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  The reception line at the Kahirup Ball. From left to right: Seľor Lucas Lacson, Seľorita Lilia Lopez, Senator Gil Montilla, Seľora de Fabella, Seľor Delfin Jaranilla, Seľora de Yulo, Seľor Reyes, and Seľora de Palmo  

It is inevitable that the adjective "Castilian" describe this quaint building tucked in a small street near one of the busiest thoroughfares in Manila. Spanish culture, after all, had always been a part of the Filipino's colorful past. And in the Casino Español de Manila, that old-world culture mingled with Filipino hospitality has been preserved in all of its elegance and gentility.
       
        "A casino in Spain is a place to relax," explained Casino president Francisco Gomez de Liano, "to play cards, chat with friends, and other social affairs. It is not a gambling place. It is a social place. The purpose of Casino Español de Manila is to preserve Spanish culture, Spanish food, and Spanish-Filipino friendship."
       
        The long heritage
        The club traces its history as far back as the Spanish times. Nineteenth-century Manila was a bustling city of commerce with the opening of the Philippines to world trade. Europeans and Americans began to visit the islands and many opted to become residents here. It wasn't long before these foreigners began to band into social clubs for leisure and business.
       
        In 1893, the Casino Español de Manila was established exclusively for the Spanish residents of the city. Though this was the Casino's official birth year, Liano said that there is historical data that the club had existed even before that.
       
        "There was mention that a Spanish club existed in 1834 and the incorporation of another by the Spanish Governor-General in 1844," he said.
       
        The first official clubhouse was built in 1917 at the corner of Taft Avenue and San Luis Street (now T.M. Kalaw Street). Designed by Filipino architect Juan Arellano, it became a popular landmark in the city. The lot extended through the entire block as far as San Marcelino Street. The building had large reception and banquet halls. There was a terrace that overlooked a lush garden. It also had a tennis court and fronton for pelota games. The offices of the Consulate General of Spain and the Spanish Chamber of Commerce were also located here.
       
        Social center
        During the pre-war years, the Casino Español was the center of Iberian culture and heritage in Manila. It was the meeting place of the Spanish and Filipino elite. Banquets, grand balls, and Spanish anniversary celebrations held here were frequently covered by the press. One of the grandest events of the 1930s was the lavish reception held in honor of the King of Spain's birthday.
       
        World War II destroyed the Casino Español. For six years after the building's destruction, the club resided in a rented two-storey house in Paco, Manila. Then, through the initiative of incumbent president Ignacio Planas and former president Santiago Picornell, funds were raised to construct a new Casino. Part of the old club's original property facing Taft Avenue had to be sold for the new building.
       
        The new Casino Español de Manila was constructed facing San Luis Street. It was inaugurated on November 3, 1951, a historic date for the Spanish community with the occasion graced by the presence of President Elpidio Quirino and Vice-President Fernando Lopez. It wasn't long before the Casino reestablished itself as the center of Spanish social and cultural life in Manila.
       
        For years since its historic beginning, Casino Español hosted events graced by famous local and foreign dignitaries. Its guest list included presidents, vice-presidents, governor-generals, famous government officials, and prominent Spanish businessmen from the top establishments in the city. Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio Osmeña, then Senate President and House Speaker respectively, graced the inauguration of the first Casino. Spanish artists like novelist Salvador Rueda and guitarist Andres Segovia also visited the club. The highest honor the Casino received was the presence of Spain's King Juan Carlos de Bourbon (then Crown Prince) and Queen Sofia in 1962. In 2000, Queen Sofia again graced the club's premises during an official visit to the country.
       
        Exclusive, non-profit
        The Casino Español is for members only. But guests (accompanied by the members) are welcome. Presently there are 600 members classified either as individuals or corporate. They consist of Filipinos, a few Spaniards and Filipino-Chinese. Honorary members include the president of the Philippines; the Spanish ambassador, and the mayor of Manila.
       
        "The members buy shares in the Casino." Liano said, "It is a non-profit club and there are proprietary shares. We have no political color here. The Casino is totally apolitical."
       
