Fort McKinley’s lost American colonial architecture

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Officers’ Quarters.

Long before its sale and eventual conversion into a commercial center, Fort Bonifacio military reservation, originally established by the Americans as Fort William McKinley during the turn of the 20th century, used to have a vast, bucolic and picturesque area with the Pasig River bordering its northern front.

What is now the area of Bonifacio Global City (BGC) was the center of the fort with a number of wooden structures which served as offices, quarters and a hospital, among other uses.

These buildings which characterized stick style architecture are evocative of the American period buildings at Baguio’s Teachers’ Camp and Camp John Hay.

Encyclopaedia Britannica defines the architectural style as the typical style of the residential houses in the United States from the 1860s to 1870s.

It “favored an imitation half-timbered effect, with boards attached to the exterior walls in grids suggestive of the underlying frame construction.”

Stick style is also characterized by “attached open stickwork verandas, projecting square bays, steeply pitched roofs and overhanging eaves.”

Historic buildings

The camp was accessed through three gates with the main entrance at Lawton Avenue in what is now Barangay Northside. The others were at the McKinley Avenue near Forbes Park, and the last fronting Villamor Airbase in Pasay.

In the area of what is now North Bonifacio inside BGC, a stone bridge was constructed on Lawton Avenue (now part of 8th Avenue) by the Americans in 1901, spanning a now non-existent creek.

That bridge and creek disappeared when the area was developed.

Less than a kilometer away is another bridge outside the Philippine National Oil Company still existing in a blocked creek albeit with an uncertain future.

Almost parallel to Lawton Avenue was MacArthur Avenue where, most likely, a number of old structures used to stand such as the Colonels Quarters, Artillery and Engineers Stables and Cavalry and Infantry Barracks.

Just off a popular mall and located near the entrance of the Fort Bonifacio War Tunnel used to stand the concrete and adobe Assembly Building which later became the Officers’ Quarters.

That structure constructed not later than 1905 in a promontory overlooking the Laguna de Bay is now a residential area in the Makati village of East Rembo.

Road and bridge.

Other structures

Also in East Rembo, at the northeastern fringes of BGC was an area called Cavalry where the Cavalry Quarters was erected.

The landmark of this area now is a large concrete water tower.

The fort also had a hospital (Post Hospital) which was later renamed Army General Hospital.
Other structures inside Fort William McKinley included the Artillery and Engineers Barracks, Bachelors, Captains, Field Officers, and Enlisted Men’s quarters and Artillery Post.

These structures were among the earliest edifices in the country during the American colonial period, which were constructed from 1901 to 1905.

Demise

Historian Ricardo Trota Jose of the University of the Philippines-Diliman explained that a number of the wooden buildings most likely survived the war.

“There was much fighting in the Fort McKinley area in 1945, but I don’t think all the wooden buildings were destroyed,” he said, adding some were still extant in the 1970s.

“Two important buildings (I don’t remember if they were all wood or partly wood and cement) were the Commanding General’s (CG) Quarters and the old Post Hospital — the CG quarters became the Philippine Army Museum and a fight was made to save it because of its historical importance, but we lost the fight” when the area was developed in the 1990s, he said.

Cavalry and Infantry Barracks.

Jose also narrated as a compromise, the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) built a new CG Quarters inside the Philippine Army headquarters inside Fort Bonifacio where it became the new Philippine Army Museum, but “it is not the same building any more, alas.”

As for the Post Hospital, which he said was built in the 1920s and described as an excellent example of US military architecture of that period, “if it was still in use in the 1980s, Ninoy Aquino was brought there after he was assassinated in 1983.”

That hospital was likewise demolished in the name of development. Its site is now in the general area of St. Lukes Medical Center – BGC.

The ravages of time, war and (over) development resulted in the demise of these historic, important edifices that show the early development of the American colonial architecture in the Philippines.

Note: Photos are from the author’s collection from the United States National Archives

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