8 Popular Hangout Spots of the Truly Rich of Old Manila

While some social clubs were not spared by the war, others were remodeled and managed to still stand strong today.

Before World War II, the inhabitants of Old Manila took extended time-outs at now historical recreational spots. High society indulged in leisurely activities such as balls, regattas, and polo matches.

Manila Polo Club

Aptly dubbed the “sport of kings” for its rich history dating back to the Persian royals in the 16th century, polo wooed the city’s elite. Renowned polo player William Cameron Forbes introduced the sport during his time as governor general. He promptly established the Manila Polo Club upon his appointment. The sport was reserved for the senior military officers and Manila’s wealthiest inhabitants and has since built upon its resume of high society patrons.

A colored digital sketch of Manila Polo Club

Unknown to many, Polo Club’s first location was in Calle Real, Pasay, where it was inaugurated in the year 1909. It was in 1922 that Prince Edward, then heir to the British throne, visited for a polo match. Decades later, the place burned down and in the ‘50s was rebuilt along McKinley Road.

Prince Edward at the Polo Club in 1922

Army Navy Club

The Army Navy Club, which is now the Rizal Park Hotel

The glossy Rizal Park Hotel traces its roots back to the Army Navy Club, a social hall established shortly after American troops began docking on Philippine shores in 1899. Originally intended for the members of the American military, the club was designed with plans by architect William Parsons in mind.  The H-shaped main building housed swimming pools, tennis courts, and lawns for leisurely activities, while the building’s second floor contained about 70 rooms to accommodate temporary stays.

Inside the social hall

It flourished for quite some time, becoming the default venue for large social events such as balls and fashion shows, but the country fell on hard times during the war and the club’s exclusivity only aided its decline in visitors. Eventually, the Army Navy Club’s magic began to fade away.

It was only a couple of years ago that the remnants were bought, restored, and transformed into a hotel with fabulous interiors and refurbished rooms.

Manila Hotel Fiesta Pavilion

The century-old Manila Hotel has been a fixture in the social scene since 1912 and does not intend to retire from its post soon. Its iconic Fiesta Pavilion continues to host grandiose events.

Manila Hotel exteriors

In the past, the hotel’s Fiesta Pavilion or Winter Garden were popular choices for the Kahirup Ball, the most-awaited social event of the season. Famous guests include writer Ernest Hemingway, boxer Jack Dempsey, and Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower. Recently remodeled in 2015, the Pavilion may now accommodate 2,500 guests.

The Fiesta Pavilion, which used to be an open-air space

A gathering at the Manila Hotel

Wack Wack Golf and Country Club

Founded in 1930 by William “Bill” J. Shaw, the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club prides itself on being one of the first golf clubs in the country. Its purpose was to unify the golfers in the Philippines without discrimination. This came after Filipino caddy Larry Montes, winner of the Philippine Open, was shunned from the event’s presidential table at Manila Golf Club. Wack Wack’s open doors made it popular among the golfing community. Later, the Philippine Open transferred from Manila Golf Club to Wack Wack, where it stayed for about five decades.

The Wack Wack golf course

The Wack Wack clubhouse was beloved by society members. It hosted dances and receptions. Shaw, of course, was a staple face in his own establishment, meeting and greeting all the golfers.

The Wack Wack Clubhouse, which was hit by two fires

Though the club was hit by major tragedies—it was devastated by two fires and a war—it quickly bounced back by hosting the pre-war open tournament in 1948, coming full circle with Montes winning the championship.

Inside the clubhouse

Manila Yacht Club

Before any airport in Philippines history, Manila Yacht Club served as the first transport terminal for American planes, says Commodore Ildefonso Tronqued Jr. There were no airports built yet, so seaplanes parked at the Yacht Club. Manila Yacht Club is listed as one of the oldest in Asia. The Club was founded by James Rockwell, who also played a part in establishing both the Manila Polo Club and the Manila Golf Club. In its heyday, the club hosted regattas, races, and boating events to encourage sailing in the country. These events also boosted international relations, with watersport events under the SEA Games and Asian Games held here.

The Manila Yacht Club

Crystal Arcade

No longer a fixture in the Escolta skyline, the Crystal Arcade’s destruction was one of the city’s greatest architectural losses. The building owes its Art Deco design to Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of Juan Luna and Paz Pardo de Tavera. The Arcade’s exteriors dazzled with a glass façade. It was the first shopping mall in the city, and it was air-conditioned to boot.

The Crystal Arcade mall

Also a prime business space, the Arcade housed the first Manila Stock Exchange and a fashionable café called the Exchange Café, which was filled brokers looking to woo clients.

The Exchange Cafe filled with brokers

Sadly, the building didn't survive the war. Before its demise, it served as an office to Japanese occupation agencies.

Y.M.C.A. Building

Another territory of the young scions of old was the Y.M.C.A. social club, filled with recreational activities. Aside from providing swimming lessons and lodging, the Y.M.C.A envisioned itself as a values-oriented association open to young American and European men. This later came to include Filipinos.

Santa Ana Cabaret

The Santa Ana Cabaret wraps up the category of Filipino firsts. This social hall proudly marketed itself as the largest cabaret in the world during its time. It was a popular rendezvous point for Americans and Filipino women, who dined and danced the night away. The pioneer cabaret was spared from the perils of war, but it was destroyed by a typhoon in the ‘70s.

Dancing at the Santa Ana Cabaret


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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Features Editor
Hannah is originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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