Even if you've never been to Chinatown, it probably looks familiar to you. It's probably because Bamboo did a couple of music videos there; as did Piolo Pascual and Sarah Geronimo. Richard Gomez did a TV series there once, and then returned to film Mano Po (2002) with Ara Mina. Many TV ads have been shot there, as well as short films like Bulong (2008) and Qwerty (2007). That's why El Hogar is, perhaps, one of the most well known buildings in Binondo.
Located at the corner of Juan Luna and Muelle de Industria, the building was built by a man named Antonio Melian. He came out of nowhere and introduced himself to Manila society as “El Conde de Peracamps” or The Count from Peru. He was also able to impress the Zobel family with his financial knowledge—enough to marry one of the daughters, Isabel, in 1907.
He worked for a few years with the Zobel family, before venturing out on his own. In 1910, he founded El Hogar (The Home), a financial cooperative that helped finance the construction of a number of Manila landmarks, including Jones Bridge and Metropolitan Theater. Melian also established an insurance company called Filipinas Compañía de Seguros.
In 1913, El Hogar purchased a building next to the HSBC head office in Binondo. After demolishing the 50-year-old structure that stood there, Don Antonio Melian hired architect Irureta Goyena to design a modern reinforced-concrete, three-story office building in the Beaux Art style.
Built at the cost of 680,000 pesos, El Hogar was considered a masterpiece of its time. Melian later added a fourth floor to the building, in 1920, along with a corner tower.
Upon entering the building, you are lead to the center courtyard with balustrade-lined corridors. Despite the decay, you will be able to see vestiges of its former elegance.
Shining through the dirt and dark is its Art Nouveau design, particularly seen in El Hogar's lovely staircase that connects the different levels with bronze griffins for the posts. A romantic touch is added via the grillwork on the staircase, which features the initials of Don Antonio and his wife.
Don Antonio Melian's company became one of the casualties of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Zobel family later absorbed what remained of Don Antonio's financial empire. As for The Count, nothing was ever heard about him again.
Print ed: 11/08