U-Belt student apartment is the reincarnation of Old Manila spirit

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Post-war Laperal Apartments has been resurrected as the Youniversity Suites for students in the University Belt of Manila. Photo from the FB page

A student apartment complex in the heart of Manila’s University Belt has reappeared as a reincarnated post-war building and is now bridging the gap between today’s young Filipinos and the glorious days of Old Manila.

Youniversity Suites in CM Recto is actually built from the remains of Laperal Apartments, an art-deco style structure built in 1946 erected over the once-posh area along Calle Azcarraga.

The four-storey Laperal Apartments building is described in a Real Living report as having been designed in the then-popular Art Deco variant of Streamline Moderne, wherein horizontal bands across its façade indicated movement, with elegant Deco-style letters as signage.

Oral history from a previous tenant notes that Laperal Apartments was built to attract “alta sociedad” elite members of Manila society with a spacious unit fitted with heavy, solid narra doors, subway tiles, and clawfoot tubs.

Laperal Apartments, a testament to the rebirth of Manila from the ruins of World War II, was built by the Laperal kin who also built Malacañang’s Arlegui guesthouse and one of Baguio’s tourist draws – the haunted Laperal House.

The reincarnation is doing its share of spreading the spirit of historical and cultural preservation even as the nation continues to be stirred by grand gestures of restoring the glory of Old Manila’s architectural wonders such as the Metropolitan Theater and the Intramuros area.

Youniversity Suites retains the original signage of Laperal Apartments and the original design of its façade that gives off the vibe of the Old Manila.

But once you step into the apartment complex you are transported into a world built by Stephen Cheng, the “Tony Stark of CM Recto” – complete with a war time German plane suspended in the center making for an interesting conversation piece.

Rebranded the Youniversity Suites, it is now the gateway to the 18 colleges, universities, and review institutions in the area, and houses retail brands.

The student apartment complex is located above a four-story food and events center.

The Youniversity Suites currently has 85 apartments, with an additional 14-story building in the works. Once completed, the second building is estimated to have 211 apartments, a pool, gym, and a commercial annex.

Instead of calling back high society dwellers, the new owners looked at the surrounding university community and has offered the shared apartments to students who can bring in their friends and have anything a student needs – housing, food, recreation, study area – all within an arm’s reach.

The transformation to Youniversity Suites from the old Laperal Apartments started in 2012 when Cheng and his wife bought the building.

The dilapidated building had been left abandoned, looted of all architectural pieces that can be carried off. The apartment residents had long gone and only a handful of informal small stores at the ground floor were still around.

“When we acquired it, it was in terrible shape. It was built in 1946. When we got it, we weren’t sure what we were going to do with it. So we planned to make it into a dormitory because we saw how other dormitories in the area looked like,” explained Cheng in an ABSCBN report.

The Chengs had to clear the building, make assessments of the soundness of the structure, and built a new building based on measurements and tests the team took themselves because there were no available blueprints and design references for the old apartment complex.

“Basically we kept the whole building, except we built a new roof because it was looted. Outside, we restored everything. The letters are made of concrete, so those are all original. We repainted everything. And at night, we light up the whole building. It’s very nice, it’s like a beacon.”

With the Youniversity Suites as the reincarnated Laperal Apartments, the owners hope the community around Recto and Quiapo will also be revived to keep up with the contemporary requirements of the mega city but still preserving the spirit of Old Manila.

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