Sense and Sensibility : The original soda fountain

First posted 02:56am (Mla time) May 21, 2005

By Bambi Harper, Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the May 21, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AFTER THE WAR when Makati was perhaps only a glimmer of an idea in the mind of Col. Joseph McMicking, there was the Escolta and Avenida Rizal. This was where you went to buy your shoes of "charol" [patent leather] or plain leather and the other items needed for school. There was also the Lyric and Capitol theaters whose architecture at the time was in no way a topic of discussion. Neither was the demolition of pre-war buildings a cause for worry since all of them were still in use.

Going "downtown" as it was then called was a special treat, especially drinking a chocolate ice-cream soda at Botica Boie, possibly the memorable first encounter with a soda fountain of most Filipino children. The pharmacy was actually an institution even then, but few may have known that it had been in existence since 1830.

The business was started by a Spaniard, Dr. Lorenzo Negrao, when the Philippines was allowed to trade with countries other than Spain. It took at least a year for supplies to arrive, so you can imagine what happened if a patient really needed a certain medicine. Herr Heinrich Schmidt took over the enterprise 20 years later together with another German pharmacist, Friedrich Steck, locally known as Don Federico. Friedrich bought out Heinrich seven years later and acquired as another famous landmark, Botica de Sta. Cruz, which was still doing business in Plaza Goiti before the war. Then he bought Botica Sto. Cristo, which was located at 348 Calle Sto. Cristo in Binondo, and Botica de Cebu.

Aware of the potential of the essence of "ilang-ilang" flowers, Friedrich started distilling it for commercial use. His enterprise won the gold medal and highest awards at the expositions of Madrid in 1887 and St. Louis in 1904 under the trade mark of "Pablo Sartorius," his nephew's name. (The patent for "ilang-ilang" now belongs to YSL and it is sourced mainly from India.) It commanded the highest prices in the European market. A total of 2.504 kilos was exported in 1914.

Seeing the success of Steck, others came up with similar products but of inferior quality or produced even artificial oils, causing the market to falter. The market never recovered, especially since the places where "ilang-ilang" grew were converted into housing projects.

When Friedrich decided to return to Germany, he sold Botica Sta. Cruz to another pharmacist named Westernhagen, who was married to Isabela Gonzales Tuason. Eventually his nephew, Paul Sartorius, whose main concern was the "ilang-ilang," bought the business and its three branches from his aunt in 1870. They remained in his hands for 10 years before he too returned to Germany.

Earlier in 1864, Reinhold Boie, another German pharmacist (haven't figured out yet why there were so many German pharmacists running around here), was employed by another Escolta pharmacy owner, W. von Borris. After three years Boie was sent to Vigan, the center of the indigo industry, where he opened a pharmacy using his own name due to some requirements of the law. Thus, the name Botica Boie actually started in Vigan in 1867. Somewhere in the National Archives should be the original grant issued to Boie by Spanish Governor-General Gandara to operate the store.

After two years, Borris sold Botica Boie to Paul Sartorious while Reinhold Boie purchased Botica Sto. Cristo. Eight years later, Boie sold it to Adolfo Eidner and returned to Germany.

In the meantime, Pablo Sartorious became ill and asked Boie to come back and run the business.

In 1884, Boie in partnership with Otto Ziegert bought the business from the Sartorius family for P52.000. The name was changed to Boie & Siegert. Botica Boie, which started in Vigan 17 years earlier, was sold to Dr. Alexander Schadenberg who was more interested in studying the minorities in the area than in pharmaceuticals. He did research on the Aetas and his mounted Negrito skeleton was exhibited in the Museum of Amsterdam. He traveled to Mindanao, ascended Mt. Apo, becoming the first European to do so. It was he who discovered the giant flower christened Rafflesia Schadenbergaiana, which attains a diameter of 80 centimeters, an honor he didn't appreciate because of its stench.

When Siegert died while on a trip to Germany, Boie took in Dr. Schadenberg as a partner until 1896 when both of them died, one before the outbreak of the revolution and the other in the midst of it in September. Both were buried in the cemetery of San Pedro Makati.

When World War I broke out, all the Germans running Botica Boie were in trouble. The members of the staff were deported to the United States in 1918 along with other German residents. The business was sold for P1.250.000.

In 1922, Botica Boie bought A. S. Watson & Co., a branch of the Hong-Kong store that apparently had been doing business on Escolta from 1880 to 1912 and had a branch in Cebu. Aside from medicines, surgical and scientific instruments, they now sold flavoring extracts, floor wax, toilet articles etc.

For 86 years Boie used to be located at 81-87 Escolta where the Lyric Theater now stands. In 1916, it moved to 95 Escolta, running back to Calle San Vicente. The two-story building was remodeled and another two stories added in 1920.

In 1925, the San Vicente building was torn down and a five-story concrete building was erected on the site for office, laboratory and other departments.

Some time in the 1960s the venerable Botica Boie, an institution, closed its doors. Nobody seems to have mourned its passing.

 Bambi Harper