Tuesday, July 24, 2007


About a couple of months ago, I was tasked to photograph this historic landmark for a calendar project. Not knowing its exact address, I decided to ask those in the street if they knew where Nielson Tower or the Filipinas Heritage Library is located. Sadly, no one has even heard of it; neither do the police officers lounging in their squad car parked by the Shangri-La Hotel. Finally, it was a lone security guard in his mid-fifties who was able to provide me with an accurate direction.

The Manila International Air Terminal was among the first airports in Asia. It is now the Filipinas Heritage Library, a one-stop research center on Filipino national-heritage information. The Manila Peninsula Hotel is right across the street, while the towering Shangri-La Hotel is at the corner.

Sometime during the 1930s, a construction team of about a thousand men built two principal runways which are now Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas in Makati. And right in between these two runways stood the Nielson Tower; an airplane-shaped Art Deco building which captured the romance of air travel of that era. The Filipinas Heritage Library has retained the original 1930s layout of the ground floor passenger terminal, as well as the control tower, which is now a function room.

Unesco recognized the library’s restoration efforts in 2001 by including Nielson Tower among the prestigious annual Unesco Asia-Pacific Cultural Heritage Awardees for outstanding conservation and architectural re-use.

The Unesco citation for Nielson Tower reads:

“The impressive conversion of one of Asia’s earliest airports into a heritage library represents a major achievement in preserving an important era of Manila’s history.

“Historical events and architecture are exemplified in the legacy of the structure and in the excellent choice to continue its livelihood as an educational facility.

“In a time of rapid urban development and expansion, the Nielson Tower is an excellent model for others to follow on how to appropriately readapt historic structures in the community.”

Makati Avenue
Ayala Triangle, Makati City 1224
Telephone: 892-1801 / Fax: 892-1810


posted by Señor Enrique at 6:05 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always pass by this structure when I'm in Ayala, even managed to attend a travel Photography Workshop from George Tapan here before and never knew this one was a heritage structure until Tutubi pointed this out to me. How interesting that the Ayala Avenue was an airplane runway before. Not too many people knew that.

July 24, 2007 12:56 PM  

Blogger pusa said...

so it is true then, that the tower i see from my office building is an old airport facility!!! i was like, come'on when somebody told me that that area used to be an airport. :)

July 24, 2007 1:08 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aside from the very princely tower, the whole place looks so clean and so green that suddenly I felt ushered into a warpzone, into a nice-looking rurakl scene somewhere from abroad, like Venice perhaps.

July 24, 2007 3:10 PM  

Blogger reyd said...

I'm not sure, but long time ago, even Kalookan used to have an airport(runway?) somewhere near 4th or 6th Ave. as told either by my uncle or my father. Hindi ko na matandaan kung sino nagsabi talaga. Pag tumatanda na ang tao, malilimutin na. :)

July 24, 2007 3:35 PM  

Blogger ladybug said...

Wow! This piece of information is new to me. Thanks for this and the nice pics. The picture of the driveway is beautiful.

July 24, 2007 5:01 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Ferdz!

Quite a number of online mention/posts about the Nielson Tower, but what really puzzles me is the general sense of antipathy or obliviousness by our local folks for our historical landmarks.

The people I stopped for directions were mostly yuppy-looking members of Makati's workforce wearing shirts with their respective multinational company's logo. So I assumed they were savvier than the usual lot in such matters.

Imagine my great surprise when they all responded with a negative.

I wonder what can be done to drum up more awareness?

July 24, 2007 9:07 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Yes, it is true, Pusa. That was actually a fully operational terminal for international air travel :0

Awesome, isn't it?

July 24, 2007 9:08 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

This demonstrates the positive effect of conservation efforts, Major Tom.

I applaud the Ayala Foundation for a job well done :)

Now, if only they could spread the word about this landmark ... hehehe.

July 24, 2007 9:10 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

You know what were are sorely lacking, Reyd? Documentations of all such facilities for future references. This is how photography can play a major role in preserving such history.

Boy, would I like to see a photograph of this runway in Kalookan :)

July 24, 2007 9:12 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is indeed a wonderful landmark. glad they're preserving this building.

July 25, 2007 1:33 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Isn't it wonderful, Ladybug to discover such a fascinating piece of our local history? And for them to have preserved the structure, too -- for us and for the new generation to appreciate.

July 25, 2007 6:21 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

You must visit and take pics of this place, Nell, the next time you come back to Manila for a visit :)

July 25, 2007 6:22 AM  

Blogger Photo Cache said...

is there an active preservation campaign? thanks for this post.

