Growing Up in Cubao, Quezon City: History and Art

01 1945 camp murphy & zablan field
1945 Camp Murphy & Zablan Air Field

In the early 1970s, my parents relocated our family to Cubao, the commercial district of Quezon City. Our new home was along 8th Avenue in Barangay Murphy, which was once part of the 1935 American era (1898-1946) military base, Camp Murphy. Home first the Philippine Constabulary (PC) and Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC), the base was named after the American Supreme Court Justice and Philippine Governor-General William Francis Murphy (1890-1949). Now the area has been divided into the Philippine Armed Forces’ (AFP) Camp Aguinaldo (after  the revolutionary general and President Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy, 1869-1964) and the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Camp Cramé (after the first Filipino PC commander, Brigadier General Rafael Crame y Pérez de Tagle, 1863-1927). Part of Camp Murphy is the Zablan Field the Filipino pilot, Major Porfirio E. Zablan, and this area is now the residential areas of White Plains and southern Katipunan Avenue.

1935 Camp Murphy (American Commissioner Frank Murphy) 1965 Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo
1935 Camp Murphy (named after American Commissioner Frank Murphy) / 1965 Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo
02 1935 camp murphy - camp rafael c. cramé (1st filipino chief of the philippine constabulary, brigadier general)
1935 Camp Murphy / Camp Rafael C. Cramé (named after the 1st Filipino Chief of the Philippine Constabulary, Brigadier General Rafael C. Cramé)

During the Spanish Occupation (1565-1898), the area of Cubao was once friar lands that were part of the District of Morong (now Rizal Province). The location was believed to have been named “Cubao” after folk tales of spotting hunchbacked (kuba) witches in the area. When the American government purchased these friar lands, parts of these were used to develop Camp Murphy, which the rest was still either farm lands or idle forests. After Quezon City was established in 1939, the district of Cubao was annexed to the new city by the late 1940s.

In the 1930s, many of the friar lands were already being converted into residential and business areas. Many of the Manila’s elite started building their homes in the verdant and hilly Hacienda Hemady (now called New Manila), to get away from the heat, congestion and pollution of Manila. Along with this exodus, was the growth of Philippine cinema, and the new production studios started transferring to these areas, which were still part of the Municipality of San Juan. In the nearby Hacienda Hamady, the Sampaguita Pictures Studio set up shop, while along Central Boulevard (now Justice Pedro Tiangco Tuazon Boulevard) in Cubao the LVN Pictures Studio opened in 1936. The studio was named using the initials of the founding families of De Leon, Villonco and Navoa, and continued to operate up to 2005. Now what is left of this historic film studio is a commemorative fountain, dedicated to the LVN studio’s co-founder and chairperson, Doña Narcisa Buencamino De León (1877-1966), and the fountain has been transferred to the Quezon Memorial Circle’s Quezon City Experience museum, in 2017.

00 1929 Mira Nila, Benitez Heritage House
1929 Mira Nila, Benitez Heritage House

Taking on the call to move in the soon to be established Quezon City were the educator, lawyer, journalist, civil servant, historian, athlete, and politician Conrado Francia Benitez (1889-1971) and his friend, Justice Secretary José Abad Basco Santos (1886-1942), purchased 3 hectares each to build homes for their families in 1929, in the area that was once part of the Hacieda Mandaloyon of the Ortigas family, Municipality of San Juan del Monte. The Benitez homes is located between the  Justice Pedro Tiangco Tuazon Boulevard (P. Tuazon Boulevard for short, formerly Central Boulevard) and the North–South Circumferential Road (now Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA for short) and is the only home to survive the devastation of World War II. Now called the “Mira Nila“, and the old home is now declared a National Heritage House that holds walking tours and events.

Also along P. Tuazon Boulevard is the Ponciano Bernardo Elementary School, which was established in the late 1950s. The school is named after the second mayor of Quezon City, Ponciano A. Bernardo (1905-1949), who was assassinated in 1949, along with the former First Lady, Doña Aurora Antonia Molina Aragón Quezón (1888-1949). And in 1992, the surviving children of Mayor Bernardo unveiled a statute dedicated to their father in the plaza of the school. The monument was sculpted by the National Artist, Napoleón Abueva.

