Would You Believe That There Are Cool Apartments Inside This Old Building in Manila?
You may have passed by this Art Deco building along CM Recto Avenue before. It has gone from upscale to derelict, but is now back on its feet as a hip home and hub for students.
With the LRT and jeepneys whizzing by, along with the crowds of students, it’s difficult to imagine C.M. Recto Avenue in Manila being the former Calle Azcarraga, an upscale street that once bustled with offices and establishments that Manileños strolled through, many decades ago. This is the location of the Laperal Apartments, which is located right in the busiest portion of the famed street, near Legarda.
A post-war throwback
The owners found Laperal in this state already—all looted out, with only the main structure left, and no roofing.
Laperal Apartments was built along Calle Azcarraga in 1946 by the cousins of the Laperals, who built the famously haunted Laperal House in Baguio, and the Arlegui guesthouse in Malacañang. The four-storey building was designed in the then-popular Art Deco variant of Streamline Moderne, wherein horizontal bands across its façade indicated movement, with elegant Deco-style letters as signage. The apartments were built to attract alta sociedad owners and each—according to oral history from a previous tenant—was a spacious unit with heavy, solid narra doors, subway tiles, and clawfoot tubs.
But as Manila’s business centers transferred to Makati, the occupants of the apartments sought other living arrangements, the apartments, much like many of Manila’s old buildings and landmarks, were left unused and abandoned. It was looted of all architectural pieces that could be carried away, and it has changed with the times—gone were the apartment dwellers, with only an informal string of small establishments found on the ground floor arcade.
It was in this state that the present owners, a husband and wife team, found and bought Laperal Apartments back in 2012—almost unrecognizable, unlivable, and in dire need to be reborn into something fresh, vibrant, and in line with the times.
From swanky living to the student life
Laperal’s transformation into the Youniversity Suites is a way to make Laperal useful to the community once again, much as it was before when their doors first opened.
The owners started work on Laperal around two and a half years after they purchased it. They decided to return it back to its primary purpose—as a stylish place that one can call home. But instead of calling high society back to fill its apartments, they looked around its current environment and adapted to the need of the location—a place students can call home, with everything they need only a few steps away.
The black, Art Deco-style grills of the ground floor arcade are a welcome addition to the apartments. It not only adds to the building's appeal, these elements also help keep pedestrians more secure.
But it didn't come easy. The informal establishments found in the buildings were first cleared out, and then everything had to be checked. The main building fronting Recto Avenue with the “Laperal Apartments” signage was kept, while the actual structure behind it was torn down. There were no records, blueprints, or photos to be found of the place in the government offices that the team visited, so everything had to be measured, tested, and assessed.
Work was first done on the main building, and little of the building was restored. One of the owners said, “Basically we kept the whole building, except we built a new roof because it was looted. Outside, we restored everything. The letters are made of concrete, so those are all original. We repainted everything. And at night, we light up the whole building. It’s very nice, it’s like a beacon.”
The high ceilings of the building were kept, and all pipes were left exposed to stay in line with the industrial – art deco feel of the building.
Where Art Deco meets Industrial style
Architect and Interior Designer Patrick Apacible and the team who worked on reviving Laperal had very little photos to use as reference for the exterior and interiors, and only the shell of the main building to work with. The owner says, “The columns you see outside are all original, just painted. We put grillwork for security and it feels very much Art Deco. For the area with the outside establishments, we added a ceiling and installed ceiling fans to make it more comfortable. Tiles were put in to differentiate Laperal from its neighbors.”
The student apartments
The entrance to the main building of the Youniversity Suites is through a small corridor accessed by a door to the left, away from street view. There were three staircases serving tenants in the main building, serving the left, middle, and right sides. “Each side of the building was closed off from the other. I went to the extent of interviewing the previous tenants. It was sosyal! I talked to Estrel’s Cakeshop, because they had their shop on the second floor, and lived on the third floor. By the 70s, everything was still intact. By the early 80s, they left. That’s when they said that it was getting a bit dilapidated.”” Apacible says, “But when we got here, the intricate grillwork of the stairs was stolen, and we replaced the wooden banisters with stainless steel, to protect it.”
The project is in a state of continuous improvement as the owners plan to have more apartments and amenities that residents can enjoy.
