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La Gota de Leche Building - Sampaloc Manila’s Built Heritage Structures

La Gota de Leche building Manila

This article features the La Gota de Leche building as home to the charity organization founded by the Feminista Filipina and other philanthropists, La Proteccion de La Infancia, Inc. (LPI).

After the Philippine-American War in 1902, a Beriberi (Thiamine deficiency) epidemic infected mothers and contaminated breastfed milk. This led to high mortality rate among newborn infants. With the goal of providing care for mothers and children, Trinidad Rizal (sister of National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal), Concepcion Felix, and other women form Feminista Filipina in 1905, which later led to founding of Gota de Leche in 1906. The first Filipino president of the Philippine General Hospital and one of the founders of the organization, Dr. Fernando Calderon learned about the programs of the French organization that offers pasteurized fresh cow’s milk to babies whose mothers cannot provide breast milk. Upon his return to the country, Dr. Calderon shared the concept to his colleagues at the La Proteccion de la Infancia. The enthusiasm of the founders and incorporators has nourished children since 1906, even during WWII, and continues to this day.

The Gota de Leche (Drop of Milk) was a project of La Proteccion de la Infancia, Inc., a humanitarian organization who campaigned against high infant mortality rates. The organization is dedicated to providing nutrition assistance to impoverished children as well as promoting the health and well-being of mothers and children. The first building was inaugurated by William Howard Taft in October of 1907 in Evangelista Street (formerly San Pedro Street), Quiapo. The new building was constructed in 1915 in Sergio H. Loyola Street (formerly Lepanto Street) in Sampaloc. 

Completed in 1917, La Gota de Leche building is designed by notable architects and brothers, Arcadio and Juan Arellano, taking inspiration from the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents), an orphanage created by renowned Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi in 1419 to 1427, located in Florence, Italy. 

La Gota de Leche Building main facede Manila Architecture

Rectangular in plan, the main facade of the building is oriented southeast-ward measuring about 337 square meters and surrounded with open spaces at the east and west yards. The front façade opens up to a small open plaza, across Sergio H. Loyola Street.

La Gota de Leche building ornamentation of motifs referring mothers and babies

La Gota de Leche building presents heavy ornamentation of motifs referring to its prime vision, mothers and babies. The two-storey Italian Renaissance-inspired brick building is characterized by the main façade crowned by a triangular pediment adorned at its apex by a statue of Madonna and Child. The main portal is distinguished by the tympanum decorated with winged-woman relief flanking the inscribed latin words, “Salus Populi Suprema Lex” (The welfare of the people is the supreme law). 

La Gota de Leche building statuary of a woman holding an infant inscribed La Proteccion de La Infancia

Two composite columns frame the main portal supporting a semi-circular. Each capital has a statuary of a woman holding an infant. Above the door is the name inscribed La Proteccion de La Infancia. The rectangular windows articulated of wrought iron grille are flanked on either side of the portal.

Adjacent to the right side is cross-vaulted arcade or loggia of five bays separated by semi- circular arches. The columns have four-sided capital articulated with a naked chubby child and rose ornamentation, and the arcaded walls are adorned with medallions of children. Reliefs of babies surrounded by terracotta roundels articulate every space between arches. The loggia has a distinct feature of vaulted ceiling, a Renaissance style that is also adapted to the design. Framed with composite columns of the loggia are large extant capis shell windows is also a distinct character of the structure.

The portal leads to a lobby that is adjacent to the building’s main hall called Natividad Almeda- Lopez Hall. The lobby also has a stairwell leading to a multi-purpose hall on the second floor. Fluted pilasters decorate the perimeter of the second-floor function hall. The hall’s ceiling is adorned by an open truss system. 

In 2002, the property underwent restoration. The initiative received an honorable mention in the 2003 Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Preservation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The restoration adapted the use of local materials and craftsmanship in the existing tilework, grille work, and capis window panes in wooden lattice frame. In 2014, it was declared an Important Cultural Property by the #NationalMuseumPH.