04c 1988-92 napoleon abueva - ponciano a. bernardo
1988-92 Napoleon Abueva – Ponciano A. Bernardo

Napoleón Isabelo Billy Veloso Abueva (1930-2018) studied at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, under National Artist, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890-1976), who was then the director of the school. Although trained in the classical style of sculpting, Abueva broke from its mold and began experimenting on modernist styles and techniques. Soon he became known as and Godfather of Philippine Modern Sculpture. Aside from the many historical monuments that are found all over the Philippines, Abueva has also been commissioned to create sculptures around the world. In his youth, he was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award; which would herald more awards and distinctions in his life. He was proclaimed National Artist for Sculpture in 1976, making him the youngest recipient of this distinction. And just like his mentor, Abueva also served as dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.

Other schools in the Cubao district are the Cubao Elementary School (est. 1946), the Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo High School (est. 1946), the Fort Aguinaldo Elementary School (est. 1949), the Ponciano Bernardo High School (est. 1967), the PHINMA-Republican College (est. 1948), the Ramon Magsaysay High School (est. 1953), the Stella Maris College (est. 1955), the Juan Sumulong High School (est. 1961), the 15th Avenue Elementary School  (est. 1963), the E. Rodriguez Sr. Elementary School (est. 1968), the Carlos Garcia High School (est. 1971), the Roosevelt Memorial High School (established in 1933, opened in Cubao in 1947, relocated to present site in the 1969), the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TUP, established in Manila in 1962, and opened in QC in 1983), the Samson College of Science and Technology (established 1934, moved to Cubao in 1983), the Jesus Christ Saves Global Outreach Christian Academy (est. 1996), the Starland International School (established 2001, opened Cubao branch in 2006), the Pail and Shovel Integrated School, and the STI Academic Center.

Many of the new migrants in the Cubao and New Manila districts area were the Chinese families of Manila, and many were still practicing Buddhists. And in 1948, the Poh Chong Temple was erected along Conrado Francia Benitez Street. Other points of interest along nearby P. Tuazon Boulevard are the castle of the culinary school, Chocolate Lover, and the PNP’s Camp Panopio Hospital.

1966 José Amado Araneta by Mario Casañas
1966 José Amado Araneta by Mario Casañas

From 1952 to 1955 the industrialist José Amado Araneta (1907-1985), of the Negros Province Spanish-mestizo Araneta-Roxas clan, purchased 35 hectares of land between Calle Quezón  (now Aurora Boulevard) and the North–South Circumferential Road (now EDSA), from the American conglomerate the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) with its six radio transmitter towers, and the Tuason clan, through the matriarch Doña Maria Teresa Eriberta De La Paz Tuason (1867-1951), as mitigated by her nephew Judge Pedro Tiangco Tuason (1884-1961). Araneta started developing the land into residential and commercial areas, enticing many residents and business from Manila to settle in the area, while Manila was slowing being reconstructed following the devastating bombings of World War II (1938-1945), which left much of Manila flattened. The first edifice constructed by Araneta was the family mansion along P. Tuazon Boulevard and North–South Circumferential Road (now known as Epifanio de los Santos Avenue).

And in 1966, one of the big businesses to transfer to Cubao was the Manila C.O.D. Department Store (established in 1948). The COD had already started the tradition of a colorful Christmas display in 1957, and carried it on to its new home in Cubao. And from 1966 until the C.O.D.’s closing in 2002, the Christmas display would become a local tourist attraction, with animatronic figures enacting various Christmas scenes, set to a yearly changing theme.

During the late 1950s, the Cubao district was still bare, but José Amado Araneta was able to bring interest to his dream of the Cubao as a premier commercial district, with the completion of the Araneta Coliseum sports and entertainment arena in 1960. Designed and constructed by the cousins, Architect Dominador Lacson Lugtu and Engineer Leonardo Onjunco Lugtu, the Araneta Coliseum was formally inaugurated with a bang, hosting the World Junior Lightweight Championship between the reigning American champion Harold Gomes (born 1933) and the Filipino challenger Gabriel “Flash” Elorde (1935-1985). With Elorde’s victory, the Araneta Coliseum would host many great events in sports and entertainments, including the 1975 launching of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

Still one of the greatest sporting events held at the Araneta Coliseum was the “Thrilla in Manila,” where Muhammad Ali (Cassius Marcellus Clay, 1942-2016) fought Joseph “Joe” William Frazier (1944-2011) for the unified WBC/WBA/The Ring/Lineal heavy weight title.

1975-76 Ali Mall
1975-1976 Ali Mall and the present

To commemorate the great event, the country’s first “official” mall, the Ali Mall, was inaugurated one year after the fight, with Muhammad Ali in attendance. The Ali Mall was also the first to feature a multi-leveled covered parking lot, with a spiral driveway leading to all floors.