        A visitor to the Casino enters a relaxing, quiet place for leisure and dining. The Castilian ambiance and dÚcor lend elegance to the premises. It boasts of bars, salons, and dining halls named after Spanish towns and personalities ("Madrid," "El Cid," "Picasso," "Cervantes," "El Quixote," etc.) and manned by a cordial all-Filipino staff. Gardens and patios provide open airy spaces, the most popular of which is the Patio de Orquidias where open-air receptions are held. A library consisting of Spanish and Filipino books is also open. For the sportsmen, a fronton at the back doubles as a jai-alai and pelota court.
       
        Great food
        Dining is always a pleasure at the Casino. Liano waxes proud over the Casino's dining halls and food.
       
        "The places are neat and clean. The service is good. The place is quiet and you have a table for yourself," he said, "It is so atypical to have something like this in the middle of Manila. You bring a guest here they are impressed.
       
        "The food is excellent whether you order fish or meat. The cooks are well-trained." Liano says, "We always pay a premium for our food. And we have the best food you can find in the city." (Indeed, this writer agrees after savoring lunch -- the sopa de pescado was delicate and the medium-rare beef cutlet succulent.)
       
        Generations
        How does Liano see the Casino Español a generation from now? From time to time, the officials of the club discuss plans to expand. But one problem Liano points out is the traffic situation.
       
        "Many of the old members used to live nearby. But many had moved to Makati and Quezon City. It is difficult to get here because of the traffic. To locate the Casino somewhere else would mean the same story for the people living in Manila and the other areas. The club is becoming more of a neighborhood club for residents and offices."
       
        "Our ambition is probably to franchise. Like Casino Español Makati or Casino Español Iloilo with a central office managing all things. But for the club to become a business would also be problem for us because we are a non-profit entity. For now, the Casino Español de Manila remains here -- in Manila."
       
        The Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish cultural office, has recently moved in a new building beside the Casino Español. This move has boosted the club's prestige as a center of Iberian heritage. The Manila city government had also renovated the area and the street fronting the Casino is now lit with streetlamps and well-maintained.
       
        It has been more than a century since the birth of the Casino Español. And through those years, it has risen from an exclusive club of elite Spaniards to a showcase of Filipino-Spanish friendship. It continues on with this tradition today. It still is the center of a continuous history of our colorful past -- one of genteel elegance.MS

by Jose Victor Z. Torres
photos from the Lopez Memorial Museum

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A tea party at the Casino Espaľol for the new Spanish Consul General to the Philippines, Don Luis Calderon. From left to right: Seľor E. Brias, Seľora de A. Roxas, Seľora de A. Zobel, Spanish Consul General Seľor Calderon, Seľora de PÄrez Samanillo, Seľorita Ramona Roxas, Seľora de Teves, the wife of the Consul General, Seľora de M. Roces, and Seľora de E. Brias.


The burnt-out shell of the Casino Espaľol after World War II at the corner of Taft Avenue and San Luis Street (T.M.Kalaw Street). Beside it stands the Jai Alai Building.


The facade of the reconstructed Casino Espaľol


The Baile de Confianza, an afternoon party, held at the Casino Espaľol. Selected and distinguished guests enjoyed themselves till the late hours of the day.


Getting ready to toast the new Spanish consul. From left to right: Seľores Beltran de Lis, PÄrez Samanillo, Sampedro, Telechea, Irrizarri, Osorio, Descals, GutiÄrrez, , Pomar, and others.


The annual Three Kings (as portrayed by Seľores P. Garriz, F. Alvarez, and G. Albaladejo) celebration at Casino Espaľol where children of members of high society participated in.


The aristocratic social hall of the Casino Espaľol where major balls and the annual New Year's party were held.


Guests at Dia Espaľa held at the Casino Espaľol incuded the Archbishop of Manila, Monsignor O'Doherty, the mayor of Manila, Manuel Earnshaw, the Spanish Interior Consul for the Philippines , Seľor Melian, the Count of Peracampa.

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