Aurora Boulevard stretches for almost 9 kilometers, from the corner of Katipunan Avenue to the intersection of Gregorio Soriano Araneta Avenue and President Ramón del Fierro Magsaysay Sr. Boulevard, at the border of the cities of Manila and Quezon City (QC). The road was named after Doña Aurora Antonia Molina Aragón Quezón (1888-1949), first lady and wife of President Manuel Luis Molina Quezón (1878-1944), to whom the city was named after. Aurora Boulevards started as a small road that was first built in 1900, connecting the municipality of Marikina with the City of Manila. After World War II (1938-1945), the road was expanded and named Calle Quezón, which ran for 3.1 kilometers from Katipunan to Epifanio Cristóbal de los Santos Avenue (EDSA).
The 2 kilometer westbound route from EDSA to Governor-General Eugene Allen Gilmore Avenue was then called Highway 55, and later San Juan Road. In 1910, an eastbound connecting road passed through the Marikina Valley, through the Rizal Province, and finally reaching the town of Infanta, in the Quezon Province, and the route was renamed as the Marikina-Infanta Highway.
In 1955, the highway was connected to the old westbound Spanish street of Paseo de Marcelo de Azcárraga Ugarte y Palmero-Versosa de Lizárraga (now Senator Claro Mayo Recto Avenue) leading to Admiral George Perrin Dewy Boulevard (now President Manuel Acuña Boulevard) in Manila, the route from Katipunan to Paseo de Azcárraga was renamed to the Marikina-Ermita Avenue. Finally in 1963, the route as we know now was named Aurora Boulevard.
Doña Aurora is noted as the first presidential spouse, to be named as the “first lady.” During Quezón’s two terms as president, starting in 1935, Doña Aurora would stay in the background, working with the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, and the orphanages White Cross and Associación de Damas Filipinas, while shuttling back and forth to her farm in the Province of Pampanga. During World War II, the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941, and the Quezón family was one of the many Filipno and American families of soldiers and politicians holed up in the island fortress of Corregidor, under an intense two months of fighting. During that time, Doña Aurora would help in the administration of aid to the wounded soldiers. Finally, the Quezón family was whisked away to Australia and then New York, USA, where Manuel would eventually died of tuberculosis in 1944. While waiting for her family to return to the Philippines, Doña Aurora and her daughters would volunteers as nurses in the Red Cross, in California. Returning to the Philippines in 1945, Doña Aurora would decline a government pension or a senatorial seat, and would focus on her campaign to establish the Philippine Red Cross, where she would be its first chairperson.
In 1949, Dona Aurora would be assassinated by communist rebels, while on her way to inaugurate a hospital in their province of Tayabas (now Quezon Province). Killed with her were her daughter María Aurora, her son-in-law Felipe Buencamino, and Quezon City Mayor Ponciano A. Bernardo (1905-1949).
At the east terminus of Aurora Boulevard is the intersection of Katipunan Avenue, which was developed in the late 1940s, along with the exodus of the Ateneo de Manila University, the University of the Philippines, and Maryknoll College from Manila to Quezon City, after the World War II American bombing of Manila left the city almost flattened. One of the religious institutions to join the exodus is the Catholic Monasterio de Santa Clara, in 1950. Established in 1630, the new monastery of the Catholic Order of the Poor Clares was situated directly along Aurora Boulevard, but it had to move to the southeastern corner of Katipunan Avenue and Aurora when the Katipunan Flyover Bridge was constructed in the 1990s.
Other Catholic convents and monasteries along or near Aurora Boulevard are the Convent of Carmel of Thérèse of Lisieux (built in the 1950s), the St. Joseph Convent of Perpetual Adoration (built in 1965), and the Betania Retreat House in the New Manila district of Quezon City; and the Good Shepherd Provincialate, which is almost right across the Monasterio de Santa Clara. Run by the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd Provincialate was established in 1963. Within the compound is the Museum Idyll, which chronicles the history of the Good Shepherd Sisters in the Philippines and the Pacific Region.
Beside the Good Shepherd Provincialate is the Catholic all-girls St. Bridget School Quezon City, which was founded in 1966 by the Good Shepherd Sisters, and was named after Saint Bridget of Sweden (Birgitta Birgersdotter, 1303-1373), founder of the Augustinian Ordo Sanctissimi Salvatoris or Bridgettine Order. The St. Bridget School started as an extension of the St. Domitilla School (after Saint Flavia Domitilla, died around 96 AD) in Manila, to serve the growing populations of new residents in Projects 2, 3 and 4 of the government’s Homesite Program.
