The National Museum of the Philippines is not just the premier repository of the country’s priceless artifacts and treasured paintings, but with the launch of a unique space in October last year, is now also a venue for atmospheric receptions and sit-down dinners.
The refurbished Senate Hall is located in the structure that houses the National Art Gallery of the museum. Known as the Old Congress or Old Legislative Building for many years, it was designed as the Public Library by Ralph Harrington Doane, a consultant of the Public Works bureau, assisted by his Filipino assistant Antonio Toledo. Construction began in 1918 but a change in plans saw it completed in 1926 instead as a facility to be used by the Legislature with final revision entrusted to renowned local architect Juan Arellano.
Many historic events played out in this building – the 1934 Constitutional Convention, whose results paved the way to gradual independence from US colonial rule, was held here and the inaugural ceremony of Manuel L Quezon, president of the Philippine Commonwealth, took place on its front steps. A victim of massive shelling in the 1945 battle for Manila, it was quickly reconstructed, welcoming back the country’s lawmakers until they subsequently moved out years later. In 2003, it became part of the National Museum’s asset portfolio and was designated as the National Art Gallery.
Due to expanding occupancy, the building’s interiors underwent modification from its original state, and this included the Senate Hall. In 2010, National Museum Director Dr Jeremy Barns and his team decided to address the situation, embarking on a restoration project that opened up the chambers that had been partitioned in previous years to create more offices, repainting the walls and columns and staining the floor in its original deep red. The stunning results – such as the 15-metre ceiling with ornate detailing – were unveiled in ceremonies last October 29, attended by President Benigno Aquino III.
Since then, several functions, both of official and corporate nature, have been held in the Senate Hall such as dinners hosted by Philippine senator and fervent National Museum patron Loren Legarda, Citibank and the Young Presidents Organization, as well events by educational institutions. Bookings for more commercial activities such as product launches or private parties, however, will not entertained, according to Director Barns, in keeping with the National Museum’s mandate of promoting the country’s cultural, scholarly and scientific affairs.
Rates for rental of the Senate Hall start from P100,000 (US$2,440), and for an extra charge, some of the galleries, containing works by Philippine masters such as Juan Luna’s award-winning Spolarium, can be kept open past regular hours for guests to view.