San Lazaro Hippodrome – Art Deco Masterpiece

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Manila-based American writer Barth Suretsky, in a feature article published in April, laments the Filipinos’ lack of national pride and identity; to illustrate his point, he refers to the wanton destruction of historic buildings:

 One of the most egregious examples of this lack of pride, this uncaring attitude to their own past, is the wretched state of surviving architectural landmarks in Manila and elsewhere. During the American period, many beautiful and imposing buildings were built, in what we now call the “art deco” style (although incidentally, that was not contemporary term; it was coined only in the 1960s).

 These were beautiful edifices, mostly erected during, or just before, the Commonwealth period. [Among them were] the Jai Alai Building, the Metropolitan Theater, and the Rizal Stadium…unless something is done to the most beautiful and original of these three masterpieces of pre-war Philippine architecture, the Metropolitan Theater, it will disintegrate. The Rizal Stadium is in equally wretched shape. (“Atin Ito, Philippine News Feature, April 2007.)

 Terrific article, but he was unaware of one other magnificent Art Deco building that was razed to make way for “progress” – the SAN LAZARO HIPPODROME!

 It should have been declared a national monument and protected by the National Historical Commission. But no one from the NHC knew, or cared, that this landmark building, the scene of countless exciting races, once a gathering place for the elite, formerly a barracks for the Japanese army, a place whose walls hide many secrets and have seen so many events, both good and bad, had to be demolished in the name of business.

 It has been four years, but to this day I still mourn the destruction of that beautiful building. I don’t know if it could have been preserved, because it would have entailed enormous expense.

How sad that much that is beautiful and historic falls prey to the cold calculations that typify business decisions.

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