Binondo’s Grand Café 1919 rises from bank ruins, showcases Old Manila heritage

Grand Café 1919
Grand Café 1919 has risen on the site of HSBC on 117 Juan Luna Street corner Callejon San Gabriel (now Valentin Street). Credits to Grand Cafe 1919

Binondo’s heritage district received a shot in the arm as one of its heritage buildings breathed new life and has been reborn as the Grand Café 1919.

The old, abandoned, and derelict building of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) – the oldest foreign bank in the Philippines – transformed into a gem that has caught the eye and admiration of many people.

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The façade brings stunning appreciation and nostalgia for the neoclassical beauty and the splendor of the building that brings us back, way back to the grandeur of Old Manila.

A lot of heritage advocates were very apprehensive at first when they heard about construction going on at the building but they were all surprised by what the new owner has done. The new owner re-used and re-purposed the structure into a restaurant-café and named it the “Grand Café 1919”.

Grand Café 1919 kept the Neoclassical appearance of the old façade, the original commemorative plaque found in the Main Entrance of the building, the intricate iron grille windows, the 23 foot high ceiling, and Corinthian-style capital while presenting the restaurant with more modern interiors, lighting, and furniture with strategically located large black and white vintage photos of Manila.

Grand Café 1919 also maintained its spacious ambiance for the bar with the coffee and cake shop on the ground floor and the large dining area in the mezzanine. The restaurant upper floor has several different capacity private function rooms that are common in Chinese tea houses in the area.

Grand Café 1919 maintained its Old Manila ambiance as it brought in modern fixtures. Credits Grand Cafe 1919.

The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation building at 117 Juan Luna Street corner Callejon San Gabriel (now Valentin Street) is a five-story building that was designed by G.H. Hayward and built by contractor Oscar F. Campbell from 1921-1922.

The building is steeped with historical significance: the HSBC is one of the first foreign banks that helped in the economic and financial development of the country.

Historical records also show that even national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, in a letter to his brother in 1896, recommended HSBC for their remittance requirement.

HSBC was also where the Pact of Biak na Bato settlement money was deposited.

The building was also the site where the British Embassy was once located and more recently declared by Yorme Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso as one of his new “tambayan (hangout)”.

Heritage advocates and heritage lovers can certainly appreciate the success story of this heritage building. In fact, the story of how Grand Café 1919 rose from the ruins of a bank can become a blueprint for saving historic buildings while keeping it sustainable and financially secure.

Binondo and Manila have recently seen a resurgence of efforts to preserve its heritage structures, among them, the beautifully revitalized historic Jones Bridge, the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, and the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.

SEND congratulations in the comments below to Grand Cafe 1919 and the people of Manila for preserving the heritage structures of Old Manila!

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