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Rising from the marshes

Coffee table book details the history of the Makati Business District

WHILE Ayala Avenue may just be a road to some, it serves as the main artery of the Makati Central Business District (CBD). This street, lined by some of the country’s most expensive real estate, is the headquarters of many of the companies that determine the country’s day-to-day movement; this financial district dictates how money is made and moved around the country.

It was the country’s first private master planned community, developed by the Zobel de Ayalas in their then-1,600-hectare Hacienda de San Pedro de Makati, bought for P52,000 in 1851. It was then known for its marshland.

This little fact is one of the many one can find in Fifty Years and Forward, a coffee table book from the Makati Central Estate Association, Inc. (MACEA). The 300-page book features essays by the author and project director Lisa Guerrero Nakpil on how Makati became one of the country’s premier addresses, new images of the city by photographers Wig Tysmans, Patrick Diokno, and Paul Quiambao that capture the energy of the district, and never-before-seen pictures of the Makati CBD master plan and its development throughout the years.

The book was launched via a tour through the Central Business District earlier this month, visiting the stretch of Ayala Ave., and surrounding neighborhoods of Salcedo and Legaspi Villages. The tour was conducted by TV host David Celdran (interestingly, the cousin of late tour guide and cultural advocate Carlos Celdran, who made walking tours in this style fashionable). The tour began with Tower One and Exchange Plaza, once the home of the Philippine stock exchange. The lobby, of stone and wood, contains masterpieces by National Artists, namely, the Ang Kiukok piece The Fishermen, and a commissioned work by Arturo Luz, an abstraction of the developers’ last name: Zobel de Ayala.

Mr. Celdran made a special point that these works are seen both by the executives and ordinary office workers passing through the same lobby. “I think one of the most important principles of MACEA, and of course, Ayala Land, is to make art accessible to the public.”

A walk to the nearby Ayala Triangle Gardens (which, along with Tower One and Exchange Plaza, was once the Ugarte Football Field) revealed the McMicking Memorial, a fountain made of weathered steel, dedicated to Col. Joseph McMicking and his wife, Mercedes Zobel-McMicking. Col. McMicking together with members of his wife’s family Enrique Zobel, Alfonso Zobel de Ayala, and Jaime Zobel de Ayala were the four visionaries who are credited for their significant contributions to the development of Makati’s financial district. In the book’s prologue, Ayala Land, Inc. Chairman and Ayala Corp. President and CEO Fernando Zobel de Ayala said of his uncle, “Col. Joseph R. McMicking was a true visionary, and I remember him often trying to imagine projects with a 10- to 20-year horizon.”

Mr. Celdran, gesturing to the fountain, said, “They already saw, beyond the horizon, what they wanted this entire place to be.”

While Nielsen Tower, once an air control tower for the Nielsen Field airport, still stands in the same spot it was built on in 1937, the airport itself was destroyed in 1941 during World War II, reopening in 1947 before permanently closing in 1948. The facilities passed on to Ayala y Compania, and the backbones of what was to become the business center were the airfield’s runways, which became Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas.

The masterplan for the business center was first drawn up in 1947, in the country’s first gasps of recovery after the war. Ayala Avenue was developed as the artery of the business district in 1956, while the Makati Building became the first office building on Ayala Ave.

A luxury bus ferried media guests around the Central Business District, with Mr. Celdran pointing out familiar spots like Greenbelt and Glorietta. The bus made a stop at the Washington SyCip park in Legaspi Village, boasting its own Japanese garden, a spot of quiet in the busy neighborhood. A short drive to its sister, Salcedo Village, had us taking in the artwork at the Jaime C. Velasquez Park, where Art in the Park is usually held.

The tour ended with a final drive down Ayala Ave., with Mr. Celdran pointing out its more political history. “Ayala Ave., being the financial district — obviously, this is where businessmen, employees, and professionals would march,” said Mr. Celdran.

Ayala Ave. began its radical streak after the assassination of opposition leader and former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino in 1983. Rallies would be held in Ugarte Field and protest marches would go down Ayala Ave., and almost every lunchtime, the be-suited workers of the buildings lining the street would open their office windows and rain yellow confetti down onto the avenue.

“People wanted to express their sympathy, or their protest,” said Mr. Celdran. At that time, according to him, people used to protest in Mendiola, which was a dangerous choice due to its proximity to Malacañang Palace. “Ayala was like a more moderate, a safer alternative to Mendiola,” he said.

Ayala Center would also be where one of the bloodiest coup attempts against Ninoy Aquino’s wife, former President Corazon Aquino, happened.

Christine C. Roa, Head of Marketing and Communications for Ayala Land Estates, Inc. said in a speech, “Beyond the objective of promoting the MACEA coffee table book, this tour is a celebration of Makati, the city we have all grown to love. Many have described Makati as the country’s leading city — a Filipino legacy. After all, contemporary urban living in the Philippines started in Makati, being the first master-planned development in the country. Several developers have followed suit but what sets Makati apart is, it is the only privately developed estate that has a rich heritage spanning almost a century. It has evolved to keep up with the changing times, and yet the sense of nostalgia that makes it a city with a soul, remains constant.”

In an interview with BusinessWorld, she said, “I think what differentiates Makati is the heritage we have here. Even if we are a city rich in heritage and history, we continue to evolve with the times. It’s a combination of what transcends time… and modernization.”

In a way, it makes one think about the possibilities for the country when we think about the rise of the Makati Central Business District from a former marshland.

Discussing how the rise of Ayala Ave. and its environs can reflect the same around the country, Ms. Roa said. “I think it’s a matter of being able to harness the skills and talents, and what we have… and putting them to really productive use.” — JLG