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The Manila Grand Opera Hotel: Rich in history, luxe in Manila

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Manila Grand Opera Hotel offers luxe accommodations in the center of historic Manila. This hotel takes its name from the Manila Grand Opera House which stood on the exact location where the hotel stands as an oasis of relaxation and leisure in the busiest of all the districts of the City by the Bay.

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This hotel sits on a location that is convenient for everyone—you can come here by car, jeepney or train—and those who choose to take the elevated Light Rail Transit (LRT) have their own entrance into the Manila Grand Opera Hotel from the Doroteo Jose station.

FRONT DESK with friendly and accommodating staff

Inside you are welcomed to a place where charm is the byword, where you can enjoy good food—whether you prefer fine dining with cloth napkins at the Circa 1900 Bar and Restaurant, The New President Sharksfin Seafood Restaurant, or want to enjoy good coffee and a gooey treat at the Mr. Donut coffee shop.

Those who are a bit more adventurous can try their luck at the Manila Grand Oriental Casino, or let their vocal talents soar at the Opera Karaoke Bar.

The business travelers are sure to find the proximity of the hotel to businesses and local attractions both convenient and delightful—and they will definitely enjoy the shuttle service that comes with their stay at the Manila Grand Opera Hotel.

AMBASSADOR HALL BALLROOM

Where the old opera house once entertained crowds of 200 or more, the Manila Grand Opera Hotel’s Ambassador Hall ballroom can accommodate up to 800 guests.

Smaller groups can also find comfortable and peaceful spaces to meet in the hotel’s meeting rooms and in its Business Center. Wi-Fi access is ubiquitous throughout the hotel.

There are prime facilities and services for relaxation: A swimming pool, massage services, a Jacuzzi spa, a sauna and a lush garden where people can let go of the busy day and refresh their minds and bodies.

The hotel also offers 24-hour room service, as well as superb concierge and laundry services to cap the experience of luxury that is the trademark of the Manila Grand Opera Hotel.

HISTORY

Look under the polish and impeccable hospitality one can enjoy at the Manila Grand Opera Hotel, and you will find strong historical substance that is fascinating and inspiring.

According to historian Jose Victor Z. Torres, in an article he wrote for us at the Graphic, the Manila Grand Opera House served as more than simply a premiere entertainment venue during the Spanish and American colonial periods, “at a time when the white man’s democracy and the brown man’s republic ruled.”

Old Manila Grand Opera House

It became a “place of political meetings and other important events.” According to Torres, the Manila grand Opera House “was called by several names—Grand Opera House, Opera House, Manila Opera House–but these did not stray far from its original–the Manila Grand Opera House.”

Torres wrote that the location of the Manila Grand Opera Hotel was once a residential district with the main road now known as Rizal Avenue, so named for National Hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal, standing where narrow streets “once bisected a Jesuit hacienda.”

The Manila Grand Opera House, in its time as an entertainment venue, “was the only theater that was deservedly called a teatro rather than a sinehan.” It was truly an opera house where the Filipinos of that era could immerse themselves in a taste of Europe.

Beyond entertainment value, the opera house was also a popular venue for meetings—including those of the political kind. History—political and social history that decided the course of the Philippine Republic—was made right at this location.

Manila Grand Opera House, Torres wrote, “eventually bore the title of ‘The Theater With A History,’ for it is history that kept it going.”

Torres also wrote that the Manila Grand Opera House in 1899 was originally “a racetrack where bicycles zoomed around in laps to the delight of an audience watching a European sport in their country.”

It was called the National Cycle Track, Torres wrote, “owned by a certain N.T. Hashim who arrived in Manila in 1892. The land he bought for the track was part of the Hacienda de San Lazaro or the San Lazaro Estate that was being subdivided into lots for sale.”

“Barely a year later, Hashim converted the place into a theater, adding it to the ones still existing in Manila,” Torres traced the history of the place. “It was known as the Teatro Nacional and served as the arena of the Russian Circus Troupe that regularly visited the city. It was also the place where American theater companies staged shows for both colonists and colonials.”

Torres also documented the changes in the nature of the velodromo-turned-teatro: “In 1902, an Italian impresario named Balzofiore entered into a contract with Hashim to have the place renovated and improved in two months for the Italian Opera Company visiting Manila that year. It was to become a teatro de la opera. The renovation was completed in 59 days and, by the next day, the theater was ready for its first show.”