Aside from the St. Bridget School Quezon City, there are many schools located along Aurora Boulevard; such as the National College of Business and Arts (NCBA, established 1968) and St. Joseph Catholic School (established 1985) in Project 3, and in the Cubao district there is the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TUP, established in Manila in 1962, and opened in QC in 1983), the Stella Maris College (established 1955), and the Cubao Elementary School (1946). On the west side of EDSA, there is the Kalayaan College (established 2000), the Jubilee Christian Academy (established 1967), and the St. Paul University Quezon City (established in Manila 1931, transferred to QC in 1946). In the area of Aurora Boulevard that passes through the City of San Juan, there is the Tabernacle of Faith Christian Academy (established 1986) and the Salapan Elementary School (established 1971). And in the Santa Mesa district, there is the Immaculate Heart of Mary College (established 1949), Central Colleges of the Philippines (established 1954), the University of the East: Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center (UERM, established 1956-1957) and the Carlos Lukban Albert High School (established 1955).
Among the educational establishments mentioned, there are three with exception architectural structures: the Modern-Gothic convent and chapel of Saint Paul’s College, the Neo-Art Deco style of the University of the East, and the International Style of the Philippine School of Business Administration (PSBA, established 1963) in Project 4 by noted Arch. Otilio Ocampo Arellano (1916-1981), the nephew of Arch. Juan Arellano, and a graduate of the Mapua Institute of Technology. Inspired by Philippine traditional motifs, Arellano’s notable designs are the 1953 Philippine International Fair’s “Gateway to the East” the entry arch and other structures, and the Philippine Pavilion in the 1964 New York World’s Fair that was inspired by the salakot hat. Arellano served as the president of the Philippine Institute of Architects (PIA), the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP), and the United Technological Organizations of the Philippines; and he was named as a Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, in 1961. Arellano served as an officer in many civic organizations, such as the Lions Clun, Philippine Mental Health Association, and help found the Philippine Youth Welfare Coordinating Council and the Rizal Youth Development Foundation. Arellano was given the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award by the City of Manila, in 1970.
Another major education institution that is no longer in existence along Aurora Boulevard is the Roosevelt Memorial High School, which was opened in 1953 and closed in 2007. Located at the Quirino District, right across the Queens Supermart (now the Hi-Top Supermart), the Roosevelt Memorial High School was part of a then-seven school system of the Roosevelt College system through out Metro Manila and the province of Rizal. Starting as the Marikina Academy in 1933, the school system was renamed after the American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), in honor to his forging the Commonwealth program with President Quezon that would lead to the independence of the Philippines in 1946. The school would be renamed as the Roosevelt College Quirino, before its closing in 2007.
Between Aurora Boulevard’s intersections with Katipunan Avenue and Dr. José Protasio Rizal Street, there is a building that sparks curiosity for passersby, the Aurora Milestone. There is nothing exceptional with the architecture of the Aurora Milestone, rather it is the 15 foot tall (4.572 meters) statue of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus. Sculpted by a certain Bojie Pangan, the statute can be turned to face in any direction, which has caused many traffic accidents in the past. Presently, the owner of the Aurora Milestone has decided not to move the statue anymore, to avoid further complaints.
Just couple of hundred meters from the Aurora Milestone is The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints (established 1986) at the south lane of Aurora Boulevard, and the Alliance Fellowship Church (AFC) on the north lane. These are just two of the non-Catholic churches along Aurora Boulevard, with the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches in Project 3, and the Capitol City Foursquare Church in Project 4. In the Cubao district, there are The Lord’s Church, the St. John United Methodist Church, the Cubao Reformed Baptist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Jesus Our Hope International Assemblies, and the Pentecostal Missionary Church of Christ. At the San Juan City area of Aurora Boulevard, there are the Jubilee Evangelical Church, the Wesleyan Church, the Tabernacle of Faith International, and the Hope Philippines Church.
Near the corner of Aurora Boulevard and Anonas Street, the Archdiocesan Shrine of Saint Joseph is a beautiful example of modern architecture, and is a welcome respite from the noise of the streets and the dark shadow cast by the LRT-2 (Light Rail Transit) station. Inside the church are several murals by noted genre painter, Loreto T. Racuya (born 1940).
Just a few meters away from the St. Joseph’s Parish is the A&S Lamps Company, with a large 8 story building that showcases thousands of different lighting fixtures. The oddly shaped building was once the home of the Ortañez Hospital and Ortañez University, which was established in the 1950s.
Moving further westward is the Cubao district, which was built by the industrialist José Amado Araneta (1907-1985), when he purchased 35 hectares of land between Aurora Boulevard and EDSA. The crowning jewel of the Cubao area was the completion of the Araneta Coliseum sports and entertainment arena in 1960. Now in the Cubao district you can find the country’s first “official” mall, the Ali Mall; which was named after Muhammad Ali (Cassius Marcellus Clay, 1942-2016), as part of celebrating the “Thrilla in Manila,” where Ali fought Joseph “Joe” William Frazier (1944-2011) for the unified WBC/WBA/The Ring/Lineal heavy weight title, at the Araneta Coliseum, in 1975.
One of the significant educational institutions in Cubao is the all-girls Stella Maris College, which was established in 1955. Run by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, they named the school after an ancient incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the “Star of the Sea” or “Stella Maris.”
