The First United Building is one of the most important buildings along the historic Escolta street. Escolta is dubbed the “Queen of Manila’s Street” because of its premier location as the center of business in pre-war and the early post-WWII years. With its many old buildings, it is also important when it comes to heritage and historical significance. As part of this heritage. the First United Building has a lot of interesting architectural details; and a community museum highlighting the area’s history lies within the premises.
Since 2012, the building and the Escolta community have been undergoing much revival. The First United Building was one of the historical buildings that was visited by United Architect of the Philippines (Makati) chapter.
The event was dubbed “Cross Over: A Back to Back Celebration”. The UAP-Makati chapter was led by their president Architect Michael Conrad S. Carandang and more than two dozen participants.
The group, together with walkwithchan, organized a heritage and culinary tour within much of the old financial district which coincided with the World Architecture Day and World Post Day celebration.
First United Building was completed in 1930 and then known as the Perez-Samanillo Building with Andres Luna De San Pedro as the architect. The iron grill works fronting the main entrance still have the initials of the former owners of the building.
Andrés Luna de San Pedro y Pardo de Tavera (September 9, 1887 – January 22, 1952) built the first air-conditioned building in the Philippines, the Crystal Arcade Building (now present site of PNB Escolta Building) that was once located on No. 71. He was assigned as the city architect from 1920 to 1924.
First United Building Community Museum
The First United Building Community Museum is located at the mezzanine area of the building, The community museum is divided into four permanent exhibit areas.
Permanent Collection: This is the area composed of memorabilia owned and used by Sy Lian Teng, filled with his photos, office equipment, documents and other personal items.
Sy Lian Teng was an entrepreneur who ran Escolta’s premiere department store, Berg’s. The collection shows the Sylianteng family’s passion for Escolta, and honors the legacy of the patriarch.
ExChange Space is a small nook where talks, discussions, presentations and screening are held. It is programmed to help enrich the community of pressing issues, concerns and strategies.
The Wall : The wall within the museum and building promotes this through its temporary exhibitions.
FUBCM Digital Archive : This is dedicated to achieving the artifacts, objects, photos, documents, materials and files in relation to the family history.
This includes old photos, office equipment, period furniture, gift wrapper, a vintage refrigerator and a desk of Sy Lian Teng in his old office in the building .
Sy Lian Teng’s story is an interesting story that the museum tells. Born in 1904, like many Filipino-Chinese he migrated here from his hometown in the Fujian province, China for a new life and made a mark in the city when he and his friends established Cosmos Bazaar in 1926. He eventually found love and started a family of 9 children. However, he suffered a tremendous loss when his wife and almost all his children were killed by the Japanese during World War II.
He managed to move on and start anew, reopened the bazaar, remarried, and eventually bought the building in 1979 and managed the well-loved Escolta-based department store Berg’s until it closed in 1982.
Address: First United Building, Mezzanine Area, 413 Escolta Street, Santa Cruz, Manila
The museum is open from Mondays to Saturdays, 9:00AM to 5:00PM with an entrance fee of Php50.00. For large group, It is advisable to pre-register with the building management days or weeks in advance prior to the tour.
First United Building is now being managed by his son Roberto. Mr. Sy Lian Teng managed to live until the ripe old age of 100 . He lived from 1904 to 2004.
Also on display are various articles and artworks depicting Escolta with more coming soon. There is also The HUB where over two dozen stalls which sells different kinds of stuffs from art works, postcards, old furniture, gourmet coffees, t-shirt barong, among others.
There are stalls within the ground floor of the building, This used to be part of Berg’s Department Store .
The museum’s layout was made possible with the help of the 98B COLLABoratory, an artists’ community based also in the First United Building mezzanine area.
Celebrity and Film Outfit Hub
Various films and artist company had rented some rooms within the building during its heydays. Sometimes people would refer this building ” Building of the Stars and Movie Outfits” Some are included the following listings.
Some of these former office rooms were converted into co-working spaces and one can rent for a certain fee for a minimum of 1 hour rental starting from Php 350.00.
The room is spacious, wifi ready, ample natural light, cool air-conditioned area with some magnificent views the surrounding buildings.
Photo credits: Architects Richie Ongteco, Ms. Aileen Villarama, Jhun Bayot, Kevin Noel Aguirre Dedicatoria