The border between Makati and Sta. Ana district in Manila was once a place where pre- and post-war high society went to have a good time, housing both the Sta. Ana Cabaret—which according to an old ad, had "the best dance music in the Orient"—and later, the 25-hectare Sta. Ana Park, a Filipino Ascot where enthusiasts and gamblers flocked to watch the thrilling horse races and cockfights.
Over seven decades, the area's glamour has eroded into a charming sleaziness, a rough-and-tumble vibrance brought on by the noise of jeepneys that ply the Manila-Makati route, the busy carinderias, the dusty ukay-ukays, and the occassional perya with its rickety ferris wheels and pink popcorn.
In 2008, the track closed down and races were moved to a new racecourse in Naic, Cavite. Since then (and perhaps even before), the area where the park used to be, and its surroundings, have been forgotten, or else dismissed as Makati's smelly armpit.
It is quite the surprise that anyone would take on the obvious challenge of reviving this area and turning it into a commercial hotspot, but real estate giant Ayala Land has quietly been drawing up plans to turn the big property into a "lifestyle playground" called Circuit Makati.
As part of their plans, the area will include, among others, a football turf, skate park, offices, shops, an indoor theater, and even an outdoor entertainment area, which they unveiled Tuesday night.
The lone structure looks rather isolated on the still-empty 21-hectare area. With its bright, white sloping domes and colored lights, the structure is certainly different from the shabby shanties beyond the property gates, and leaves no trace of the Art Deco architecture that once stood on the grounds when Sta. Ana Park still stood there.
Many, including Philippine Racing Club (PRCI) president Simeon Cua have welcomed these changes with open arms.
"I think Ayala as a partner will help develop the property, not only from a business point-of-view, but as you can see, develop it properly," he told GMA News Online at the launch of the entertainment grounds.
Yet given the rich history embedded in the land, one cannot help but ask if the developers are, to paraphrase that famous Counting Crows song, paving paradise to put up a mixed-use entertainment complex. After all, many heritage buildings have suffered the same sordid fate, being torn down to make way for government buildings or condominiums.
Horserace journalist Jenny Ortuoste, who lived in a compound behind the racetrack as a jockey's wife and apprentice rider, remembered the place with fondness and pondered its demolition with evident sadness.
In her Palanca-award winning essay, "The Turn for Home: Memories of Santa Ana Park," Ortuoste wrote, "when a mall or condominium is built here, right on the track, will the ghosts of gone horses still race, silently, where they used to run free?"
"The racetrack that stood here for generations, and that some thought would never be torn down in our lifetime, is no more. A rich part of Santa Ana's history has disappeared," the essay went on to say, showing that area hasn't been forgotten by everyone, and will be loved forever by those who have planted memories there.
At any rate, the developers seem to be making an effort at keeping the land's history alive, even as shiny new skyscrapers and glossy boutiques are ready to rise on the grounds.
"You can see what Sta. Ana used to be…it had always been focused on entertainment, and therefore what we're now saying as the entertainment district is the logical follow-through," Ayala Land President Tony Cruz told GMA News Online.
"We will of course be promoting that [history]… We really wanted to make sure that we're ultimately very focused on the actual history. We know that that was a very important component, and we will continue to be promoting, and more importantly, be very supportive of Philippine arts and performances," he added.
True enough, even the show during the launch began with a tribute to the area's past as the Sta. Ana Cabaret through a 40s style song and dance. The number was then followed by performances from artists that are big names both locally and internationally: Zia Quizon, Christian Bautista, Karylle, the Jabbawockeez, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, and Leo Valdez among others.
There was even a fashion show featuring top Filipino designers, and members of the Philippine Azkals also showed off some of their football tricks.
That said, the modern architecture that is about to rise on a historical plot may or may not successfully pay tribute to Sta. Ana Park's past, and its former romance may evade the hub's commercially saturated walkways—but Circuit Makati will at least bring back the spirit of a good time—long overdue for a place that was once known for it.