Breaking News: Drexel RAs overwhelmingly vote to form union with 63-4 resultBreaking News: Drexel RAs overwhelmingly vote to form union with 63-4 result
Filipino architect and forgotten Drexel Dragon, Juan Arellano feature | The Triangle

Filipino architect and forgotten Drexel Dragon, Juan Arellano feature

Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As the resident news editor for The Triangle for over 13 months, it has been my task to find stories, events, issues, updates, protests and more to write about. It was my task to fill the front page each week, given by the Editorial Board and our former Editor-in-Chief, Nick Camarata.

While our new Editor-in-Chief, Ben Ahrens, has stepped into the role, there is no front page for me to fill right now. I am in charge of finding whatever angle might be deemed worthy of a good read and content that people want to see on our website during the quarantined spring.

What can fill a news section of a newspaper if there is almost no news? How can my writers write about events and people when everyone has to stay at home?

Thankfully, some parts of life still go on. Primary elections are moving forward; research teams across Drexel, Philadelphia and the country are tirelessly working to help; the restaurant scene is slowly starting to gain traction again — more information will be coming about that in due time — and there are organizations doing amazing work to help feed, nourish and comfort the Philadelphia community.

While all of these are wonderful things to write about, I felt that as a news editor for Drexel University’s student newspaper, there should be a new angle in which to write about my university during this time.

Despite this thought and this desire, almost no ideas were coming to me — well, nothing I liked. Thankfully, other people can turn on the light bulb for you — you just have to see the right thing at the right time.

As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed on the evening of May 15, I tuned in to see a fellow Drexel student — Nicholas Paparo — sharing information about the famous architect Juan Marcos Arellano y de Guzman. Unbeknownst to me, Arellano had graduated from the Drexel Institute with a bachelor’s degree in architecture after transferring from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Paparo was “pretty disappointed” that someone so extraordinary such as Arellano — who was the primary architect in the colonial Philippines as a consulting architect — was not one of Drexel’s distinguished alumni.

“Just looking at the list of distinguished alumni a lot of names pop out… Bossone, Lebow, Rittenhouse, Pennoni. All big donors / notable Philadelphians. Granted, Arellano did graduate well over 100 years ago and left Philadelphia long after, but you would think someone with his list of architectural achievements would be enough to retain a point of pride for the place that formally trained him in architecture in the first place,” explained Paparo.

Arellano constructed the famous Legislative Building in the Filipino capital of Manila, along with the city’s Metropolitan Theater and the current US Embassy Building. He designed the massive Manila post office and the Jones Bridge, along with many other famous buildings in his country in many cities and towns.

Sure enough, I checked Drexel’s website. Under the list of notable alumni, there was no one even from the decade in which Arellano graduated — the 1910s. How could an entire decade of Drexel graduates not be worth noting, Arellano especially?

And thus the idea came to mind — are there notable Drexel alumni that we simply don’t know about? Who else is out there with a phenomenal and odds-defying story, just waiting to be read about, that passed through Drexel University’s campus before we did?

After chatting with Paparo about this, he was able to forward me information about Arellano from the book he originally posted on Instagram with: “How to Hide an Empire” by Daniel Immerwahr.

Arellano was born in Tondo Manila, Philippines in 1888, and grew up there with an extraordinarily talented family. His brother, Arcadio, was the first Filipino architectural advisor to be hired by the United States; his cousin, Jose Palma, wrote the national anthem still used today in the Philippines; and another brother, Manuel, was a highly regarded photographer. But Arellano’s beginnings, like many people’s, weren’t where he ended up.

Arellano was a painter first and led the charge for Filipino impressionist painters at the turn of the 20th century as a teenager. In 1907, he submitted a painting of his to the Jamestown Exposition and traveled to the United States, but he himself became the attraction — a strange-looking man who could speak fluent English.

While being on display brought in the money Arellano needed, he wanted to study. He went to Philadelphia and became the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ prized student, winning the academy’s best painting award. However, as he went to compete in international competitions, he wasn’t allowed due to his lack of U.S. citizenship.

And so, Arellano gave up painting in light of architecture, transferring to Drexel Institute in the process before graduating. From there, he went on to New York City for work before returning to his country and doing the diligent work that he is known for.

One might look at the fact that Arellano went to Drexel as a trivial piece of information, but it served as the critical stepping stone in Arellano’s life. After his love for painting burnt out, he wanted to dive into architecture while remaining in Philadelphia. Drexel offered the perfect opportunity for him.

Without Drexel, Manila would be unrecognizable today. Without Drexel, the architect of the early 20th century Philippines wouldn’t exist.

In the coming quarantined weeks, more Drexel alumni will be featured and focused on in an attempt to shed some light onto the untold stories of former Dragons. Their histories are worth reading about.