A Modern Artifact: First United Building

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The First United Building, formerly known as Perez-Samanillo Building, stands as one of the oldest buildings in the streets of Escolta. Previously known as where Bergs department store stood, this building of five floors is currently being occupied for commercial purposes such as the setting of the Saturday Market. The building is currently owned by the Chinese-Filipino businessman Mr. Robert Sy Lianteng.

The building, which was erected during the 1920’s, was a combined architectural project of Andres Luna de San Pedro, and Juan F. Nakpil. These two architects designed the building with a form of style that quickly swept the western hemisphere during their time – The Art Deco.

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The style Art Deco can be seen as prevalent in the building’s design mainly due to its dominant geometric patterns such as the boomerang-like chevrons layered with spirals and lancet arches found on the lamp of the Perez-Samanillo Building in Escolta. These designs of the building have a cohesive structure which aspired to be both modern and progressive, yet at the same time maintaining its cultural and civic structures, maneuvered in the classic vocabulary of architecture. It even won the best decor award back in 1928.

The building was owned by Luis Perez Samanillo, who belonged to one of Binondo’s old Spanish families. With its magnificent and elegant design, share holders soon fought over the ownership of the Perez-Samanillo building. The building was mostly known as a department store known as Bergs Department store during the American era.

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Business is booming in the district however, after the World War II, most of the old investors of these buildings retreated to the US leaving another generation of businessmen and investors alike to help rebuild the heavily damaged Escolta.

In Sy Lianteng’s case, he bought the ownership of the ground floor of the Perez-Samanillo building from Ernest Berg, who was the owner of the Bergs Department store, back in 1951 when Berg decided to migrate to the United States after the war.

During the 1960’s, a large part of the stocks in the building was acquired by the First United Building Corporation thus the name change from the Perez-Samanillo building to its current name First United Building. The interest of the First United Building Corporation with the building was manifested when they used it as one of the earliest building blocks of what is known today as the United Coconut Planters Bank.

In 1982, Sy Lianteng acquired the most ownership of the building when he bought the remaining shares from the other share holders. The ownership consisted of the ground floor space occupied by the Bergs department store, the 3rd, 4th and 5th floor and all the other spaces, except for the ground floor which was occupied by the United Coconut Planters bank and the 2nd floor occupied by the Philippine First Insurance Corp., and First Optima Reality Corp.

Today, the ownership of the building remains in Sy Lianteng’s hands and it is currently being used as a building for commercial purposes in Escolta. With its many incarnations whether be it as a bank, a department store and now as a commercial establishment, the building is arguably what we would all consider as a Modern Artifact; a testament to the Philippine culture and architecture at its prime.

Contributors:
B. Antigua, R. Candolesas, M. Cruz, I. Hilario, J. Oracion, P. Tuaño

Photos by:
M. Cruz

Sources:

  • Lico, G. (2008). Arkitekturang filipino: A history of architecture and urbanism in the Philippines. Diliman, Quezon City: The University of the Philippines Press.
  • Sy Lianteng, R. (2014, May 6). Personal Interview.
  • Villalon, A.F. (2001). Lugar: Essays on Philippine heritage and architecture. Makati City: The Bookmark, Inc.
  • de Viana, L. (2007). Binondo in the twentieth century, 1900-1940. In J.V. Torres & B.R. Churchill (Eds.), Manila: Studies in urban cultures and tradition (37-71). Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

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