-5, Ayala Museum and Landmark Department Store. It is surrounded by commercial buildings as well as hotels, restaurants and bars. It is one of the favorite places to people-watch and also the place to be seen. It caters to the country’s middle class and elite. Likewise, it is a commercial center that tries its best to excel and truly be a place of comfort and quality time. Why, the very fact that it has a museum nearby makes it all the more unique!
But what I do like about Ayala is how it tries to continuously make its commercial center walkable. I have walked so many countless times from the MRT station in Ayala all the way to the different malls in the center. And as I have mentioned, these past few days, going to Ayala Museum had been easy because of the foot bridges constructed to connect the different structures. Even after my interview at the BPI building where Ayala Foundation is found, I was able to walk all the way from the said building to Ayala Museum! I didn’t even get wet because of the covered walkway!
The only problem with Ayala is that at night, there are times its peripheries or even inner portions are empty. This is because the surrounding residential areas are subdivisions – these are gated villages, which have residents who opt to always use cars. Sometimes, you can’t see anybody walking at night in Ayala, and that makes the place boring and scary.
I think the wisdom of Araneta and Ayala centers should be acknowledged and adopted by future developers. You don’t need to use your car ALWAYS. You can live, shop, study and relax in an area that can be accessed by walking. All the more do we need this mixed-land use because of the ecological crises, something ignorant Filipinos shouldn’t belittle.
If indeed Filipinos, especially the middle class, want to be “cosmopolitan”, then living and walking through Cubao and Makati would certainly give you that feel. Eastwood and Bonifacio High Street are still too pretentious, if you ask me. In fact, friends and peers who have gone abroad have boasted of how “cosmo” they are in Europe or in New York (NEVER IN LA BECAUSE LA HAS A DIFFERENT CULTURE, OR NO CULTURE ALTOGETHER), how they take the metro/sub and cabs and buses and walk long distances.
The challenge now is for these same Filipinos to bring those virtues here. If they can do it abroad, they should do it here also. Don’t complain about “it’s hot here kasi e” because as I’ve shared, these walkways pass through malls. In any case, it is always an invitation for us all, rich or poor, to utilize our public transport systems and patronize walkable places. Enough of highways and high-speed lanes. It’s time we recognize our geography, our urban and ecological crises and the roles we have to play in mitigating the adverse effects of our “development”.
As we walk through Araneta Center and Ayala Center, we also remember that indeed, in the pursuit of advancement, there is always culture, heritage and history at stake. The two commercial centers attest to the role of cultural heritage, vision and sense of history in the dream of development.
Let’s thank Don Jorge Amado Araneta, Doña Ester Araneta, Col. Joseph McMicking and Excma. Doña Mercedes Zóbel de Ayala McMicking for their vision, trust and confidence in creating these commercial centers that generate jobs, attract investments and inspire future visionaries. As we walk through the walkways of Cubao and Makati, let’s remember the wisdom of walking so that we never get lost and stuck up.
Ayala y Araneta hicieron ayer.