An only daughter remembers her famous architect dad
Photographs courtesy of Carla dela Rama Arguelles the Manila Hilton was the tallest building when it was inaugurated in 1968.
My dinner date with Carla Arguelles brought back her memories of her talented father, architect Carlos Arguelles, who was very warm and caring. She shared how he and Carla’s mom, Remy, would lounge around the house, listen to music, or talk, keeping their daughter company. The couple loved to listen to music and watch television, although they also enjoyed dining out and having their favorite drinks.
In their beautiful Forbes Park home, they hosted parties for Manila’s 400, of which they were bonafide members. Other times, Carlos’ professional associates would visit for shoptalk and camaraderie, among them the equally famous Lindy Locsin, Gabby Formoso and Bobby Manosa.
Carlos and Remy were very glamorous, but at the same time that they were very religious. Carlos actively promoted the Sacred Heart of Jesus and was a most admired Santuario de San Antonio parishioner.
At some point, daughter Carla lived in Hong Kong and would only come for vacations. Later, she chose to return to the family home where, with Carla’s children, they enjoyed more good times until it became too big for them. They transferred to another Arguelles masterpiece, the Urdaneta Apartments along Ayala Avenue.
To understand best the father and daughter relationship, let’s take the cue from Carla’s statement, “I had the best father any daughter could ask for.”
My conversation with Carla and her son Tyler Carlos at the East Garden of the Manila Polo Club follows:
Daily Tribune (DT): Tell me about your Dad and Mom. What did they love to do together?
Carla dela Rama Arguelles (CRA): Dad adored my Mother. They had the perfect marriage. They called each other “Darling.” They would watch movies. They were regulars in the Manila social scene, attending many events together. He would always look proudly at my Mom. They are known to those close to them to have held hands to the end. People would say, “I love you to the moon and back.” And in their case, this was so true.
When I was young, they would go out once a week for date night. I remember telling them how good they looked when they were all dressed up. Dad would have a martini, and Mom would have her gin gimlet. This would allow me to hang out with them before they left for their date. I would look forward to that. Then holding hands, they would walk down our long corridor through the front door.
DT: What were his favorites
— movies, restaurants, travel destinations, books, authors and fashion brands, among others?
CRA: Dad always loved the Old Time Classics. One of his favorite movies was Love is a Many Splendored Thing. The movie was filmed in the house of their friend. When my Mother commented on their antique carvings, their friend gifted these to them. This collection was proudly displayed in their bedroom and is now in mine.
I always remember him when “Moonlight Serenade” is playing. He loved to dance, and we would even dance together at home. He was already with a cane and would still dance when he would hear music. He liked Sergio Mendez, the Commodores, and Michael Jackson as well.
He always took pride in taking us to the formal dining room at the Hilton, one of his projects. He loved Café Rizal, La Tasca and Mario’s, which his friends owned. There was also Chef Jessie’s, which he would frequent for special occasions in the later years.
I lived in Hong Kong for 12 years. He enjoyed visiting me there. My best friend Bob Gerber would always put them up at the suite in Victoria Hotel. He would walk the bridgeway, and there he could see the view of all the Hong Kong architecture. My parents would frequent Lane Crawford.
He also loved going to San Francisco to visit his cousin, Ambassador Romy Arguelles, and his wife, Ennie. We usually traveled to places where they had friends, and he found it essential to keep in touch.
Dad was an avid reader. He owned hundreds of books displayed in his library, ranging from architectural books to novels. He enjoyed reading biographies, and I still have many signed biographies of his friends.
DT: How was your father-daughter relationship?
CRA: I had the best father any daughter could ever ask for. He would immediately hurry home from work. We would sit in his room and watch television. I could talk to him about anything, and he would be interested. I feel bad when I look back that on Hong Kong for so long. I was gone for four years of college as well. Since I am an only child, they were such understanding parents for their generation. I eventually moved back in with them in the Forbes house. I am so happy I did this.
He explained to me the importance of family and friends. I learned that we must work on our relationships and not take people for granted. He would visit sick people and give them communion, making them feel like they had not been forgotten. He would always be busy to return a call. I am very close to my children because of these conversations with him. Sometimes we take our family members for granted. I want to be like my father, treating them like the most important person in my life.
