The Escolta, the Commercial Street of Manila, Luzón (1902)

This image appeared as one among dozens of photographs and maps in a large geographical dictionary published by the United States Bureau of Insular Affairs in 1902. It was one of many post-annexation publications that advertised Manila’s exotic and commercial appeal to government officials, armchair tourists, and potential business investors. It also provided up-to-date military, naval, and civil reports from American provincial officials. A government publication, the Gazetteer clearly manifested commercial and booster motives. Other images in the Gazetteer featured the many agricultural and industrial opportunities to be found on the islands, including picturesque views of mountains accompanied by descriptions of their exploitable mineral deposits.

This photograph was taken from the west end of the main commercial street of Manila, the Escolta. The view captures two aspects of Manila that made it so significant to American territorial expansion at the turn of the twentieth century: its role as a government center and as a nexus of trade. The image emphasizes the international character of Manila’s economy—a Swiss pocket watch billboard and classical pillar sculptures contrast with more specifically local features like gridded walls and tile roofs. The modes of transportation seen here likewise range from the traditional to the more technologically advanced, from local “truck farmers” who carry baskets of vegetables by hand or jugs of milk on their heads to modern streetcars.

Burnham found much to praise in Manila’s design and buildings, including the beautiful clay roof tiles, the shaded streets of older neighborhoods, and the city’s location beside a stunning harbor and spanning broad river. The melding of Spanish-influenced and Asian Pacific architectural styles in Manila’s commercial district all influenced his Burnham’s work in the Philippines.



Barrows, David. A History of the Philippines. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company 1907.

Burnham, Daniel H. “Report on Proposed Improvements at Manila” and “Report on the Proposed Plan of the City of Baguio, Province of Benguet, P.I.,” as reprinted in Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham: Architect, Planner of Cities, vol. 2. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1921.

Forbes, W. Cameron. The Philippine Islands, 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928.

Parsons, William E. "Burnham as a Pioneer in City Planning." The Architectural Record 38 (July 1915).

U.S. Bureau of Insular Affairs, “The Escolta, the Commercial Street of Manila, Luzón,” in A Pronouncing Gazetteer and Geographical Dictionary of the Philippine Islands, United States of America, with Maps, Charts, and Illustrations (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902). The Newberry Library, Ayer 2066 .U5 1902