Luckily I had a chance to enjoy Santa Ana’s shabby glory before this remnant of the American era was bulldozed. The track and its grandstand appealed to me for so many reasons.
There was the sense of space; from your seat you had uninterrupted views across the Pasig and across Makati to Rockwell. Manila seemed a lovely city from Santa Ana at night.
Then there was the shady atmosphere; the touts with fags in their mouths, the old guys who had spent a lifetime at the track, the sense of collapse and decay.
Bringing all these together was the main grandstand, an art deco building from, I would guess, the 1930s, the same period as the Sy-Quia buildings in Malate and the former Jai Alai building on Taft (thank you Lito Atienza for destroying that particular historic monument). The grandstand really was quite grand and was an important historic link to a more elegant Manila. Nothing now remains of that impressive structure but a few stumps standing defiantly above the rubble.
It does not surprise me that the racetrack is being converted to more profitable uses. After all, it occupied a huge chunk of prime urban land on the border between Manila and Makati. Even if it the track had been a profitable venture (and the tiny entrance charges, small crowds, and insignificant bets meant it almost certainly wasn’t), the realities of property prices would surely have pushed the track outside the city boundaries sooner or later (just as happened with the beautiful Kuala Lumpur racetrack in the 1990s).
Still, I wish one of the architectural preservation societies in Manila had managed to save the grandstand, though such groups have had few, if any, successes in recent years. Couldn’t some imagination have been used to convert the grand old dame of Manila horseracing into something quite distinctive?
I wonder whether anyone even took any photos of the Santa Ana grandstand before they tore it down. Or whether anyone cares about these issues at all.
From this entry in WikiPilipinas it appears the Santa Ana site is to be a mall (what a surprise). It will be run, of course, by SM, who fatuously describe themselves on billboards as “the good guys.” Thanks a lot “good guys.”
For a good post on this destruction, see Ivan Henares.
There is another great post about the racetrack from Gogirl Cafe -- it has lots of atmospheric photos (the one above was borrowed from the site). It also has a number of poignant comments from people who either lived in Santa Ana or worked at the racetrack.