Many stalls and stores in Divisoria sprout fake pine trees and sparkle with boxes and boxes of glittery trimmings and Christmas decors, and the volume of shoppers expectedly swells this Christmas season. This area in the district of Tondo in Manila is a well-known shopping and commercial Mecca with numerous stores, shopping centers, makeshift stalls and bazaars spilling into each other it looks like one sprawl of a market. It is where one can almost everything, and haggling is the most popular mode of transaction.
Divisoria’s being a commercial center most likely started in the 16th or 17th century, during the Spanish colonial years, when Chinese merchants, shut out from the walled area of Intramuros, started doing business here and in adjacent Binondo. It grew to be an important trading center that the Main Station of the Manila Railroad Company was built here in 1887 and started operation in 1892. Trains went from Divisoria to Dagupan in Pangasinan, and vice versa. The train service is defunct now and the station was transformed into a shopping center, but Divisoria continues to be a bustling commercial area although afflicted with urban decay and squalor. Four hulking malls now rise among the entanglements of stalls and stores. One of them is the Tutuban Center, along Claro M. Recto Avenue, which now operates the mall which was once the Main Station.
Twenty hectares of land owned by the Philippine National Railways is leased to Prime Orion Group, which developed the Tutuban Center in 1988, utilizing 8.5 hectares for the buildings. Tutuban Center has become a popular destination over the years with about fifty thousand people visiting it on weekdays and sixty thousand on weekends.
“Tutuban is a twenty-hectare property located right beside the heart of Manila’s trading district—Divisoria. The property is accessible to popular districts and landmarks such as Divisoria market, Ongpin, Binondo, Escolta, North and South Harbors, Quiapo, Intramuros and the University belt,” described Rowena Tomeldan, Tutuban Properties, Inc. president and vice president and head of Ayala Malls Group, Ayala Land, Inc.
Early this year, Ayala Land has become part owner of the shopping complex. It is part of the Ayala Group of Companies, which has interests in real estate, telecommunications and tourism, among others, but is known for its chain of malls. With the entry of Ayala, Tutuban Center undergoes renovations and marks a milestone, ushering in a kind of renewal for Divisoria itself.
The renovation work, said Norie Ranial, head of operations of Tutuban Center, “highlighted the heritage component of the Main Station and enhanced the Prime Block building.”
According to Tomeldan, the renovation works and building improvements are in partnership with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
“The original Tutuban Station façade and columns built in 1892 have been restored. Some of the work done were repainting based on the heritage color palette, improving lighting to highlight its façade details, and preserving its brick walls and century-old wrought iron pillars that lead all the way to the food court,” she said.
“We have worked to preserve and restore the heritage elements of the original railway station. It is a good example of colonial architecture in the Philippines as the only train station with a Spanish colonial style of domestic architecture, inspired by the two-storey brick ancestral house,” Ranial explained. “Along the interiors of the Main Station are more than century-old wrought iron columns with ornate pillar caps.”
“Across Tutuban Center is a monument to the Father of the Philippine Revolution, Andres Bonifacio. This was made in commemoration of the town where he was born,” she further said. “We also have twelve large canvas art works, which depict highlights of this brave hero’s life in the East Loop of the mall. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines was involved in ensuring the authenticity of these scenes from Bonifacio’s life. We hope that even in a small way, more visitors and shoppers can gain an appreciation of the history behind this great shopping destination.”
The Main Station features regular retail stores, service stores and food outlets, as well as Robinsons Department Store and Supermarket. At the second level is the new food court.
“The popular Kikiam in Ilaya is now being offered in a food cart set-up in the food court,” said Ranial. “We will soon have other popular Divisoria and Binondo food and restaurant brands in our food court.”
These eateries and brands include El Presidente Tea House, King’s Bakeshop and Eng Ho.
Next to the Main Station is the Prime Block which has stores offering wholesale products such as fabrics and textiles, curtains, fashion, accessories, ribbons, mannequins and wigs, supplies for salons and spas, tailor supplies, school supplies, toys, artificial flowers and gardening needs among others. Prime Block retains the well-known Divisoria bargain shopping style.
The building improvements include upgraded exteriors and renovated interiors, repainting, improved signage, installing about 5,600 LED lights, air-conditioning and the restrooms. For services, enhancements include customer service booths, security and housekeeping services.
“Visitors will also notice better pedestrian and vehicular circulation throughout the development. We have a new ticket booth and additional 150 parking slots in the Recto parking area,” Ranial added.
“Tutuban Center has introduced the new Prime Block Clusters on Level 3 of the Prime Block building. Shoppers will find improved merchandise zoning in this area. For Phase 1, we have 175 stalls with an approximate size of eleven square meters per stall,” said Ranial.
Many of Tutuban Center’s 600 tenants are long-time Divisoria merchants. One is Malou Salvador, who owns of Anding’s Toys and Flowers, which her mother started as a stall at the market in Divisoria. The store is more than forty years old.
“The Prime Block Clusters is anchored by Anding’s Toys and Flowers, Inc., which occupies 317 square meters or about 18 stalls,” Ranial revealed. “Anding’s showcases a wide array of products that go beyond toys and flowers. They have party favors, costume accessories, party decor, garden decor, picket fences and hedges and so much more, even Halloween items and Christmas decors. They have been in business for more than twenty years, and majority of the big malls and other establishments get their supplies from Anding’s.”
Additionally, Tutuban Center hosts a night market, which comprises about 400 stalls, in its open spaces.
Mall officials said they will retain the mode that Divisoria is known for but will bring in qualities Ayala malls are known for such as efficiency in service, security, comfort, value for open spaces and polished architectural aesthetics.
“Tutuban Center has built relationships over generations of shoppers and merchants. We know our market and we are committed to providing the best experience for them and our merchant partners,” Ranial said.
“Our vision is to develop Tutuban Center into an organized and efficient wholesale and retail district at the heart of Manila,” said Tomeldan, who also mentioned that redeveloping Tutuban Center is both challenging and exciting.
She also said that they are not planning on bringing in popular local and international brands that are ubiquitous in malls.
“We want to create jobs especially for small and medium enterprises and micro-entrepreneurs. We want to develop and take a chance on young entrepreneurs,” Tomeldan said. “We want people to come here feeling safe and secure, knowing it’s a comfortable place.”
|Prime Block Clusters|
|Prime Block Clusters|
|Aking's Toys and Flowers at the Prime Block Clusters|
|Profusion of Christmas decors at the Aking's Toys and Flowers at the Prime Block Clusters|
|The Prime Block Clusters|
|The Main Station|
|Main Station's historical marker|
|Inside the Main Station|
|Metal pillars with ornamentation preserved from the old structure|
|The information desk|
|The food court|
Prime Orion Properties Inc. director Victor Say, Ayala Land board director Tony Aquino, Prime Orion Properties Inc. director Felipe Yap, Tutuban Properties, Inc. president Rowena Tomeldan and Prime Orion Properties Inc. president Junie Jalandoni