Gota de Leche’s extant capis windows

The Gota de Leche’s extant capis windows were installed during the restoration of the structure in 2002. Originally, the archival plans indicate usage of glass windows. However, based on an archival photo dated 1922-1924, the historical structure used capis shells for its windows. The shells used for the structure has an average dimension of 6 centimeters in width and 6 centimeters in height, which is identified as third grade flat. About four thousand three hundred and seventy-six (4,376) capis shells are used on the windows, beautifully lighting the building’s interior.

Currently, Gota de Leche building is amongst Manila’s built heritage structures featured at the National Museum of Philippines’ interdisciplinary exhibition, “Placuna placenta: Capis Shells and Windows to Indigenous Artistry” waiting for visitor’s appreciation. La Gota de Leche is representative of the country’s social history and contribution manifested in the intricacy and artistry of its edifice. When we open to the public, you can marvel at its ornamentation at the Gallery 20, third level of the National Museum of Fine Arts. 

In the meantime, here is a link to the exhibition:


Gota de Leche

Location: Loyola Street, Sampaloc, Manila / Completed 1917 / Architects: Arcadio Arellano, and Juan Arellano

Gota de Leche (Drop of Milk) building is a project of La Proteccion de la Infancia Inc. (LPI), a charity organization founded in 1907 by Asociacion Feminista Filipina, together with other philantrophists. Concerned with alarmingly high mortality rate, malnutrition, and diseases of the infants and children from poor families, LPI provided free medical care and created a nutritional program by giving free weekly rations of milk. The first foundation was in San Pedro (now Evangelista) Street, Quiapo, Manila.

The design for the present building was a collaborative work of Arcadio Arellano, considered to be one of the founding fathers of Philippine Architecture, and his brother Juan Arellano, a newly arrived architecture graduate from the United States. Construction began in 1914 or 1915 on the land donated by the philanthrophist Teodoro R. Yangco in Sampaloc, and was finished in 1917. Gota de Leche was modeled on the first Renaissance building in Europe, the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents), an orphanage in Florence, Italy designed by the renowned Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi in 1419 to 1427.

The brick building is rectangular in plan. The two-story main facade has a triangular pediment whose apex is adorned with a statue of the Madonna and Childat its apex. A tall arched portal serves as the main entrance with decorative relief carvings and the Latin words Salus Populi Suprema Lex (“the welfare of the people is the supreme law”) familiar Latin words from Cicero’s De Legibus.

Adjacent to the right is a five-bay, cross-vaulted arcaded loggia (shaded verandah) with semicircular arches on columns. In the spandrels or spaces between the arches are the terra-cotta tondi (roundels) that frame reliefs of babies in swaddling clothes, referring to the advocacy of the institution. All these features relate to Brunelleschi’s masterpiece. Mother and child, angels, and robust infants were the main decorative motifs used in the reliefs. Large wooden-framed capiz shell windows that protect the verandah from sun and rain provide a local touch.

In 2002, Gota de Leche and its garden were restored to their original 1917 condition and appearance by a team spearheaded by architect Augusto Villalon and landscape architect Ani Katrina de Leon. Villalon’s grandfather Doctor Jose Fabella was once a president of Gota de Leche. The restoration project received an honorable mention in the 2003 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Preservation. It was declared a historical landmark in 1977 and 2003 by the National Historical Institute (NHI), later known as National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

A successful adaptation of Italian Renaissance architectural style in a tropical setting, Gota de Leche continues to serve its original purpose with other parts of the building rented and leased for exhibitions, student and community functions, and office space.



Text and illustrations by Ar. Bernadette B. Balaguer, Architectural drawing by Ar. Armando J. Arciaga III, and photos by Erick E. Estonanto | NMP AABHD

© National Museum of the Philippines (2021) 


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