Between the 1900s and the 1920s, Plaza Cervantes in Binondo was the place to make a statement.
It was there that banks, financial cooperatives, and corporations would set up their headquarters. Among them was the firm of Uy Chaco.
The company was set up by Mariano Uy Chaco, who made a fortune supplying hardware to the colonial government. By 1910, Uy Chaco decided to retire and go back home to China. He left his son, Uy Vet, in charge of the family business.
Uy Vet took the firm in a new direction by becoming the local distributor of American-made tools and hardware supplies. He apparently did well enough that by the mid-1920s he was able to build a new corporate headquarters. Uy Vet hired Andres Luna de San Pedro to design the new office building.
Luna de San Pedro’s artistic pedigree was impeccable. He was the son of patriot-artist Juan Luna. Having just returned from studies in Europe, the young architect’s style was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau movement. The five-story building he designed for the firm featured a corner domed tower, which originally had several clocks. The structure went on to become the district’s most distinct landmark after the Binondo Church.
People who grew up in Binondo during World War II would remember the building for a different reason. Due to its height and corner-lot location, the Japanese army used it to station some of their machine guns. It is said the guns were always trained on Jones Bridge in case of an attack from that direction.
Today, the building houses the Binondo branch of the Philtrust Bank. The bank now limits activities to the ground floor as the upper floors are unusable; the building’s internal steel framework is already rusting away. Despite an advance stage of decrepitude, there are still no plans to demolish the Uy Chaco Building. But any facelifts— such as the recent fresh coat of paint—are superficial.
Some say it’s as if the building has cancer. Let’s hope time doesn’t run out on this historic Binondo landmark.
Images: Dean Geronimo Manahan and Anson Yu
Print ed: 10/08