10 things you may not know about the Manila Post Office building

A post-fire appreciation of a landmark we never really got to appreciate

At a glance

  • The initial assessment, given on May 22, estimates damage at ₱300 million. Assessment is still ongoing but historians know that the true value lost could never be measured.

manila post office.jpg

No one really gave much thought to it, even when it stood beautiful and elegant, even when it looked jarringly out of a place in a busy, dirty, modern city with rundown buildings whose walls were scrawled with graffiti, even when it was one of the very few reminders of a once-glorious past. It was built in 1926, so everyone who is alive now remembers it as part of a scene, part of a landscape, not worth taking pictures of.

Beautiful things, no matter how beautiful they are, fade into the background when they have been there forever. Old things, when seen with old eyes, are hardly awe-inspiring.

But when a huge fire engulfed this Neoclassical building at midnight of May 21, until the early hours of May 22, the Manila Post Office building suddenly became the center of attention. The Manila Fire Station noted that the fire started at 11 p.m. It was only put out seven hours later. The highest fire alarm level was sounded at around 5:54 a.m. Postmaster general Luis Carlos says the edifice was completely gutted, “from the basement to the ground floor all the way up to the fifth floor, and the ceiling has fallen down.”

Even when it has been a part of our lives, it is only now that we are wistfully finding out about how truly significant it is for our history and culture.

Here are other things you may not know about this neglected and ignored landmark of the city of Manila.

1. The Neoclassical Revival building was a masterwork of architects Juan M. Arellano and Tomas Mapua with American architect Ralph Doane, and with Pedro Soichi as contractor.

2. It was destroyed in 1945 during the Battle of Manila, one of the smaller battles in the greater Second World War. It was rebuilt in 1946, retaining most of its original design.

3. It stood grand along the riverbanks of Pasig, in Lawton, because the Burnham Plan of Manila thought it was easier to carry and dispatch mail through water transportation. Its location—the main entrance faces the Liwasang Bonifacio—makes it accessible to all sides. Daniel Burnham placed the building at the foot of Jones Bridge because he wanted not just the Pasig River as the main waterway to ferry the mail, but to make the post office near Quiapo, Binondo, and Malate.

4. Juan Arellano was considered a gifted architect, whose body of work included the Manila Metropolitan Theater and the Old Legislative Building. The Post Office is considered as his magnum opus. It was created with a budget of ₱1 million pesos. There are 16 Ionic pillars lined up above the steps just before the lobby.

5. In 2020, there was a proposal to implement a budget of ₱50 million for a massive restoration and rehabilitation, which the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) would implement. The project was not approved by the Department of Budeget and Management (DBM). The Post Office Building is the main postal office. It houses the main mail sorting distribution of the Philippines.

6. From Aug. 2, 1920 to Jan. 9, 1922, the foundation was laid out for the building, but the work was put on hold when money became scarce. The building was completed in February of 1928.

7. The National Museum of the Philippines recognized the Manila Central Post Office as an “important cultural property” on Nov. 24, 2018. An ICP is “a cultural property that possesses exceptional cultural, artistic, and historical significance.” A declared ICP is eligible to receive government funding for protection, conservation, and restoration.

8. Your mail isn’t the only important thing the Post Office houses. It also has an extensive and expensive collection of stamps, including precious vintage ones. Within the building is the Philatelic Museum that exhibits these stamps. The museum is a sneak peek into the culture and history of the Philippines over the years.

9. The building would’ve turned 100 in 2026, and a time capsule buried in 1926, containing items from this time period, would have been opened to celebrate the centennial.

10. The initial assessment, given on May 22, estimates damage at ₱300 million, and workers will be temporarily moved to an office near Del Pan, still in Manila. Assessment is still ongoing but historians know that the true value lost could never be measured.