Text by Sol Vanzi
Photos by Noel Pabalate
Video by Roc Verdera
Jones Bridge, once the most beautiful bridge in Asia, could reclaim the title soon. Work to rehabilitate and beautify the city’s most historic bridge and fulfill Manila Mayor Isko Moreno’s dream to give present and future generations a glimpse of the city’s rich history and glorious past finished on Nov. 23, with the re-installation of the historic La Madre Filipina statue. The re-inauguration followed on Nov. 24.
It’s already attracting visitors at all hours and continues to cause heated debates on social media. Attention is focused on Beaux-Artsstyled lamp posts (inspired by those on Pont Alexandre III in Paris), which Mayor Isko commissioned Jose Acuzar, owner of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, to build.
Acuzar had also been tasked to restore at both ends of the bridge’s four plinths, each topped with a statue allegorically representing motherhood and nationhood, originally made by a sculptor named Martinez. During World War II, the Japanese Army bombed the bridge to stop incoming American troops at the Battle of Manila. One of the four statues was permanently lost, one was moved to Luneta, and two stand guard at the Court of Appeals. Acuzar will reconstruct the lost statue using historical records from the National Library.
Jones Bridge was intended to replace the Puente de España (Bridge of Spain), which was built by Spain in 1876. The Puente was located one block upriver at the Calle Nueva (now E.T. Yuchengco Street). Jones Bridge began on Rosario (now Quintin Paredes Street).
New bridges were part of a master plan of Daniel Burnham, who wanted to give emphasis on the rivers of the city and likened them to the river Seine in Paris and the canals of Venice. Upon the passage of the Jones Act, Filipino architect Juan M. Arellano took over and finished the bridge’s final design. Jones died in 1918 while the bridge was still being planned, and the Filipinos named it after the principal author of the Jones Law that gave the country legislative autonomy from the United States. The Jones Act had also promised that the United States would “…withdraw their sovereignty …and recognize the independence of the Filipinos as soon as a stable government can be established.”
The newly designed bridge by Arellano was a magnificent example of beauty and architecture, rivaling any found in the US or Europe. The entrances to the bridge were bordered by pillars topped with a series of statues called La Madre Filipina. The Jones Bridge was completed and opened for traffic in 1921.
The new Jones Bridge linked Old Manila with the new business district of Binondo, which had developed slowly from the 17th century, and improved after the Spaniards opened the country to foreign trade in the mid1800s. The bridge replaced one which Spaniards built: A stone bridge called the Puente Grande that stood for over a century until an earthquake in 1863 brought it down.
New bridges were part of the master plan of Burnham that was being vigorously implemented by the architects and engineers of the Bureau of Public Works led by William E. Parsons. Arellano designed the bridge in the style of Parisian bridges of the Napoleonic and Haussman eras. The bridge had three arches resting on two heavy piers. The internal structure was of steel with the piers, cladding, and ornamentation in concrete and pre-cast faux stone.
It was the ornamentation of the bridge that set it apart from the previous one. Arellano embellished the piers with a statuary of boys on dolphins, similar to the embellishments on the Pont Alexandre III in Paris, which he visited on the way home from America. The lampposts, balustrades, finials, and moldings were similarly treated.
The original bridge was destroyed during the Battle of Manila in February 1945 by retreating Japanese troops and was reconstructed in 1946 by the US and Philippine public works. The reconstructed bridge retained the three arches and two piers but removed all the ornaments and plinths from the original structure.
Upon liberation a Bailey bridge served to temporarily cross the Pasig River. The Jones Bridge was eventually repaired, using large and deep steel girders, but none of the original embellishments on the piers or the balustrades was restored.
The City Government of Manila began a rehabilitation project to restore the Jones Bridge to its near-original design using Beaux-Arts architecture similar to that of Pont Alexandre III in Paris and the restoration of the four original sculptures.
After the war, succeeding city administrations conducted rehab and beautification drives, which resulted in the installation of street lights ranging from giant flowers to pulsating space ship-like fixtures. Then came Mayor Isko, whose first acts at City Hall all target preservation of Manila’s heritage.
After literally cleaning the parks and underpasses in the heart of the city, Moreno installed lights and repaired fountains, cleared sidewalks, and painted cemetery walls. To revive the old Escolta and Binondo business districts, the mayor offers five-year tax holidays and city-wide real estate tax reduction.
But it is the beautification of Jones Bridge that has caught the attention of media and the public. The City Government of Manila began a rehabilitation project to restore the Jones Bridge to its near-original design using BeauxArts architecture similar to that of Pont Alexandre III in Paris and the restoration of the four original sculptures, using ₱20 million donated by Chinese businessmen for the project.
During a midnight surprise inspection of the project last week, the mayor revealed other aspects of the Jones bridge master plan.
“A sprinkler system will automatically water the plants in the middle of the bridge, solar powered reflectors imbedded in the road will guide motorists at night, while rubberized paint on the sidewalk will protect pedestrians,” he narrated.
The new lampposts drew mixed reactions from netizens. Some said the Baroque style of the street lights don’t match the architectural design of the actual bridge. While commuters are amazed by the design, some netizens expressed concern over the city government’s capability to secure the lamp posts from vandals and thieves.
A conservationist asked: “Why no research? Restoration and re-decoration are two different things. This is not bringing it back to its former glory. This is bringing tackiness to what was once elegant and proportioned.”
The mayor replied in an interview: “We will revive Manila’s heritage, make the city more vibrant. That is Manila. We want to send that message to the next generation, how we were. We may not bring each heritage site to its 100 percent original look, pero at least ‘yung semblance man lang noon makita ng mga bata.”
The mayor need not worry about detractors, for many netizens have voluntarily come to his defense.
Said Ronaldo Samson Adoptante: “The heck with the bashers…. if they’re not happy with the lamp posts, [they can] just close their eyes or cross somewhere else.”
Freddie Angeles urges the mayor to “keep going to bring back the Pearl of the Orient.”
The Jones Bridge rehab is one giant step toward that goal.