The Ali Mall was first designed by the noted architects, Fernando Hizon Ocampo (1897-1984) and Antonio Sevilla Sindiong (1922-1996).

1987 New Frontier Cinema
New Frontier Cinema in 1987
1967 New Frontier Theater
New Frontier Theater (est. 1967) in the present

The 1970s saw a boom of many commercial establishments in the Cubao district. The one of the first cinemas was the New Frontier Theater (now Kia Theater, 2015), which opened right across the Araneta Coliseum in 1967.

Soon more movie houses began to spring up along the stretch of Aurora Boulevard from intersections of EDSA to 15th Avenue; such the National Cinerama, the Quezon Theater, the Cinema 21, the Sampaguita Theater, the ACT Theater, the Ocean Theater, the Diamond Theater, the Coronet Theater, the Remar Theater, and the Alta Theater. Many of these film theaters were constructed between 1967 to 1974, and several sculptural reliefs by Eugenio Bunuan. However with the closing of these theaters, these artworks are long lost or left to ruin.

1970s Cubao
1970s Cubao

Opening in 1974, the Farmer’s Market offered a wide variety of wet and dry goods, while the adjacent Farmer’s Plaza had stalls selling various affordable products from furnishings to fashion.

1973 Rustan's Superstore Cubao, Quezon City
1973 Rustan’s Superstore Cubao

The Rustan’s Corporation, the premier retailer of international luxury brands in the Philippines of that time, launched its Rustan’s Superstore in 1973, with local and international designer brands, as well as a grocery supermarket. This was later followed by the expansion of the Shoe Mart Department Store and the New Farmers Plaza Shopping Center (designed by Arch. Antonio Sindiong) in the 1980s. In is also to be noted that the Rustan’s Superstore was designed by Arch. Carlos Antonio Santos-Viola (1912-1994), the same architect who designed most of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ), including the Central Temple along Commonwealth Avenue.

1980s Fiesta Carnival
1980s Fiesta Carnival

And in 1971, the Araneta family launched the Fiesta Carnival, the Philippines’ first indoor entertainment center with carnival rides, games, eateries, and even slot machines. Another major development in the Cubao Commercial Center was the National Bookstore Super Branch, which was completed and designed in the mid-1980s by Arch. Rogelio Garcia Villarosa (born 1933).

10 1957-60 dominador lugtu - smart araneta coliseum
1957-60 Dominador Lugtu – Smart Araneta Coliseum

Over the decades more businesses grew throughout Cubao, while others folded up. The Araneta heirs took advantage of the opening of the LRT 2 by building the Gateway Mall in 2004, which linked the train’s Cubao Station with the mall, as well as a series of overhead walkways that connected to the Isetann Department Store (opened 1985), the Araneta Coliseum, and the MRT 3 train that traverses EDSA. Part of these develops also lead to major renovations of the Araneta Coliseum, starting 1998. The final renovations were spearheaded by Congressman and Architect Rufino D. Antonio, and the arena was finally named the Smart-Araneta Coliseum in 2012.

In 1972, the different shoe producers of the Municipality of Marikina put up a showcase “mall” in Cubao, called the Marikina Shoe Expo. In the 1990s the market was flooded with cheap shoes from China, and many of these businesses had to close down and leaving small stalls abandoned. In 2000, several artists and art patrons took over the abandoned stalls and put up galleries, bars, cafes and even curio shops transforming the place to the young artists’ haven, Cubao X. This would start a wave of more art establishments opening in Cubao, such as the Sining Kamalig in Ali Mall (established 1972 in Manila, transferred to Cubao 2000s), the gallery and museum of Philippine history murals Sining Saysay at the Gateway Mall, and the interactive Trompe-l’œil gallery Art in Island along 15th Avenue (established 2015). I would like to add that it’s a team of my former students who spearheaded the creation of the murals at the Art in Island, while many other former students have launched their art careers by exhibiting at the Sining Kamalig.

1990s Perfecto “Peck” Piñon (1917-2006)
1990s Perfecto “Peck” Piñon (1917-2006)

Before these art establishments opened in Cubao, former comedian Perfecto “Peck” Piñon (1917-2006) opened his gallery in the Ali Mall in 1976. Piñon was trained as a billboard painter, before entering show business under the stage name of “Tugak.” In the 1990s, Piñon closed his gallery and retired.

