Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Neoclassical Masterpiece: The Legislative Building

Old Legislative Building

The Old Legislative Building, in my honest opinion, is no doubt one of Manila's most elegant, most beautiful American Colonial buildings ever to have been built on Philippine soil. Truly an architectural gem, it is "a masterpiece of neoclassicism in civic architecture."

1934 map showing the building's location along Calle Padre Burgos and Taft Ave.

The Legislative Building stood out and was truly an imposing structure. 
John T. Pilot's photostream

Presently known as the National Art Gallery of the National Museum of the Philippines, this imposing and stately structure along P. Burgos Drive and Taft Avenue in Manila has been through a lot since it's completion. Designed by Arch. Ralph Harrington Doane and his Filipino assistant Antonio Toledo, it was originally meant to be the National Library under the original plans of Arch. Burnham for Manila. 

1935 photo showing the full columns on the front and on the sides.
rubiopr27's photostream

Colored postcard.

Construction of the building began in 1918 and was delayed several times because of money issues. When the legislature decided to occupy the building, renowned Arch. Juan Arellano took charge of the revisions of the plans. The original pre-war structure occupied a ground area of 6,000 square meters and a total floor area of 2.5 hectares. The Legislative Building was inaugurated on July 16, 1926 and cost P4,000,000 to build.

Rear side.

Life Photo Archive

Session hall of the House of Representatives. Juan Luna's Spoliarium is presently housed in this room. 
"President Quezon Addresses the Second Session of the National Assembly, October 18, 1937."

Session hall of the Senate.
Paulo Alcazaren's Facebook

The ground floor was occupied by the National Library (1928-1944) while the second, third and fourth floors were occupied by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

1927, front view along Padre Burgos Drive.
John T. Pilot's photostream

"The massive rectangular building has two interior courts that flank the central section which housed the session halls of both chambers. The session hall of the lower house was on the second or main floor, and that of the upper house was on the third floor. Originally, the session hall of the Senate had a 15 meter high ceiling. Along its walls were statues of legislators and Philippine heroes. Along the front, sides, and rear of the building were the offices of the legislators." (RD Perez III, with minor amendments)

The beautiful, ornate front portico.
Paulo Alcazaren's Facebook

Another view of the front facade showing the embellishments.

"In front of the building appears to be a three-story structure set on a podium formed by a ramp and exterior stairways leading to the main, actually second floor. A four-column portico, two-stories high, marks the main entrance. Over this rises a triangular pediment containing sculptured figures representing Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, Law and Learning, and Commerce and Agriculture. On each end of the façade is a two-column portico complimenting the central portico. The columns of the porticos and pilasters on all sides of the building are of the Corinthian order. In the original structure, what are now pilasters were engaged columns. The style of the exterior is neoclassic, more precisely Greek revival." (RD Perez III, with minor amendments)

Corinthian columns and pilasters adorn the building.

Colored version of the photo above.
Pinoy Kollektor Collection 2011

"The statues of the pediment, most of these in the Senate Hall, were by German sculptors Otto Fisher Credo and Walter Strauss. Other sculptural pieces were by Vidal Tampinco and Ramon Martinez. The murals in the Senate Hall were painted by Juan Arellano and Emilio Alvero." (RD Perez III, with minor amendments)

Quezon's inauguration, Nov. 15, 1935.
John T. Pilot's photostream 
Crowds flocked in front of the Legislative Building for Quezon's inauguration, 1935.

Quezon's inauguration, 1935.
National Geographic Magazine
National Geographic Magazine

The Legislative Building served as a backdrop for many festivities before the war.

"Legislatura Building, Manila, P.I." Dated 1929.

This building was also a witness to one of the highlights of Philippine history, the inauguration of Pres. Manuel L. Quezon as president of the Commonwealth. He was sworn on the steps in front of this building in November 1935. The Constituional Convention of 1934 was also held in this building.

Taken from the air before February 1945. Much of the Legislative Building was still standing.

Like many other buildings in Manila, the Legislative Building was not spared from heavy shelling and bombing.
Life Photo Archive
The building's central portion with the pediment still stood.

The rear side's destruction.
John T. Pilot's photostream 

Daily life continued after the war.
  John T. Pilot's photostream

  John T. Pilot's photostream 

American officers pose in front of the ruined building.
  John T. Pilot's photostream 

  John T. Pilot's photostream 

  John T. Pilot's photostream 

  October 10, 1945.John T. Pilot's photostream

The damaged Legislative Building alongside the also damaged Manila City Hall in the background.

