Published by: The Philippine Star The field became a city, the city became a home. The story of Makati’s mythic rise has been told countless times on ink and paper, yet nothing quite chronicles its journey like the silent sentinels that line the stretch of Ayala Avenue known as the Apartment Ridge.
Every decade of the business district’s modern past is uncannily represented by the buildings here. With the recent stirrings on the lot where the Gilarmi Apartments used to stand, the city appears poised to cross another pivotal threshold into its future.
But first, a bit of history. Until the 1940s, the patch of land that became the Philippines’ premier city had lain barren since time began, its “worthlessness” confirmed in 1571 by the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who only put his swampy discovery on the map so all would know not to bother with it.
The land’s promise lay unfulfilled for the next 400 years, its muddy soil consigned to carabao and plow, and then, for a time, to ceramics (the behest of always-enterprising Jesuits, prior to their expulsion by King Carlos III in the 1760s).
The first glimmer of the glamor written in Makati’s future appeared when the Sta. Ana Cabaret was opened in 1914 by an American named John Canson. At the time it opened, the cabaret was purportedly the biggest in the world.
Another milestone was attained when the Nielson Airport, Luzon’s first airport, opened in 1937. It was from here that Asia’s first airline, Philippine Airlines, launched its maiden flight in 1941. But still, the land’s usefulness continued to hinge on it remaining undeveloped. The Nielson Airport was built in Makati precisely because it was barren. There was nothing to obstruct the view of the pilots taking off and touching down on the runways, which would later become Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas.
Then, World War II came and bombed Manila to the ground.
Many of the country’s elite whose homes were lost or damaged in the war were lured to rebuild at the emerging “suburb” of Makati. Their favored leisure haunts, the Manila Golf Club and the Manila Polo Club, were among the first to relocate to newly opened Forbes Park in the late 1940s. Distinguished club members followed accordingly.
Though Forbes Park was awash in features considered revolutionary at that time, such as underground drainage and strict land ownership restrictions, it was still viewed as a kind of terra incognita. The good people of Manila, Pasay, San Juan, and Quezon City armed themselves with guns and drove in convoys along Highway 54 (now EDSA) when visiting friends in Forbes or attending socials at the Polo Club, for fear of being ambushed by Hukbalahap rebels who habitually passed through McKinley Road en route to attacking the military camp in Fort McKinley (Fort Bonifacio).
In those early years, Forbes residents did their grocery shopping in Quiapo and Escolta, because there were no proper stores in Makati. This quickly changed, however, as population growth fueled the construction of more and more neighborhoods—San Lorenzo Village in 1954, Bel-Air Village in 1957, Urdaneta Village in 1958, San Miguel Village in 1960, Magallanes and Palm Village in 1963, and Dasmariñas Village in 1965.
As the city grew and space became more scarce, a new architectural form entered the landscape—the high-rise apartment.
In the late 1950s up to the early 1960s, construction of the Monterrey Apartments and the Gilarmi Apartments took place along the stretch of Ayala Avenue that would become the present-day Apartment Ridge.
If living along the calle principal was a mark of distinction in colonial times, so it would be in the new metropolis. Though there was nothing yet all around, the construction of residential buildings along Ayala Avenue was the bold declaration of intent that caused today’s Apartment Ridge to exist through sheer force of will.
Monterrey and Gilarmi were followed by the Urdaneta Apartments in 1973, the Twin Towers, Ritz Towers, and Makati Tuscany in the 1980s, and Pacific Plaza in the early 1990s. Monterrey was demolished some years after it was built, and until early 2009, the Gilarmi was the oldest surviving apartment building in Makati.
Twenty years since the last building went up on Apartment Ridge (Pacific Plaza), and half a century after its first two buildings were built (Monterrey and Gilarmi), the Gilarmi was quietly retired this year to make way for a new landmark that will reaffirm Makati’s primacy over the Metro Manila real estate firmament. A soaring 68-story tower that will bear only 90 extraordinary homes is set to be built in its place.
The new tower, called Discovery Primea, is a special badge of pride for the city of Makati. It marks a historic collaboration between the late Pritzker Prize-winning architect Kenzo Tange and the eminent Filipino architect Jorge Ramos. Tange is revered as the visionary who modernized Japan after World War II, while Ramos is best known for the historic reconstruction of Malacañang Palace in the 1970s, and the design of other landmarks such as the Quiapo Mosque, the GSIS Building, Puerto Azul, and the Philippine Heart, Lung, and Kidney Centers. The design of Discovery Primea was completed shortly before Tange passed away at the age of 91. A fitting legacy for hallowed ground that was, is, and always will be the crown jewel of the Philippines’ premier city.