Throughout its long, storied life since it first opened in 1918, The Luneta Hotel, designed by Spanish architect Salvador Farre, has charmed everyone with its beauty: the society’s purveyors and the foreign dignitaries, as well as officers and men of the merchant marine. The Luneta Hotel towered over humbl e bahay-na-bato and bodegas across a grassy field called Luneta.
Paseo de Luneta from “The Expedition to the Philippines” by journalist Francis D. Millet published in 1899. Millet was in the Philippines from June to September 1898 as a war correspondent.
This area, known today as Rizal Park, began as a barely habitable marshland. Prior to the park, the land was the locatio n of a new town called Nuevo Barrio or Bagumbayan in 1601. In 1820, the creat ion of a plaza called Paseo de Luneta was completed, just south of the walls of Intramuros, next to the beach. The promenade then bec ame a hub of the Spanish and mestizo leisure class, welcoming the cool breeze it drew from the sea.
Luneta draws its name from the lunette or the “crescent-shaped structure for defense used in fortifications in the 17th to 18th centuries,” a reminder of the military fortification of the Spanish citadel it is adjacent to. The space was given a formal name, Paseo de Alfonso XII, after King Alfonso of Spain who reigned from 1874 to 1885. The park became part of city’s daily agenda, and gracefully hosted the flirtations among the Manila elite.
1918 – The Luneta Hote l opens with 60 rooms in Ermita or the Hermitage, the residential quarter of Manila, at the corner of Calle San Luis now T.M. Kalaw Avenue and Alhambra Street. The building design was inspired from the French Renaissance architecture with Filipino stylized beaux-arts. Although the structure is attributed to Andres Luna San Pedro’s genius, research has uncovered that it was designed, built and owned by Salvador Farre, who also designed the Montalban Dam. It soon becomes the most sought-after address and lodging for city’s visitors, foreign dignitaries, the adventurers and merchants.
Motto Stella. The Rizal Monument designed by Richard Kissling built in 1908 and completed in 1913 with The Luneta Hotel in the background.
1919 – It first appeared in Rodenstok’s Manila City Directory, a list of Manila hotels in 1919. It can be safely deduced that the hotel started its operation during the early American Period. The proprietor was Mr. J. L. Burchfield and the General Manager was Mr. F.M. Lozano. The hotel was favored by merchant marine sailors visiting Manila because of its proximity to the Manila Harbor.
1920 – The hotel was featured in the 1920 Yearbook of the Philippine Islands published by the Camara de comercio de las Islas Filipinas. In its early years, the hotel became a testament of European imports that stormed Manila. The Luneta Hotel was known to serve rich breakfasts and luncheons, exotic among foreigners at that time.
1935 – From 1935 to 1939, Dwight Eisenhower was appointed chief military aide under General Douglas MacArthur. During this time, he served under assistant military advisor to the Philippines and made The Luneta Hotel his home for more than four years.
“This Luneta was for more than 4 years the scene of my habitual evening walks. To this day it lives in memory as one of the most pleasant, indeed even one of the most romantic spots, I have known in this entire world. Leaving the front entrance of The Luneta Hotel in the evening, I could walk to the right to view the busy docks where Philippine commerce with the world was loaded and unloaded. From the hotel, looking across the peaceful waters of Manila Bay, I could see the gorgeous sunsets over Miravales and looking down toward the city itself, I nearly always paused for a moment before the statue of the great José Rizal before returning to my quarters.”
In 20 January 1953, Dwight Eisenhower was proclaimed the 34th President of the United States of America. He returned to the Philippines in June 1960 in a three-day state visit. His visit marked the first ever visit of a US President to the country. He was hosted by then President Carlos Garcia. Eisenhower served the presidency until 1961.
1937 – The hotel gains international prominence when Manila hosted the 33rd Eucharistic Congress under the pontificate of Pope Pius XI. The first congress in Asia, over a million devoted Roman Catholics from around the world came to the city. The Luneta Hotel was declared the official residence for its delegates.
The Pontifical Mass at the conclusion of the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress on 7 February 1937 held at Luneta. This was also the same site where Pope John Paul II held as mass during his first papal visit to the country in 1981.
1945 – The liberation of 1945 took a toll on The Luneta Hotel. During the monthlong battle, the hotel housed non-commissioned officers of the United States Army, which assumingly, was a prison used by the Japanese Imperial Army. The building was spared by the ravages of World War II when it became a refuge of the Red Cross. The city’s capture was marked as General Douglas MacArthur’s key to victory in the campaign of reconquest.