Both the residential and the commercial sections of the Murphy area of Cubao are under the governance of Barangay Soccoro. Its parish is the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish (OLPH), or Our Lady of Succor, hence the name of the barangay. The parish was established in 1964, but has it roots as a small chapel built in 1946. The chapel was part of an orphanage established by the Augustinian nun, Sr. Alfonsa dela Santissima Trinidad, who is best know as one of the founders of the La Consolacion College Bacolod (1919). Before her death, Sr. Alfonsa donated the land to the Archdiocese of Manila, and the local residents continued to maintain the chapel. This is where my family and I would spend 15 years of our lives, where my brother and I were part of forming a church choir. Other barangays in Cubao are Kanluran, San Roque, E. Rodriguez, and Silangan; which are mostly residential neighborhoods.

Aside from the OLPH, there are many other Christian places of worship in the Cubao district. One exceptional church is the Transfiguration of Our Lord Parish (est. 1981), with its Brutalist architectural style and modernist sculpture designed by Sister Maria Celeste Parrilla PDDM (Sister Disciples of the Divine Master). Other places of worship are the Saint Ignatius Chapel in Camp Aguinaldo, the Evangelical Lord’s Church along Montreal Street (est. 1968), the Nativity of the Lord Parish along Ermin Garcia Street (est. 1981), the Iglesia ni Cristo and Radiance of Christ Ministries International along 9th Avenue, and the Jesus Christ Saves Global Outreach on 15th Avenue (est. 1994).

1949-50 Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Cubao Cathedral)
1949-50 Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Cubao Cathedral)

As for the three Catholic parishes, they fall under the Archdiocese of Cubao, which was established in 2003. The Diocese of Cubao is housed at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Located between Lantana and Vancouver streets, the cathedral has a long history being established 1935 as the San Isidro Chapel, and later as the Immaculate Conception Parish in 1950.

15 what's left of our old home, along #67 8th avenue, cubao
What’s left of our old home, along #67 8th Avenue, Cubao

After 15 years living in Cubao, our parents moved our family once more to the City of Marikina, where they continue to reside. Despite all those decades past, I still find myself walking the streets of Murphy, Cubao, looking at what is left of our old house and chatting with former neighbors and old friends.

Panederia sa 10th Avenue, Murphy District
Panederia sa 10th Avenue, Murphy District

When I got married, I moved my own family first to Barangay Sacred Heart, which is northwest of Cubao, then later to Project 4 east of Cubao. The Project 4 area was one of my favorite haunts during my teenage years, as I would bike from Cubao to Project 4 and meet up with friends. And this will be the subject of my next article.

1961 Barangay Socorro
1961 Barangay Socorro
1963 Kharmann Ghia Type 34
Our car while living in Cubao: 1963 Kharmann Ghia Type 34
1971 Fiesta Carnival
1971 Fiesta Carnival
1974 Araneta Coliseum Cinema
1974 Araneta Coliseum Cinema
1980s EDSA Cubao
1980s EDSA and the Aurora Underpass, Cubao
1948 NC Mercado Truck Body Builder, 15th Ave, Cubao
1948 N.C. Mercado Truck Body Builder, 15th Ave, Cubao

09 Cubao


85 thoughts on “Growing Up in Cubao, Quezon City: History and Art

  1. Where did you get this anecdote – “The location was believed to have been named “Cubao” after folk tales of spotting hunchbacked (kuba) witches in the area.” ? I also grew up in Cristobal street in Cubao in the 50’s. I have never heard of this story of witches in the area.


      1. Thanks for the quick response. As you can imagine, the jump from a farming community to a land where hunchback witches reside is quite a leap. There were a lot of open lands when I was growing up in Cubao so I can corroborate the farming side of the story. The first hints of urbanization came from stores like Bela’s and Matsusukaya (the first time I saw an escalator). I never heard of the witch story. It does not sit well with me. Would be great if you can cite authoritative sources that people can look up online. Stories passed on from person to person can devolve very quickly into fake news. I would certainly not pass that on. I found your post by looking up the search term “Cubao history”. So this is public knowledge now?


      2. Yes it is public knowledge.

        Between 1901 to the 1930s, many areas of Cubao were farming communities. So in that slow development, there would be isolated areas where the kuba could have lived.

        By the 1940s, residential areas were being built, including New Manila.

        By the late 1940s, the RCA company built its broadcast complex in what is now the Cubao commercial district. That is why it was easy for the Araneta family to build there, because the area was paved


      3. Thanks again. Do you know who coined the word and made it the official place name? Hate to say but there were beggars all over the Cubao overpass but nobody ever called it by that. I actually like the name Cubao. Now if the witches were good witches, then I would like it even more.


      4. That’s fine. So at this point, who is to say that those hunchback witches were not good witches? I certainly prospered in Cubao.


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