Robert Ross Smith



Manila is a city--a statement that, having been made, leaves far too much unsaid.1 It is a city of contrasts--contrasts deriving from unbroken centuries of existence and a polyglot population. It is a city of parts, capable of being all things to all men. There are sections that cannot be called modern in any sense of the word. There are sections that are ultramodern. It boasts movie houses, filling stations, night clubs, slums, dark alleys, and broad, tree-lined boulevards. There are hospitals and universities; shipping offices and department stores; private clubs and public parks; race tracks and cockpits; an Olympic Games stadium and yacht clubs; street-car tracks and bus lines; pony-drawn taxis and railroad stations. A touch of medieval Spain rubs harshly against modern port facilities; centuries-old churches and monasteries face gasworks and breweries. Nipa-thatched huts house part of the teeming population, while for others home is a modern air-conditioned apartment. Manila is a city.

Established at the site of an ancient Tagalog village, Manila, whose existence antedates that of any urban center of the United States except St. Augustine, was founded in 1571 by Spanish colonizer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. Independent--that is, not under the administration of any province--the city, in 1945, covered an area of nearly 14.5 square miles. It stretched about 5.5 miles north to south along the eastern shore of Manila Bay and extended inland approximately 4 miles. With the surrounding suburbs and small towns of Rizal Province, the city formed a public utilities service area known as Greater Manila. An area of almost 110 square miles, Greater Manila extended from the Parañaque River north some ten miles to include Grace Park and inland, with irregular boundaries, about eight miles to the Marikina River.

The city's population had increased greatly since the outbreak of war, mainly as the result of a job-seeking influx from the provinces. In December 1941 Manila's population was about 625,000 and the total for Greater Manila was nearly 850,000. The peak of growth was reached in the early fall of 1944--people began to move out again after Allied air attacks started in September. Just before the air attacks began, the population of the cityproper was over 800,000, and that of Greater Manila was some 1,100,000.

The business district lay in the west-central part of Manila north of the Pasig River, which flows westward into Manila Bay through the center of the city. (See Map) Likewise, most of the retail stores, movie houses, restaurants, and other service and amusement outlets, as well as many manufacturing plants, were north of the Pasig. Tondo District, on the bay front, was the most populous residential area, housing laborers, fishermen, and others in the lower income brackets, often in substandard dwellings. To the east of the business area lay better residential districts, which, antedating World War I for the most part, housed the older European families and many of the middle and upper class Filipinos. On the north bank of the Pasig, near the center of the city, was located the Filipino White House, Malacañan Palace, once the seat of Spanish and American governors-general.

South of the Pasig, near the river's mouth, lay the old Spanish walled city, Intramuros, bordered on three sides by a filled moat that had been converted into a public park. Originally located on the bay front--construction of the interior stone citadel, Fort Santiago, was begun in 1590--Intramuros, in 1945, was half a mile inland. Along its west wall the bay front was reclaimed for the construction of modern port facilities, including piers, warehousing, fuel storage, and machine shops. The advent of war interrupted development of a similar port area north of the Pasig's mouth.

Beyond Intramuros and the port area, much of Manila south of the Pasig was composed of modern residential districts, hospitals, government buildings, schools, apartment houses, and parks. In addition, there was considerable industrial development along the south bank in the eastern part of the city. Southern Manila was developed almost entirely after the American occupation, most of it during the period between the two World Wars. The residential suburbs of Greater Manila sprang up largely in the '20's and '30's, their mushrooming growth cut short in December 1941.

Most of Manila's streets were paved before the war, but many of them could not stand up under constant military traffic, and maintenance had fallen far behind during the Japanese occupation. North of the Pasig many streets were narrow, little better than alleys. There they radiated in all directions from central plazas, crossed each other at various angles, and ended abruptly to create streets along which fields of fire were limited to one or two blocks. Within the city limits one railroad and five vehicular bridges crossed the Pasig, but the Japanese destroyed all of them in 1945. South of the river the city streets were generally broader and, even in Intramuros, most were set at right angles.2

Types of construction within the city varied considerably. The flimsy houses of Tondo District were highly flammable, while the other residences north of the Pasig were either frame or a combination of frame and stone or brick. The buildings of the business district were of reinforced concrete; the government buildings south of the river were constructed to withstand earthquakes and, in appearance, were not unlike many of the government buildings in Washington, D.C.

The outer walls of Intramuros, up to forty feet thick at the bottom and in places reaching a height of twenty-five feet, were constructed of great stone blocks, and the buildings within the walls were constructed all or partially of stone. Many of the homes south of the river combined wood with brick, stucco, or cinder block, while the apartment houses were of reinforced concrete.

Much of Manila remained relatively untouched by war until February 1945, although Japanese air raids in December 1941 had wrought some damage in the port area and Intramuros. As they evacuated the city, MacArthur's Fil-American troops undertook demolitions within the port area and fired fuel installations in the Paco, Pandacan, and Santa Ana industrial districts lying along both sides of the river in the east-central part of the city.3 The port area and railroad facilities were struck in late 1944 and in January 1945 by land-based planes of the Allied Air Forces and by carrier-based aircraft of Halsey's Third Fleet. But destruction caused by these air attacks was minor compared with that wrought during the fighting within Manila in February and March 1945.