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Remembering the Araneta Center during Dekada ’70 (Second of three parts)
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Rikki Jimenez
Date: 2003-01-19
Running behind Rustan and Ali Mall is Gen. Romulo Ave. At the end of this street, near Aurora Blvd., stands Mercury Drug, one of the oldest establishments within Araneta Center.

Next door is COD Department Store, which is known for its animated Christmas tableaux. One of the biggest department stores in the country during the ’70s, COD is owned by the family of Ral del Rosario Jr. who was once a swimming champion in the Asian Games. People came in droves during the holidays just to see the COD display. All the shows are Christmas in theme, but the motif would change every year. One time it was a rustic celebration of Christmas; another time, it was Christmas in outer space, with Santa Claus emerging from a spaceship. For years, it was an event for many shoppers to drop by Cubao just to see the COD show.

Another old establishment in Cubao is just beside COD. Nena’s Special Bibingka is memorable for me, because they make really good bibingka and puto bumbong.

They also serve a number of Filipino dishes, including mechado and paksiw na lechon.

During a visit to Nena’s Special Bibingka in the summer of 1968, I spotted a tall girl in white, who was with some of her classmates from UP. I approached the girl and asked her name. I gave her my card, asked her to call me, but she never got in touch with me. I was already making clothes then, and I thought she would make a good model.

In the next year’s Binibining Pilipinas beauty pageant, where Gloria Diaz won Binibining Pilipinas-Universe, I was shocked to see this girl win first runner-up. She was Nelia Sancho. Aside from Gloria, the other winner then was Margaret “Binky” Montinola, who grabbed the Binibining Pilipinas-International title.

Nelia Sancho represented the Philippines in the Queen of the Pacific contest in Australia. She was quite a hit there, especially in the Moomba Festival. She won the title and became the country’s second Queen of the Pacific winner. Later, Nelia became an activist during Marcos years. The crown was won the first time around by Baby Santiago, one of the daughters of Nick Santiago, who is connected with the Araneta Coliseum management.

After Nena’s Bibingka is the Araneta Center Post Office and the Marikina Shoe Expo, an arcade of all the major shoe stores and manufacturers in Marikina.

One of the biggest movie houses in the country is New Frontier Cinema, which is at the corner of Gen. Aguinaldo and Gen. Roxas avenues. It was second in size to Cinerama in downtown Manila, and showed first-run movies. It has since been closed and a number of tiangge stalls make home to its lobby. Just behind New Frontier are Queen’s Supermarket and Matsuzakaya.

I have fond memories of Matsuzakaya. When this department store opened, I was still in high school. I remember my aunties, cousins and I would all go here to buy beautiful goods. All these items were made in Japan and were high quality stuff. I bought my bags and shirts here, and my classmates back home would always be jealous of my clothes. When I’m in Hong Kong, I never miss buying goods at Matsuzakaya in Wanchai.

Between Aurora Blvd. and Gen. Malvar Ave. is a stretch of establishments. It was on this block where shoppers would find Rempson Shoes, Gregg Shoes and Syvels, all popular shoe stores. The most popular establishment on this row is Mamonluk. After we were through with shopping at Matsuzakaya, we would rush to Mamonluk for merienda. We would order siopao and mami, and by the time we were ready to go home, we would be bursting with the delicious food.

Next to New Frontier Cinema, at the corner of Aurora Blvd., and Gen. Malvar Ave. is Isetann department store. It has been at this spot in Cubao for more than 20 years now.
Directly opposite Gen. Aguinaldo Ave., on the other side of Aurora Blvd., is Imperial St., which was where actress Hilda Koronel used to live. In the 80s, I delivered made-to-order casuals and gowns for the top-rated actress.

Right across Aurora Blvd. are a number of movie houses. Opposite Isetann is Coronet. Going down the street towards EDSA, you will see Remar 1 and 2 and Diamond theaters. All these moviehouses now show old bold films, just like Alta Theater, which is further down the road, just opposite the Mercury Drug branch at the corner of Aurora Blvd. and EDSA.

The block sandwiched by Gen. Roxas and Gen. Malvar avenues is home to the National Book Store Superbranch and Quezon Theater 1 and 2. Quezon 1 still shows movies, but Quezon 2 is now the venue for worship meetings of some religious groups.

At the corner of Gen. Araneta and Gen. Malvar avenues is an outlet of Goldilocks. It has been at this exact spot for close to 15 years now. Located along the line of establishments on Gen. Roxas Ave. was a branch of Sim’s, which I frequented for its brooches and accessories. This boutique used to be in Escolta, near Bookmark. When the store moved to Cubao, I went there often to buy beautiful brooches to go wih my clothes. I was a regular customer for almost seven years when the store closed.

The next block, at the corner of Gen. Araneta and Gen. Roxas avenues, is Sampaguita Theater. It still screens foreign and local films. What I remember most about this block is the Uniwide outlet. For 15 years, I came here for its fabrics. When fire burned the building many years ago, it was left undeveloped. Further down the road, at the corner of EDSA, was a popular branch of Aristocrat. It had wide-open balconies where one could dine and look out at the busy shoppers going to and fro below you. It is now an office of Air Philippines.

At the corner of Gen. Araneta Ave. and Aurora Blvd. is a branch of Philippine National Bank. Going down the road to EDSA is ACT Cinema.

An ongoing redevelopment plan is now being implemented at the Araneta Center. The changes first started at the Araneta Coliseum with the repair of its dome. A number of dining establishments have also been opened around the Coliseum’s ground level area, providing shoppers more places to relax as they go around the center.

I hope this redevelopment will lead to further improvements at Araneta Center, so that it will eventually take its place among some of Metro Manila’s malls and shopping districts. (Next week: Memories of Araneta Coliseum)

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