Pre-war Manila was so beautiful

I love looking at old photos.  Black and white photographs always evoke a sense of nostalgia in me, even if they’re of a history I wasn’t a part of.  Looking at old photos of Manila is especially interesting because the images capture a world that really seems forever lost to time.  As our grandparents’ and their friends’ stories go, these were the days when people shopped on Escolta wearing smart hats and white suits, when weekends were spent swimming and picnicking on the banks of the Pasig River, and when you got dressed to enjoy a night out at the Jai Alai Building’s Sky Room. 

To give a better sense of what pre-war Manila was like, I’m posting old photos of the Philippines that I found in the LIFE Magazine Photo Archives.   This amazing set of photographs was taken in November 1941 Manila, the week before the outbreak of war with Japan.  The days of calm before the storm…


The beautiful Jai Alai building, designed by Welton Becket, who also did the iconic Capitol Records Tower in LA:

The Welton Becket-designed art deco Jai Alai Building

The Welton Becket-designed art deco Jai Alai Building


 Watching a game of Jai-Alai:

1942 Jai Alai Game


The main commercial district, Escolta:

When men wore white suits...

When men wore white suits...


Inside a Manila Department Store:

Taken during the Christmas Holidays, a week before war with Japan...

Taken in late November a week before Pearl Harbor, stores were ready to celebrate Christmas.


View of the busy Sta. Cruz Plaza, Manila:

1942 Sta Cruz Plaza Manila


Japanese businesses still open:

1942 Japanese Bazaar


The Manila City Hall and its manicured courtyard:

1942 City Hall


Shopping at stalls near the Quiapo Church:

We loved tiangges even back then...

We loved tiangges even back then...


Lovely interiors of the Quiapo Church:

1942 Quiapo Church


Having lunch at the Manila Polo Club:

1942 Polo Club


Getting ready to watch a baseball game, Manila Polo Club:

1942 Polo Club


View of the clean, art-deco Quezon Bridge:

Note that we used to drive on the left side of the street

Note that we used to drive on the left side of the street


When men used to wear hats… a second-hand hat stall off Carriedo St.:



Manila Hotel swimming pool:



Ready for what’s coming- the popularity contest winner of the Manila College of Pharmacy smiles and shows her support for the boys:

1942 Winner


17 responses to “Pre-war Manila was so beautiful

  1. Manila was so pretty back then, I feel so nostalgic seeing such photos. Makes me wish that I was born during those wonderful years.

    • I know what you mean. It would have been nice to experience what our grandparents did. I love seeing pre-war Manila through these photos, but they also make me sad because they show a world that really seems gone forever.

  2. Pre-war Manila is a wonderful place, its beauty, charm, prosperity, pollution free, contrary today, i am so ashamed how the people today are so undesciplined. how dirty the streets, Its all mess.

    • Yes, how far we have fallen. The majority of the population seems to have no discipline nor desire to make things better.

  3. i love looking at photos like these. so sad that they are all gone now 😦

  4. i mean most, save for a few.

    • Hi Kate, thanks for checking out the photos. It’s nice to see Manila when it was the “pearl of the Orient”. Hope we get back that status one day!

  5. i feel goosebumps all over me everytime i saw old pictures of manila…can’t believe its our place! now i remember all stories of my grand father…and its real.
    hayy..sayang…but its never too late, we can still do somethin.

  6. how far have the filipinos fallen from these beautiful days. now its dirty, crime and shanty towns everywhere, noise and pollution. i do not wonder that filipinos are ashamed of themselves, and they should, because it’s them who destroyed, criminalized and polluted the city.

  7. Pep Fernandez

    I hope we don’t destroy our own culture and identity as filipinoes so we can live behind a legacy to our children.

  8. Someone should publish these vintage photos of our once beautiful city. I had dreams of walking or driving in those avenues,shaded by trees and decorated by flowering plants. The art deco buildings looked more elegant than today’s boxy-steel and concrete structures. Even the working class people wore white suits and hat–how classy. Though I was born just more than 3 decades ago these photos give me an intense longing for the 1930’s to the 1960’s, when Manila was the “Paris of the Orient”.

  9. I hope you can post more pre war photos. We should preserve what little remains we have of pre war Manila.

  10. I agree with you all. I was at the Metropolitan Theater last night to watch the rock group Wolfgang play because the band is trying to draw attention to heritage convservation of this beautiful building. It was tragic to see how this pre-war 1930s Arellano structure is literally falling to pieces. Let’s not let treasures like this fade away. The MET and many other old buildings gives us a glimpse into the gracious living of Manila’s past.

  11. sayang… we are not the pearl of the orient seas anymore. maybe its time to switch our name to “the black pearl of the orient seas”.

  12. Hi! I’m Pia from the Heritage Conservation Society. I love these photos! I’ll be using them for the new youth blog of the HCS 🙂 Thank you for posting this and if you would like to help out in this new group, you can reply to this post. We need more youth who are passionate about claiming our built heritage!

    • Unfortunately I can no longer be considered a ‘youth’ as I’m in my late 30s but please do share and yes, let me know how I can help. I’m always happy to hear about conservation efforts in the Philippines.

  13. Thank you for sharing these pictures! It made me feel how much we miss now that Manila has changed over the years as modern city. Ironically, we all want to go to Paris and Manila was once called Paris of the Orient because of its breathtaking beauty.

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