Thus did the Teatro Nacional became the Manila Grand Opera House.

This change in name foreshadowed the growth in the opera house’s new stature as a center of the cultural and, much later, political events that touched the first three decades of the American colonial period in the Philippines.

Hashim continued to operate the Manila Grand Opera House after the Italian Opera Company finished its contract with him, staging zarzuelas—often the first runs of these shows.

The fine bones of the opera house served this new purpose quite admirably, because it was, as Torres described it, “horseshoe-shaped with the boxed seats (called the palco proscenio) for VIPs and special guests.”

The general audience had the cheapest seats located at the balcony section that directly faced the stage in an elevated area above the orchestra. The latter section, on the other hand, located in the space between the horseshoe was called the butaca where audience members were seated on rattan chairs. Ticket prices varied from 20 to 30 centavos.”

Productions opened at the Grand Opera House before embarking on provincial or city tours. “Popular demand would sometimes bring the productions back to the Opera House,” Torres added.

PHILIPPINE ASSEMBLY

Under the Cooper Act of 1902, it was required that, “a Philippine Assembly to be elected by Filipinos two years after publication of a census and after peace was completely restored in the Philippines” be formed. This assembly was to represent 7,635,426 Filipinos, based on a census taken in 1903—excluding those in Mindanao and the non-Christian tribes of Las Islas Filipinas.

The elections for the members of the first Philippine Assembly were held on July 30, 1907 where 80 members were elected to the Assembly: Prominent politicians, businessmen, labor leaders, educators, writers and newspapermen.

The original plan was to hold the Assembly opening and its first meeting at the Ayuntamiento in the Walled City of Intrmamuros, Torres wrote.

However, the structure of the Cabildo was not large enough to accommodate the new representantes, nor did it offer enough space to the public should these representatives choose to receive them.

A bigger venue was needed and the Manila Grand Opera House was deemed suitable for the colonial government’s needs.

On Oct.16, 1907, the Manila Grand Opera House became the venue for oratory that changed the fate of a nation.

According to Torres, at 9:00 that morning, the 80 delegates-elect of the first Philippine Assembly entered the theater en masse, followed by representatives of the American colonial government: Secretary of War William Howard Taft; Governor-General James F. Smith, members of the Philippine Commission; and other military officers like Major-General Leonard Wood of the US Army Philippine Division; Brigadier Genral Clarence Edwards of the Bureau of Insular Affairs. Members of the religious groups, including Apostolic Delegate Monsignor Ambrosio Agius and Bishop Jorge Barlin. Local officials and foreign guests were there as well.

Perhaps the Philippines can trace the inextricable links between show business and the business of governance to this opening of the first Philippine Assembly in what was, for many, many years, an entertainment venue.

PERFORMING ARTISTS

In the years after making history, the Manila Grand Opera House featured performing artists from Europe and the United States—including ballet companies from Russia, and the Compañia de Opera Rusa that attempted a six-month opera season with well-loved operas like Aida, Lucia de Lammermoor, and La Traviata.

Operas performed by Filipino artists and concerts by Filipino musicians were also added to the long list of programs of the Manila Grand Opera House, and it became a popular venue for graduation rites—as well as a place where political rallies were held when the parliament of the streets wasn’t yet a thing.

This site was also a meeting place for political and civil organizations to hold their assemblies. In 1910, Torres wrote, the Manila Grand Opera House “was the place where Resident Commissioner Manuel L. Quezon was feted with a program after his return following a successful appearance in the US Congress where he made a speech for his country’s independence.”

In 1930, the Manila Grand Opera House “was also the venue for the First Independence Congress where the country’s well-known personalities in politics, education, social and cultural circles, economy, and religion congregated to foster the Philippines bid for independence from the United States,” Torres wrote.

MOVIES, THEATER TROUPES

Torres wrote that the Manila Grand Opera House went into decline and, by the start of World War II, “it was virtually like a warehouse where its interiors were a cavernous darkness, dark and musty.

The building was in this condition when Toribio Teodoro came into the picture.” Teodoro was a shoemaker by trade.