The building’s general structure, the façade, the floors, the ceilings, and the walls remained the same. Apacible says, “When we came in, everything was buhos, meaning it was all concrete.” The size of each room was cut into half. “Imagine combining two units—that was how they lived before. It was a big unit!”
This apartment that can accommodate four people measures around 28sqm. The original size of each apartment in Laperal was double that.
The main building has 85 apartments, with each room ranging from 11sqm to 28sqm, depending on the capacity needed. Each unit comes furnished with wooden beds (a choice of bunk beds or a bed with a built-in study table at the bottom), a four-seater dining set, lockers for closets, a kitchen countertop and sink, an air conditioning unit, and its own toilet and bath. All pipes are exposed to add to the industrial feel.
The steel grillwork opening found in all the doors of the apartments is not just for added security, but it also harkens back to the time when there would be cross-ventilation from the hallways to the apartments.
“We did a lot of research, but of course it would be hard to do what they did before. Like for this, before it used to be all cross ventilation from the hallway to the rooms. But since now you can’t open the doors due to matters of security, you can do the old style that you open the steel grillwork opening without opening the entire door.
Instead of the usual palochina or furniture made of metal, the dining set and bunk beds were made of wood from Indonesia.
We thought about the students. What do they need? They need a study area. The bed—there’s a plug beside it because sometimes you study on the bed. Then the lockers, pinagawa pa namin yan. The windows of the rooms fronting Recto have double-pane glass windows, because it can get noisy. So we had to give the vibe that it’s young, even the colors.”
If two persons will occupy the room, there’s an option to replace the bunk beds with a study area.
Another building, a 14-storey one, will be built behind the main building and will contain 211 apartments. Residents will also gain full access to the amenities that are being built—a swimming pool, a members-only gym, and a student lounge.
The L.A. Village
Residents will also have an exclusive entrance to the L.A. Village, a four-storey commercial center that will be open to the public, and the owners hope will become a vibrant place where students come to enjoy good food, music, do a bit of shopping, and plainly stay a while to unwind. Filling the space of the original back building, the L.A. Village was built to be a hipster’s haven.
The owner originally planned on bringing in a World War II plane, but settled for this authentic German fighter plane from World War I instead. Everything about it is real and restored, except for the propeller, and no more guns, of course.
Upon entering, a cascade of water flowing out of wine barrels imported from the US will welcome all the guests. The black and white checkered marble flooring sets the common area apart from the surrounding establishments, but your eyes will most likely be drawn up in mere seconds to the huge red plane hovering above it—and it’s the real deal, a World War I German plane shipped in by the owners from abroad.
The WWI German fighter plane is the focal point of the entire L.A. Village, bringing in a retro vibe to the otherwise primarily industrial look of the village.
The common area, food establishments, and an appliance store are found on the ground floor. Heading up to the second floor, there’s a music lounge and built-in tables around the ledges. The other floors will have other recreation areas, an outdoor terrace, and a small amphitheater.
This Airstream will be located on the ground floor of the L.A. Village, and will serve as the area’s convenience store.
The owner adds, “The place isn’t a food park, because it will also have services as well. But, all of the restaurants opening here are start-ups because we didn’t want fast food—it’s everywhere here. We put in an Airstream—it’s like a food trailer in the US—which they’re going to turn into a convenience store. We’ll be putting up giant 1960s signages and posters on the walls. We want to stay true to the retro vibe of the place, and deliver something new.”
The main lounge and receiving area of the Youniversity Suites, it also serves as a place for residents to meet their family members and guests, since outsiders are not allowed inside the apartments.
One with the community
All the rooms fronting C.M Recto Avenue have double pane windows to block the noise of the streets and the MRT out.
The owners, Apacible, and the rest of the team behind the rebirth of Laperal hope that the revival doesn’t stop with just their building. Apacible says, “We don’t just see this as a building, that once it’s finished, we’re done. We see it as a possibility of continuity for the whole community to follow. We have to contribute to everything that’s here also. You have to relate it to Recto, to Quiapo. It’s a bigger thing than just the building—we’re reviving the community.”
Youniversity Suites is located at 2119 Claro M. Recto Ave., Manila. Visit their website for more information.
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