Moving westward and crossing EDSA one reaches the New Manila district, which was developed in the 1930s by Doña Magdalena Hashim Ysmael-Hemady, a wealthy woman of Lebanese descent. During that time, the area was still part of the Municipality of San Juan, and this verdant hilly place provided a breezy new home for Manila’s wealthy, who were avoiding the congestion and pollution of Manila. Among these new occupants in the New Manila subdivision was President Quezón.
Aside from Manila’s elite moving to New Manila, a film studios starting settling into the area, with the LVN (De Leon, Villonco & Navoa) Studios opening in 1936, and the Sampaguita Studios setting shop in 1937. Now both studios have closed down, with the LVN razed to the ground, and the Sampaguita studio’ founders’ Vera-Perez ancestral home converted into an events place, usually for weddings. The whole area was developed by Arch. Edgar Allan Pasion, and converted to the Sampaguita Gardens. Inside the ancestral home are the remaining portraits of the Vera-Perez family, by National Artist Fernando Cueto Amorsolo (1892-1972).
Before Doña Hemady developed the area to be known as New Manila, the lands were then owned by different religious orders. And many of these Catholic orders erected their monasteries, convents and provincial houses in the area, such as the Carmel of Thérèse of Lisieux in 1926, the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres’s Novitiate and Provincial House in 1931, and the St. Joseph’s Academy in 1932. The Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres’s Novitiate and Provincial House would eventually become the Saint Paul University Quezon City, when the school opened in 1946. Inside the Saint Paul University are sculptures by Jose “Joe” Barcena Jr., Julie Lluch (born 1946), and Ben-Hur Gorospe Villanueva (1938-2020), as well as paintings by the visionary artist and biologist Dr. Abercio Valdez Rotor.
After the war, more people and religious institutions started settling in New Manila; such as the Religious of the Virgin Mary Motherhouse & Generalate in 1950, the St. Joseph Convent of Perpetual Adoration in 1965, the Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae Maryhill School of Theology in 1979, the Montfort Missionaries in 1984, and St. Columban’s House of Studies. However the most significant Catholic structure in the New Manila is the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish and Shrine, which was completed between 1954 and 1964. Designed by Arch. Máximo Vicente, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish is a beautiful example of modern architecture, and it is also the new home of the 1937 Ina ng Mundo sculpture by Graciano T. Nepomuceno (1881-1974) and Anastacio Tanchauco Caedo (1907-1990).
However, it is not just Catholic and other Christian groups that have found a home in New Manila. One of the latest structures is the Buddhist Wisdom Park, which was constructed in 2012. The temple has a replica of the Tibetan Stupa of Dege, as well as a Bodhi tree that was taken from the branches of the actual Bodhi tree in which Siddhārtha Gautama (563-400 BC), the Buddha, had gained enlightenment.
Aside from residential, educational, and religious landmarks, there are also many major business establishments along Aurora Boulevard. Among these are SM City Sta. Mesa (SM Centerpoint, built 1990) and the many computer sales and repair shops along Gilmore Avenue. But the most historical commercial structure is the former Magnolia Ice Cream Plant and Ice Cream Parlor built in 1970, which was later converted into the Robinsons Magnolia Mall in 2012. The original Magnolia Ice Cream Plant was designed by the National Artist for Architecture, Arch. Leandro Valencia Locsin (1928-1994).
Arch. Leandro Valencia Locsin (1928-1994) is a man of many talents and interests, as evident in his entry to pre-law, then transferring to music and then architecture at the University of Santo Tomas. Early in his career, Locsin was creating theater sets for ballet and musical performances. Throughout his career, Locsin has designed 71 residences, 81 buildings, and 1 state palace; among these are 9 churches and chapels, and 17 government buildings. Best known for his massive, yet very breezy architectural style, Locsin’s most famous works are the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Folk Arts Theatre, the Philippine International Convention Center, 1976; and the Philippine Plaza Hotel, the National Arts Center at Makiling, Los Baños, Laguna, the terminal of the Manila International Airport, and the Istana Nurul Iman (Palace of Religious Light), the palace of the Sultan of Brunei, which has a total floor area of 200,000 square meters. Locsin has garnered much recognition throughout his career, including the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Award for Architecture in 1959, the American Institute of Architects Hawaii Chapter’s Pan-Pacific Citation for consistent excellence in design in 1961, the Rizal Centennial Award for Architecture in 1962, the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1970, the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award in 1972, and the Gold Medal Award from the Philippine Institute of Architects in 1978, an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980, the United Architects of the Philippines’ Likha Award and Gold Medal, and National Artist in Architecture in 1990.
Starting at the Loyola Heights district in the east and ending in the Santa Mesa district in the west, there are some many more things to be discovered along Aurora Boulevard. And the best way to see all of these is by taking the 13 kilometer LRT-2 (Light Rail Transit, Line 2) ride from the Katipunan station to the Recto, which is the subject of the next article.