July 25, 2007 7:48 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

For this particular structure, Photo Cache? Yes, I believe so :)

July 25, 2007 9:23 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful landmark! I love the photo of the driveway, it's nice.


July 25, 2007 12:28 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, Kyels :)

It is indeed a wonderful landmark and also as a library!

July 25, 2007 12:46 PM  

Blogger -= dave =- said...

Knew about the history of Ayala Ave. as a runway from my brother the pilot. Of course only a few of the young generation know about this. It isn't being taught in schools nor mentioned by the public or in media.

July 25, 2007 11:34 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, I never thought a part of the airport still stood after the war. I wasn't also aware that that place used to be a part of the Nielson. I usually pass by this place when I meet my girlfriend who works at the museum nearby. I'm really grateful for this info. :)

July 26, 2007 2:42 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hopefully, we can somehow change (via grassroots level) our local mindset to better appreciate and talk more about our heritage and historical landmarks (as they do in New York). It will undoubtedly promote our sense of national pride.

As they say, Dave, without the citizenry's ongoing active participation, heritage preservation will eventually slip down into oblivion, while pop culture continues to dominate our collective consciousness.

July 26, 2007 6:58 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Last I was in the area, Ced, I noticed how the Ayala Museum connects to Greenbelt Mall; hence, making it more accessible to the public. I only wish that through creative signage, the museum can make it more inviting for the public to come in and enjoy its exhibitions.

July 26, 2007 7:03 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with you on that, señor. from landmark, stores there like powerbooks will immediately grab your attention but you won't have the idea that a museum lurks somewhere there unless you are familiar with the area or if you happen to pass by its main entrance.

July 27, 2007 2:01 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh and by the way, they currently have an exhibition of works by luna and other great pinoy painters there. it runs until next year i think. they also have some japanese pottery there. i might drop by there either this weekend or next week.

July 27, 2007 2:04 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I should go visit this museum also, Ced -- I enjoy immersing in such every now and then.

I rarely go to Greenbelt, and you can imagine my surprise and delight to see this entrance to the museum on my way to Powerbooks. Nonetheless, they should create a more inviting entrance, considering that Pinoys are often intimidated or lack the interest to visit our local museums.

July 27, 2007 6:50 AM  

Blogger raqgold said...

am amazed that nielson tower or the heritage library is not known; in the late 90s, it used to be popular maybe the image then was too glamorized for the common people. thanks for the bit of history too.

July 30, 2007 1:48 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

And perhaps, through blogging, Raqgold, we may continue promoting our heritage and historical landmarks. The more we make mention of such things, the more others will be made aware of them :)

July 30, 2007 6:25 AM  

Blogger Watergirl said...

I used to attend the bookswaps at Nielsen Library, and was a part of a bookclub that met there once a month. The library is an unknown gem in the city. Most of the passerby's probably don't realize how much history is stored in there. Perhaps you could have asked the hotels nearby, or gone to the Nielsen restaurant in the Pen to ask where the old Nielsen tower was :D
Maybe it's time someone do a walking tour of Makati (hint hint nudge nudge, you or Carlos!).

July 30, 2007 9:29 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

What was so astonishing were the people I've approached to ask -- they seemed oblivious or far too removed from their environment. And they all looked rather intelligent; most wearing polo shirts embroidered with their respective multi national company's logo.

Unarguably, the police should be even more cognizant of the "landmarks" in their beat.

Nonetheless, such indifference to our local heritage and historical landmarks is just all so puzzling for me, M. Tan :)

Yes, let's bring on Carlos and Ivan to the challenge!

July 30, 2007 10:01 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it Nielson or Nielsen? This was also a cozy restaurant at the same time a museum.

September 02, 2007 2:38 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

It's Nielson, and it was a restaurant before it was completely renovated to become a library :)

September 02, 2007 7:46 PM  

Anonymous hotel in bandung said...

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February 15, 2011 2:30 PM  

Anonymous Jeni said...

Hat's off to the people behind the preservation of this historical place. Imagine Filipinas Heritage Library is an air terminal before. How I wish we had a glimpse of the exact look this air terminal has. There are really more facts about our history that were not mentioned in books. Thanks to internet for I came to reach this blog :) Photos give us the visual of what is in this blog is talking about, but just a tip, Pictures are more valuable if it's printed or protyped and kept in treasure boxes. :)

July 12, 2012 2:41 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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