“If it’s a good story, it’s like Manila Hotel.”
MANILA HOTEL, fondly called the “grand old dame,” was bedecked in her finest Wednesday night (July 4) as she celebrated her 100th birthday, looking even more brilliant and feeling optimistic about her future.
About 800 guests in formal Filipiniana attire, including President Benigno S. Aquino III, came and helped the venerable and much-loved hotel celebrate its birthday in a grand in a grand celebration dubbed the ”Centennial Ball” at a huge tent on the premises..
The celebration began with cocktails at 6 p.m. before a short audio-visual history of the institution was presented and projected on the wall of the hotel. Declared a national historical landmark in February 1997, the hotel has attracted VIPs such as Gen. Douglas MacArthur (where a suite is named after him), Hollywood celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, Sammy Davis Jr., and boxing legends like Muhammad Ali, to name a few.
Guests were then served during the sit-down dinner starting with wild mushroom consommé with truffle custard, accompanied with Casa Lapostolle, Chardonnay; Southern Spiny Lobster and Apple Salad with Celery and Crisp bacon, tarragon, and sherry vinaigrette (with Cuvee Alexandre Lapostolle, Chardonnay); a passion fruit sorbet as palate cleanser; with the main course of Oven-roasted sea bass with brown butter and tomato fondue, potato and a bell pepper frittata with spicy sausage (Casa Lapostolle, Merlot); and for dessert, a Lemongrass mousse on coconut-chocolate joconde cake, pineapple compote, and ginger crème Anglaise as well as chocolate pralines with either coffee or tea.
Addressing President Aquino, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, and Manila Hotel Chairman Dr. Emilio T. Yap, hotel director and executive vice president Enrique Y. Yap, Jr. said by way of introducing the AVP: “Exactly 100 years ago, the doors of Manila Hotel were opened to welcome guests who chose to live the good life. It was also the beginning of the long and rich history of the hotel. Great men and women have stayed here, while others chose to stay a bit longer. So many stories have been told, but certainly, more interesting stories are yet to be known.”
Yap Jr. was recently accorded an Outstanding Manilan 2012 Award by the city of Manila, for hotel management and tourism. “He is young, dynamic, and has over the past two years, implemented so many changes in the hotel,” said hotel senior vice president Georgina C. Banaag in an interview. “Service has improved tremendously because the hotel got busier, we are sprucing up for the Centennial this year, and our function rooms will be renovated next,” she added.
The Yap family was awarded the hotel in 1997 after a rather contentious bidding process in 1995 that pitted Don Emilio with Renong Berhad of Malaysia. But the family has since poured billions in investments to refurbish the rooms and renovate the hotel, attracting a new and even younger clientele.
It has a new pool and garden area, a health club, a relaxing spa run by a concessionaire, a spanking Executive Center, the MacArthur Lounge, an Events and Celebrations Area, the Sampaguita Hall, the Cafe Ilang-Ilang, which has been modernized and now serves an interactive buffet; and the Mabuhay Palace, which serves authentic Cantonese Chinese cuisine.
In his speech, Atty. Jose Lina, hotel president, told guests: “As the custodian of one of the country’s national landmarks, it is our duty to ensure that the next 100 years will be as bright, as momentous, as the hotel’s storied past. For the past four years, Manila Hotel has worked very hard to create the perfect balance between tradition and innovation. Every renovation and refurbishment we have undertaken is part of our commitment to bring Manila Hotel to the future.
“And although its glorious past is at the Manila Hotel’s very core, our identity itself is shaped by our determination to continuously reinvent ourselves in order to meet the dynamic demands of our modern guests. We see every year as another chance to exceed our past achievements, an opportunity to set even higher standards for ourselves.”
VIPs spotted at the event included Rep. Sonny Angara, GSIS president Robert Vergara, appliance king Samie Lim, insurance leader Peter Coyiuto, and a host of local actors and celebrities.
While President Aquino didn’t make any speech during the event, unlike the 99th anniversary of the hotel last year, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda released a message congratulating the hotel’s stakeholders on the institution’s 100th anniversary. “Over the past century, Manila Hotel has truly become a bastion of Filipino heritage, culture, and history: from the numerous historical events to which it has been a witness, to the hundreds of thousands of guests it has hosted in its rooms.
“Our congratulations also to Don Emilio Yap and his family, to Gov. Joey Lina, Jr., and to the management and staff of this establishment. We are certain that Manila Hotel will continue to be a pillar of the hotel industry, and that it will continue to leave its mark on our history.”
The 540-rooom Manila Hotel is a five-star hotel built in 1909 on a 35,000 square-meter property along Roxas Blvd. It officially opened on July 4, 1912 during the commemoration of the American Independence Day. About 400 elegantly attired guests partook of a dinner which featured American roast Philippine lobster, and French champagne, according to the hotel’s web site.
It has become home to many foreign heads of state, historical personalities, and Hollywood celebrities which include U.S. President John F. Kennedy Jr., Bob Hope, The Beatles, novelists Ernest Hemingway and James Michener, actors Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and John Wayne, the King of Pop Michael Jackson, among others.
From 1935 to 1941, Manila Hotel was the official residence of Gen. Douglas MacArthur from 1935 to 1941. Unable to hold off the advancing Japanese forces, he withdrew to the nearby Corregidor island. The Japanese forces eventually occupied Manila Hotel from 1942 to 1945, as the battle between the Allied and Axis powers raged in the Pacific.
In his memoirs, MacArthur told of joining the patrol to recapture the hotel from the Japanese High Command, writing, ”I was anxious to rescue as much as I could of my home atop the Manila Hotel.”
Over the years, the hotel has symbolized luxury and elegance of a bygone era. It has been the favorite venue for important political events and birthday parties of high-profile society personalities.