When the Japanese invaded and occupied the Philippines, Teodoro sheltered his family in the nearest available building: The dilapidated Manila Grand Opera House. He bought the old building for a song.

Teodoro continued buying property around the Sta. Cruz area. He constructed buildings for his businesses. As sine replaced the zarzuela, sinehans began opening along Sta. Cruz’s main thoroughfare.

The Manila Grand Opera House was among the best venues when movie house openings were the vogue. In 1947, the site of the old opera house became a sinehan that opened on April 14 with a first-time local screening of the Gregory Peck-Jennifer Jones starrer “Duel in The Sun”, then two Roberto Rossellini films, “Paisan” and “Open City”.

Torres wrote that, on Dec. 29, 1948, the owners of the new Manila Grand Opera House unveiled an oil mural of 60 illustrious Filipinos chosen by National Library director Eulogio B. Rodriguez and painted by Cesar Amorsolo at the theater’s newly-completed second-floor lobby.

“Under management of Teodoro’s son-in-law, Jose Dayrit, and daughter, Cecilia Teodoro-Dayrit, the Opera House returned to its old use as the venue for stage shows,” Torres wrote. “But, in order to keep in vogue with the entertainment attractions of the day, it also featured second-run movies as double features.”

These included dramas by theater troupes that were presented and directed by Lamberto Avellana and Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero—both of whom were eventually given the title of National Artist. Concerts and other stage performances became part of its daily repertoire.

The artists who walked the boards of the theater’s stage included singers like Katy de la Cruz, Bobby Gonzales, Diomedes Maturan, Sylvia La Torre, and Conching Rosal. The Reycard Duet and the Wing Duo also took center stage at the Opera House. It also hosted combos, singers who banded themselves into three-person (or more) groups, and sang to a packed house. Comedy skits also ruled the stage with talented comedians like Bentot, Chiquito, Lupito, Pugo and Tugo and, later, Tugak, at center stage. Dance performers, like Nieves and Rene, showed off the latest dance trends on the Opera stage.

Television and movies replaced live entertainment slowly, but surely and, by the late 1960s, the Manila Grand Opera House was no longer the place to go to enjoy a good show.

Some live shows were still staged, “the remnants of the bodabil and the combo,” Torres wrote. “But, like their performers, the Opera House was fading into a shabby, old structure.”

Ambassador Antonio L. Cabangon Chua had purchased the lot and structure of the Manila Grand Opera House in the late 1960s. Yet the structure of the old opera house fell to the wrecking ball as the Doroteo Jose station of the LRT was built right in the middle of where the old opera house once stood.

SPIRIT, LEGACY, REBIRTH

Yet the spirit and history of the Manila Grand Opera House are lasting legacies. Once a gathering place, always a gathering place. Cabangon Chua built a five-star hotel on the site of the old entertainment venue—the first five-star hotel in a district that has grown into a thriving business hub.

An Ermita-born Manileño, Cabangon Chua left Manila during the war to live in his mother’s hometown of Mandaluyong. The construction of the hotel was like a homecoming to him.

Manila Grand Opera Hotel

The eight-storey, 250-room hotel that Cabangon Chua built has all the amenities that can be found in any first-class hotel—and it is now 10 years old.

The Manila Grand Opera Hotel opened its opulent doors on Aug. 30, 2008, on Cabangon Chua’s 74th birthday, with a gathering of VIPs and other guests that did its theatrical and political history proud.

This hotel’s opening resurrected the name of a famous venue that has been part of the City of Manila’s memories for almost two centuries.

In his speech at the opening of the Manila Grand opera Hotel a decade ago, Cabangon Chua said, “we formally open the Manila Grand Opera Hotel, not only for the economic benefit it brings, but also for its cultural and historical legacy that we are imparting to our youth.”

This hotel, with its blend of its modern polish and traditional Filipino hospitality stands as a dynamic and welcoming tribute to the cultural and political heritage of a nation.

When you walk through its public spaces or occupy the guest accommodations of this place, you are breathing in history—in a place where a republic was born and some of the best moments of art and culture in the Philippines played out on a world-class stage.

Welcome to the Manila Grand Opera Hotel. Come, enjoy history in the comfort and memories it offers with style and a smile. G

 

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