The Luneta Hotel and the University Apartment after the Battle of Manila in 1945.
1952 – The sparkle of The Luneta Hotel was slowly vanishing. The hotel ownership changed several times. After World War II, Agustin and Rosalia (nee Farre) sold it to a certain Lednicky in 1953. In turn, it was sold to Toribio Teodoro, owner and proprietor of the renowned Ang Tibay Shoes. In the Associated Hotels of the Philippines Directory of 1972, the hotel appears under the name of Luneta Park Hotel with Cecilia Dayrit, Tribe Teodoro‟s daughter, as owner.
1965 – Whilst this year marked a time of political change with the dawn of the Marcos era, The Luneta Hotel also went through a controversial change. It was confiscated from its owners and was given to the Panlilio family. It was used briefly as a costume museum, believed to house many Filipino ternos of the former first lady.
The Panlilio clan has been long associated with the glitter of the Marcos years. The legendary icon, Fe S. Panlilo, was known to be the jeweler to the palace. She was one of the best dressed in high society Manila with a circle of jet-setting friends and clientele including Baron Arndt Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Cristina Ford and the Sultan of Brunei. During the reign of Ferdinand Marcos from 1965 to 1986, no cost was spared to present the country to the world. How the image of the Philippines was represented abroad was an obsession of the First Lady.
Former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos arrives in the Elysees Palace in Paris in her Filipino terno, 1976.
Another version of the story recounts the purchase of the hotel from H.E. Heacock Resources, successor to the H.E. Heacock Company. The Panlilio family has been involved in the hospitality business with the ownership of several five-star hotels and resorts in the country including the now-closed Grand Boulevard Hotel, formerly the Silahis International Hotel, Philippine Village Hotel and the Grand Air International.
1983 – In 1983, plans were made to bring back the former glory of The Luneta Hotel. The National Historical Institute included the hotel, in a “Multi-Proposal for the Preservation of Restoration of Historical Structures in the Philippines” which was presented to the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines for possible funding. However such proposal did not merit the UNESCO approval.
The funeral march of Senator Ninoy Aquino at the Luneta, 1983. Photo from the book “Parks for a Nation: The Rizal Park and 50 Years of the National Parks Development Committee.
1984 – The Holywood action film, Missing in Action, directed by Joseph Zito was released in 1984. Starring Chuck Norris, The Luneta Hotel’s façade was transformed into a Vietnamese Lun Ta Hotel. Despite the negative reviews due to its similarities with Rambo: The First Blood, the film was a box office hit labeled as one of the most successful ever made by Cannon.
1986 – After the famed People Power Revolution in 1986, the hotel was sequestered from the Panlilio family by the Philippine government through the Presidential Commission on Good Governance. It was rumored that the former First Lady owned the hotel, using only the Panlilio family as a front. Since then, The Luneta Hotel closed to the public and never to see its patrons again. The hotel was abandoned in 1987.
The Luneta Hotel, abandoned under the Philippine government in the late 1987.
1998 – In 1998, in celebration of the Philippine centennial, under virtue of the power vested under the National Historical Institute by Presidential Decree No. 260, dated August 1, 1973, The Luneta Hotel was declared as a National Historical Landmark.
The panoramic view of Rizal Park from the balconies of The Luneta Hotel in the early 1900s.
2007 – Almost a decade after being declared as a national landmark, Beaumont Holdings, owned by the Lacson family from Malabon, acquired the property. In 2008, the National Historical Commission approved the retrofitting and reconstruction of the hotel which was initially planned within three years.
2014 – After a faithful restoration that lasted for seven years, The Luneta Hotel was again reopened with a grand spectacle. On the occasion of the opening, a historical marker was inaugurated at the entrance of the hotel. From the original 60 rooms, the extensive renovation unveiled 27 guestrooms and suites.
2016 – The Luneta Hotel anticipates its 100th year celebration with the new management company, Athénée Hotels & Resorts.
Refreshed and renewed. The Luneta Hotel anticipates its 100th year and prepares the next chapter of its history. Photo featuring The Luneta Suite 404, 2016.
Today, The Luneta Hotel moves into the next chapter of its history. Soon, a legend will be reborn instilled with discreet luxury, charm and refinement. A palace with a culturally unique atmosphere, where inside, every room and piece of furniture will be redesigned to perfectly compliment the level of service – the essence of timeless Filipino elegance and art de vivre.