In 1945, when the people of the Philippines decided that their 1926 post office by architect Juan M. Arellano needed a freshening update, they called upon the visiting interior designers of the Japanese army, who in turn suggested a collaboration with the U.S. Army, whose work on facades and landscaping was turning heads all over the Pacific. Author Robert Ross Smith shares the details:
“The fight for the General Post Office, conducted simultaneously with that for the City Hall, was especially difficult because of the construction of the building and the nature of the interior defenses. A large, five-story structure of earthquake-proof, heavily reinforced concrete, the Post Office was practically impervious to direct artillery, tank, and tank destroyer fire. The interior was so compartmented by strong partitions that even a 155-mm. shell going directly through a window did relatively little damage inside.
“The Japanese had heavily barricaded all rooms and corridors, had protected their machine gunners and riflemen with fortifications seven feet high and ten sandbags thick, had strung barbed wire throughout, and even had hauled a 105-mm. artillery piece up to the second floor. The building was practically impregnable to anything except prolonged, heavy air and artillery bombardment, and why the Japanese made no greater effort to hold the structure is a mystery, especially since it blocked the northeastern approaches to Intramuros and was connected to the Walled City by a trench and tunnel system. Despite these connections, the original garrison of the Post Office received few reinforcements during the fighting and, manifestly under orders to hold out to the death, was gradually whittled away by American artillery bombardment and infantry assaults.
“For three days XIV Corps and 37th Division Artillery pounded the Post Office, but each time troops of the 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry, attempted to enter the Japanese drove them out. Finally, on the morning of 22 February, elements of the 1st Battalion gained a secure foothold, entering through a second story window. The Japanese who were still alive soon retreated into the large, dark basement, where the 145th Infantry’s troops finished off organized resistance on the 23d. Nothing spectacular occurred–the action was just another dirty job of gradually overcoming fanatic resistance, a process with which the infantry of the 37th Division was by now all too thoroughly accustomed.”
The results of the project were stunning.
The designers took full advantage of the Post Office’s riverfront location on the Pasig River (for easy water transportation of the mails); the central location with converging avenues made the building readily accessible from all sides.
In 1946, some additional work was done, restoring the Post Office with many of its original features.
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Robert Ross Smith’s quote is from The Battle of Manila Online.