When the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) were contemplating upon what to do with a parcel of land they owned in Cubao, Quezon City, they considered building a novitiate there. At the time, the remote location seemed ideal for a teaching center for young nuns-in-training, where they could study, pray, and meditate without distractions and temptations from the outside world.
In the meantime, inspired by President Manuel L. Quezon’s dream of a master planned city that would serve the common tao, the Philippine government established Quezon City in 1938. Diliman was intended to be the centerpiece for government buildings and services, but most of the area was to be set aside for housing for people from all socioeconomic levels. Large resettlement housing projects were built for low- and mid-income government workers in communities near Cubao.
In retrospect, it’s fortunate that the nuns didn’t choose to build a novitiate; instead, in 1955, they opened a school to serve daughters of the nearby growing communities, offering classes from kindergarten through college. The school was called Stella Maris College, in honor of Mary, the Star of the Sea. The exclusive girls’ school attracted daughters from the neighborhoods surrounding the campus, including Camp Murphy (now Camp Aguinaldo), Camp Crame, and the Quirino District.
In 1952, J. Amado Araneta purchased four hectares (9.9 acres) of land in Cubao from Radio Company of America (RCA) and built the Araneta residence, which came to be known as “Bahay Puti” (White House). Three years later, in 1955, Araneta purchased the remaining 31 hectares (77 acres) from RCA. Araneta’s plan was to develop this area into a premier entertainment hub. This 35-hectare commercial complex came to be known as the Araneta Center. It is bordered by Highway 54 (now called Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue or EDSA), Aurora Boulevard, P. Tuazon, and 15th Avenue.
The other side of Aurora Boulevard was a residential area. Street names were reminiscent of topnotch American colleges and universities, such as Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Cambridge, Notre Dame, Purdue, Columbia, West Point, Annapolis, and the like. The FMM school was appropriately located in this section of Cubao.
In 1957, when many of us began our journey with Stella Maris College as fresh-faced new members of the 1957-58 Kindergarten class, Stella Maris College was only two years old.
Emerging Shopping Mecca
In the meantime, Araneta’s vision was taking shape. Many Manila-based establishments were either moving their headquarters to Cubao or were opening branches there.
Part of our school uniform included black Oxford shoes, which we bought from Gregg’s Shoe store on Aurora Boulevard. Gregg’s had a reputation for selling well-built, sturdy shoes.
We purchased our books and school supplies from Miss Valentina at the school bookstore or from Vasquez Bookstore on Aurora Boulevard.
Directly across Stella Maris College was Assandas department store, which was owned by Assandas Jethmal, an Indian-Filipino. The store’s window displays had a bazaar-like feel, where everything always seemed to be perpetually on sale. Because of its location and affordable prices, it was frequented by many Stellans. Unfortunately, its location also made it a convenient shortcut to the stores along General Malvar and General Roxas Avenues, which were directly behind Assandas. It is rumored that the store’s management complained to SMC’s school administration because the nuns eventually forbade Stellans from entering commercial establishments in uniform, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Also along Aurora Boulevard were Gem Gift Shop, Manila Blue Printing, and Commander Drugstore. Next to Commander Drugstore was Mercury Drugstore. On the same row, towards EDSA, were Metro Drug and Top’s Barber Shop.
In 1956, Aguinaldo’s, a high-end department store, opened a branch on Aurora Boulevard. In the late ‘60s, Aguinaldo’s formed its own Teen Council, a fashion advisory board composed of selected teenagers from exclusive schools, including a Stellan or two. This fashion-forward department store helped us keep abreast with the latest trends. Remember tent dresses, shift dresses, empire waistlines, headbands, head scarfs (which we called babushkas), boots, and mini skirts?
In 1966, Manila COD department store relocated its main store from Avenida Rizal, Manila, to Cubao, but kept the original store as a branch. Every Christmas, COD became a premier shopping destination because of its animated Christmas tableaux. Although the themes changed every year, Christ’s Nativity was always the centerpiece. In 1969, when American astronauts landed on the moon, COD presented “Christmas Galactica,” a Christmas celebration in outer space, complete with Santa Claus in a spaceship.
Matsuzakaya, a major Japanese department store, opened a branch in Cubao, just behind Assandas. It specialized in imported foods, up-market luxury goods, clothes, textiles, accessories, housewares, furniture, white-goods and personal products. This is probably where many of us saw our first lava lamp and electric rollers.
Hyacinth was a small store hidden in a house on New York Street that sold imported goods reportedly smuggled from Hong Kong.
It wasn’t until 1973 when Rustan’s (another up-end department store) opened its Superstore in Cubao. It housed both a department store and a supermarket.
Eating Good in the Neighborhood
Among the eating establishments in Cubao, perhaps one of the most iconic was Ma Mon Luk, a Chinese restaurant which opened in 1959 on Aurora Boulevard, directly across from Stella Maris College. It was known for its mami and siopao, made famous by Ma Mon Luk, the original Mami King. Mr. Ma, a Chinese immigrant, “consolidated” his name to “Mamonluk” when he became a Filipino citizen. The restaurant was owned by his son, William Mamonluk, after William obtained his father’s blessing to go on his own.
Not too far from Ma Mon Luk was Hong Ning, another Chinese restaurant, whose menu and décor were very similar to Ma Mon Luk.
For Filipino dishes, we could always count on Nena’s Special Bibingka restaurant. Aside from their famous bibingka, they also served puto bumbong, dinuguan & puto, and paksiw na lechon.
Another Stellan favorite was Little Quiapo Soda Fountain. Although it was famous for its halo-halo, we could also order hot dishes, such as pancit palabok, tokwa’t baboy, and arroz caldo. The restaurant also had a jukebox.
If we were still in the mood for more refreshments, we could always drop by Dairy Queen for their soft frozen dairy treats.
Chocolate House, located next to Assandas, offered a different kind of savoir faire, which included baked goods and assorted delicacies.
Let Me Entertain You
Araneta Coliseum began construction in 1957. When it opened in 1960, it was the largest covered coliseum in the world. It was the crown jewel of the Araneta Center and hosted numerous national and international events, including Holiday on Ice, Binibining Pilipinas contests, the “Thrilla in Manila” boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and concerts with international artists such as the Fifth Dimension, Matt Munro, Timi Yuro, Eartha Kitt, Neil Sedaka, Jack Jones, the Everly Brothers, and the Searchers.
If Araneta Coliseum was the world’s largest covered coliseum, the 3,500 seat New Frontier Cinema was the country’s largest theater. It also had a restaurant and supermarket next door.
Nation Cinerama, Cubao’s second theater, was built just a stone’s throw away. (Cinerama was “a widescreen process that originally projected images simultaneously from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply curved screen,” giving the audience a panoramic view of the movie.) It was new technology at the time and was enthusiastically received.
These two theaters undoubtedly saw their share of students cutting classes!
Green Acre mini golf, at the far end of the Araneta Center (where Ali Mall is presently located), provided another venue for recreational activities. It was a dating place at night and a family go-to during weekends. When Nation Cinerama closed, it became a roller skating rink. A few years after, they opened the ice skating rink beside Matsusakaya.
By the time we were in high school, the ice skating rink opened. Its management ran promotions during its opening months, where they invited students from nearby schools to use the ice rink for free. However, they continued to extend invitations to Stellans for free sessions, long after its grand opening was over. It was a double bonus for us: free ice skating sessions AND time off from school!
Cubao was definitely coming of age. In the height of its glory during the 60s and 70s, it could stand toe-to-toe with other cosmopolitan cities.