Rizal Avenue is one of Manila’s major thoroughfares and although today this busy and congested avenue is only a poor shadow of the old Avenida Rizal of the roaring 20’s, the Avenida area remains significant in historical terms.
Formerly known as Avenida Rizal, in honour of the national hero Jose Rizal, the Avenida was once synonymous to chic Manila– and with reason since this avenue was the address of the Philippines’ prized and modernists architects before World War 2.
In the 1930s, Avenida Rizal was Manila’s centre of social life, with the avenue lined with the country’s exclusive shops, expensive restaurants and the newest movie theaters. Today, these theaters, some of which are now decaying hulls, were designed by leading architects of the pre-war years such as Pablo Antonio and Juan Nakpil, both later honored as National Artists.
Antonio designed the Galaxy, the Ideal, the Scala and the Lyric theaters. Nakpil designed the Capitol, the Ever and the Avenue theaters. Following the war, this part of Manila symbolised the devastation and creeping poverty that Manila and its inhabitants went through, a period that continues up to this day.
Congestion and unplanned urban development also contributed to the decay of the Avenida area and the rampant urban decay reached its high point when the Light Rail Transit project during the Marcos regime began in the early 1980s. The elevated tracks of the train system practically occupied the avenue’s mid-section, blocking views of the vintage 1920s Art Deco buildings and former finely-built apartments along the street.
Various local government officials superficially attempted to revive the faded glory of Rizal Avenue but with the haphazard and highly-politicised climate in Philippine affairs, the Avenida remains the neglected avenue that may no longer gets a fair chance at recovery.
Mabuhay ang Rizal Avenue!