DT: What do you tell your grandchildren about their grandfather?
CDA: Whenever I am asked who my life idol is, the answer is simple. My father. He is a man of strong moral values, a father that puts his family above all else. He worked to provide a magical life for my Mother and me, and I do not have any siblings. He was a simple man with simple needs; the family was his priority.
I want to make my children, Samantha and Tyler, even a fraction of how happy Dad made me. That is why when their school asked what I wanted for my children, I answered “happiness.” This attitude gives you a positive view of the world, and that positivity is contagious. I wish to pass on his living by example to my children. Teach by action, not by words. Treasure each moment, and each event together, for life is short.
I want them to know their grandfather was a great man, somebody they should be proud of. He built iconic buildings, buildings that many people still remember. He achieved in a short time what many could never succeed in a lifetime. I want them to live in a manner that would make him proud of them.
His religious belief was strong. From him, I learned to treasure the many miracles in our lives, even the small ones. I have learned that having friends who encourage our faith is essential, which is the secret to happiness.
DT: Of his many accomplishments, what are you proudest of?
CRA: I am pleased when people tell me how much they admire him. I am often introduced to people as the daughter of Architect Arguelles. I have often heard that Philamlife Theater is a favorite of many people. It was comforting to know that I was not the only one that felt nostalgic and sad when it was torn down. The Quad brings fond memories to mind as well. People always remember the good times they had there. The Development Bank of the Philippines is still used to support Philippine business.
We were entering the United States, and Dad was in a wheelchair for the first time. Here was a man that always took the lead and protected his family. A woman behind one of the Immigration counters beckoned us to move forward, and I instantly thought we were being pulled aside to get questioned. Instead, she made the other Immigration Officers and people in line salute my father.
She said, “Colonel Arguelles, you dedicated your life to this country.” She reminded him that he was the only officer who would give time to the lower-level military personnel. She was encouraged by his actions. God had sent a stranger to lift my Dad’s spirits, which came at a time when he felt at his lowest. It was a message to me never to forget that we deal with people every time we do things. Architect Carlos D. Arguelles was not only a builder of buildings but a builder of lives; that is the legacy he left behind.
Today I live in one of Dad’s projects and enjoy his design daily. I take pride in the fact that my neighbors have told me how much they are benefitting from the thought that was put into creating this building. There are only so many units for sale here.
DT: What did you learn from your father’s life?
CRA: Nothing is permanent. I have seen his buildings get redeveloped. We should enjoy things and not take them for granted. I could still arrange a tour of some of his works for my daughter while those buildings stood tall before some landmarks were demolished for redevelopment. I want to visit some homes he designed if given a chance.
Good design stands the test of time. This is true for most things, from architecture to clothing and menus; people can tell the difference.
Always consider the people. We can positively impact the lives of those we deal with. Everybody is equal and should be treated with respect. Be part of the circle, not just talk about other people doing good things.
He believed in keeping in touch with his friends, even the ones overseas. He would write them letters and send them a special Collins Street Bakery fruitcake every Christmas. The other day I received a letter from a friend. It made me feel special in this age of texts and emails, and I know the effort it takes to send out a letter. He taught me never to take people for granted, especially one’s family. It is important to invest one’s time in relationships.
DT: How would you like him to be remembered by this country and the architecture community?
CRA: Architect Carlos Arguelles was a man who genuinely cared about others. When he was designing homes and buildings, it was with the people in mind. He put a lot of emphasis on the interior space, wanting it to be efficient for the users. He wanted people to enjoy his structures, and he enjoyed the challenge of designing the unique facades from the inside out.
Until today I can tell who the architect of a building is when I walk through the space. This was an era in architecture where the designers often had a specific style. Architects were sought after by their clients for their signature design style. Carlos Arguelles’ designs were bold and timeless, making his buildings landmark. He was a man with vision, a trendsetter.
He was a community-oriented citizen. He gave back and took pride in building other people. Several well-known names in today’s architecture field worked at C.D. Arguelles and Associates. He was involved in many organizations. Yet, despite his hectic schedule, his family always came first.
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