This very dramatic photo of the Legislative Building captured how chaotic Manila had become.
  John T. Pilot's photostream 

The Legislative Building was another casualty of World War II. During the last moments of the war, the Japanese Imperial Army made the building their headquarters. Japanese bombs and American shelling destroyed and damaged the building beyond repair. Only the central portion stood but was still severely damaged. The once glorious symbol of Philippine development and progress was now turned into rubble because of the ravages of war. 

Rebuilding after the war.
Paulo Alcazaren's Facebook

The newer version of the Legislative Building was more refined. The ornate embellishments were nowhere to be found.

Reconstruction began in 1949 was completed in 1950. Congress moved in and the building was formally known as the Congress Building. The post-war structure did not follow the original plans. The full, engaged columns surrounding the exterior were replaced by pilasters. The ornate embellishments in the front portico weren't included anymore. It was a more refined version of the original design. 

By this time, this building was formally called the Congress Building, 1968-1969.
edgarjlaw's photostream


The post-war version was still beautiful but it definitely looked flat compared to the pre-war version.

When I was really young, seeing this building at the back of the P50 bill tickled my curiosity. It still had that commanding presence and it was definitely something that turned heads. The first time I visited this building, I was completely in awe and I fell in love with it. I had no idea that the pre-war version of this building looked any different. When I saw the pre-war version, the feeling of "what a waste" ran in my mind. The original pre-war version was, without a doubt, more beautiful. But considering the time it was built, the refined version seemed timely for a nation recovering from war. I've grown to fall in love with it all over again, even more with a better paint color. Hehe.

The back of the 1949-1966 English Series 200-Piso note featuring the pre-war Legislative Building.

Back of a 50-peso banknote commemorating Pres. Osmena's 100th birthday in 1978. The Legislative Building was known as the "Gusaling Batasan".

Everyone's familiar with this version of the 50-peso bill. By the time this bill was released, the building was already turned over to the National Museum.

The Congress occupied the building till 1972, when Martial Law was declared. The Congress was abolished and the building became the Executive House, the office of the Prime Minister. The Sandiganbayan and the Office of the Ombudsman also housed their offices there for a time. When the Congress of the Philippines was reestablished in 1987, the House of Representatives moved to the Batasan Complex in Quezon City and the Senate continued to occupy the building until 1997, when the Senate moved to its new home in the GSIS Building in Pasay.

A beautiful postcard.

It was turned over to the National Museum and it now houses the National Art Gallery. National Treasures such as the Spoliarium (housed in the old House of Representatives session hall) and many other works of Filipino artists. The museum is undergoing renovations and I am excited to visit once again. I am particularly excited for the newly renovated Senate Hall!

"On September 30, 2010, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared the building as a "National Historical Landmark" by virtue of Resolution No. 8 (dated September 30, 2010). A marker commemorating the declaration was unveiled on October 29, 2010."


  1. Wow. such a wonderful post. I'm in awe.

  2. excellent! tremendous picture excavation!

  3. It was sad that the building was not restored to its former glory. The columns that defined its grandeur design wasn't incorporated properly.

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  7. There's a wrong caption:

    "The Legislative Building served as a backdrop for many festivities before the war."

    But I clearly see a banner with Japanese characters on reverse.

    Reversing it reads "マニラ" (manira). Katakana for Manila.
    So clearly this was during the Second Republic already.

    No idea what the kanji "新" (shin) stands for, but...

    According to Wikipedia, during the Second Republic, Leon Guinto (former Labor Secretary of the Commonwealth) was Mayor of Manila until Liberation.
    Manila became "Greater Manila" (大マニラ Dai Manira; not the Commonwealth's but the Philippine Executive Commission's own), & included districts such as:
    -Bagumbayan ("Newtown") - modern-day CAMANAVA (minus Valenzuela), Las Piñas, Makati, Mandaluyong, Parañaque, Pasay, & San Juan
    -Bagumpanahon (新時代 shinjidai "New Era") - Sampaloc, Quiapo, San Miguel, & Santa Cruz Districts
    -Bagumbuhay (新生活 shinseikatsu "New Life") - District of Tondo
    -Bagong Diwa (新秩序 shinchitsujo "New Order") - Binondo & San Nicolas Districts

    So I'm guessing the banner's "マニラ新[...]" (Manira Shin[...]) stands for "District of Bagum/Bagong[...], Manila"
    (in East Asia, address styles are reverse of the Western (including Philippines) format; greatest to least)