FAST BACKWARD: Claveria, an old banking capital

Long before Magsaysay Avenue (erstwhile known as Uyanguren Street) snared the credit as the city’s banking capital, Claveria (now C.M. Recto) Street, named after a Spanish governor general, was host to the most number of banks operating in the metro.

At one time, this iconic thoroughfare, opened by pioneering migrants over a century ago, had over a dozen banks on its roster, exclusive of the numerous nightspots, food stops, hotels, cinemas, and a lone mall, the Me Hang Supermart, which used to proudly occupy the site where the Avon establishment now permanently operates.

Claveria, if memory serves me right, used to host, at least in the 1990’s, among them the Laurel-owned Philippine Banking Corp. (PBC) housed at Caritas building adjacent to San Pedro Cathedral; the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI, two branches); Philippine National Bank (which will be century-old in 2018 since it opened in the city); state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP); and the now BPI-owned Prudential Bank (where Oroderm Hotel now stands).

There was also Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), China Banking Corp. (CBC), the Catholic Church-run Monte de Piedad Savings Bank (which has been sold to Banco de Oro), Equitable Banking Corp. (now BDO, beside Imperial Hotel), and Allied Banking Corp. (ABC, now absorbed by PNB), Banco Filipino (below Imperial Hotel), and Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB).

Today, new banking institutions have surfaced in the old capital, among them United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), the BDO-Claveria, East West Bank, PVB (new location), BPI Express (across old Lawaan Theatre and at Ateneo de Davao University building), and Manila Bank (where the developers of 37-story condominium Vivaldi Residences hold office).

For decades, Claveria was also home to a handful of cinemas that were known not just for their popular Tagalog films but was equally notorious for their bawdy films.

Life Theatre, in the eighties, was the counterpart of Ace (Ilustre) and Rey (Agdao) movie houses in terms of showing inserts of turo-turo or bomba films. It used to occupy that open space (with makeshift eateries) just across where the Avon store presently operates. The other old timers on the street included, Eagle, Odeon, Ideal, Center, Lawaan, and Davao.

Lost to time and memory are some of the popular, if less important, landmarks that veetran habitués will long remember, like the Agudo’s Studio, the city’s iconic photo house that only years ago was torn down to give way to the construction of Avida Tower 2.

El Madrid, a beer lounge that rented the space now occupied by PVB, was a favorite hangout of nocturnal owls. Its main attraction were the a-go-go dancers in birthday suits gyrating to the tune of Roberta Flack’s Torn in Between Two Lovers and Freddie Aguilar’s Magdalena.

And who would forget the Tip-Top Restaurant, which was actually a sleazy beer garden that offered anything that could be done conspicuously under darker lights? Raided so many times by cops for its alleged illegal offerings, it survived until recently before the rickety space it occupied was demolished to give way to the construction of a two-story commercial edifice.

What added skulduggery to the street’s reputation was its being the favored destination of customers seeking one-night stands. At a time when pornography was shown in third-rate movie houses, Claveria was also the city’s tenderloin district. There were also motel-like establishments that offered ‘short-times’ who wanted fleeting pleasures.

In later years, the discredited title of being the center of ‘flesh market’ would eventually be assumed by Legazpi-San Pedro junction and, later, by Bangko Sentral at Tiongko Street, where pleasure-seekers hunt for their ‘banking partners.’

Before Oroderm Hotel and Prudential Bank, there was Imarsa’s, a two-level establishment with a mezzanine on the site. At its second floor was a drinking pub with dimmed lights and offering ‘friendly’ waitresses that lured boozers and guzzlers.

For old-timers, Minda Trading, which dealt in textile and related articles, was a popular tailoring shop owned by the Victorio family, which also owned Terraza Milesa at the corner Anda and Rizal Streets (where a Security Bank branch operates). The trading firm used to occupy the corner where the Mormons sect has constructed a basketball court.

Me Hang Supermart, owned by Chinese family who had since moved abroad, was the trendy grocer’s destination. In today’s parlance, though far inferior by comparison, it is the equivalent of specialty store like Rustan’s but without the haberdashery and other lines of clothing.

But there were also other street occupants that have been nearly lost to memory, such as the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the United States Information Service (USIS) which rented sections of the building where Uno Hotel now stands. The present-day 7-Eleven Store adjacent to Marco Polo Hotel was the home of Delongtes, a barbecue stand cum drinking pub with live combo that was magnet for all sorts of troubles.

And who would forget Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) at the end of the iconic street? Before the University Mall was built, the telecom company’s neighbors included a hardware store, a courier system, and an auto parts company, to name a few.