The land on which the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila stands is a revered ground, replete with history, theology and education -- right at the very heart and core of Manila, the country's capital city.
At the site now occupied by PLM was situated the Colegio de Manila, a.k.a. Colegio Maximo de San Ignacio, the first college run by the Jesuits in the Philippines and founded in 1590 by Fr. Antonio Sedeño, S.J. It was the first school in the Philippines and formally accepted students in 1595. During those times, the Jesuits were reputed to be the best educators of Spain, and perhaps of Europe. The college was eventually granted a university status in 1621 and was thereby transformed into Universidad de San Ignacio. The church of the college, first known as the Iglesia de Santa Ana, was the first stone church in the Philippines. It was built in 1590 along with the Walled City of Intramuros and eventually opened in 1596, but was later destroyed by a strong earthquake in 1599. This church of the Universidad de San Ignacio was reconstructed with a much bigger structure in 1626 and was named in honor of San Ignacio de Loyola (St. Ignatius of Loyola).
On 25 August 1601, the Colegio de San Jose, also located within the vicinity, was set up as an adjunct of the Colegio Seminario de San Ignacio. Twenty years later, Pope Gregory XV, through the Archbishop of Manila, authorized the Colegio Seminario de San Ignacio to confer degrees in theology and arts, and elevated it into a university (Universidad Maximo de San Ignacio). In 1623, Colegio de San Jose was granted the right to confer academic titles by virtue of the royal decree of King Felipe IV of Spain, making the school both a pontifical and a royal university, and the very first university in the Philippines and Asia. In 1722, the Colegio de San Jose was granted a royal patronage and was conferred the title "Colegio Ad Honorem."
The year 1768 saw the departure of the Jesuits, thus, the buildings were transformed into the seminary of the Diocesians. The college was converted into a liberal arts college under a secular administration until it was transferred to the Dominicans in 1875. From 1784 to 1880, it was the site of Real Seminario Conciliar de San Carlos. In 1895, the Universidad Maximo de San Ignacio merged with the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the Universidad Sancti Thomae (University of Santo Tomas). The Colegio de San Jose is now the San Jose Major Seminary at the Ateneo de Manila University.
The buildings were later used as military headquarters called Cuartel del Rey, and later, Cuartel de España. Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the country's national hero, was tried on false charges of sedition on 26 December 1896 for his love of country, nationalism, patriotism and enlightened liberalism.
During the American Occupation until 1941, the buildings and the whole premises served as military headquarters of the 31st Infantry Division of the United States prior to the outbreak of the Second World War when Major Gen. Douglas MacArthur was recalled to active service to head the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). The area fell under the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army on 02 January 1942 after Manila was declared an "Open City" until the country's liberation from the Japanese Occupation.
After the "War of the Giants" which left Manila in ruins, this 2.8-hectare lot was developed and later occupied by the Manila High School. It was a school that produced Philippine presidents, including Jose P. Laurel, Manuel A. Roxas and Elpidio Quirino. Former Chief Justice Jose Yulo and hero General Basilio Valdes also studied here.
On 01 April 1967, PLM formally occupied and took over the land and building vacated by the Manila High School which President Diosdado P. Macapagal sought to grant to PLM under Presidential Proclamation No. 392-A dated 24 April 1965 to spur the renaissance of a new era of educational excellence. The grounds where the University is located was conveyed by the Republic of the Philippines to the City of Manila on 05 February 1970, through the efforts of former Manila Councilor Ernesto M. Maceda, then Executive Secretary of President Ferdinand E. Marcos. This land was later transferred by the City Government to the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.
PLM comes as a delightful mix and synergy of the old and the new: of age-old and time-honored academic tradition pioneered in the country centuries ago, and of modern-day scholarly education and scientific innovations. PLM stands proudly on a stately historical landmark which is a home for academic and scholarly advancement and erudition for more than four centuries with its rich history of eminent intellectual pursuits. The beacon of outstanding academic excellence, proudly as it is a birthright of Pamantasan, has likewise been a centuries-old tradition of this side of Intramuros by which every member of the Pamantasan community carries with utmost dignity, pride and honor.
The PLM is the place for the realization of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the youth of Manila. And with all the history that has taken place not only in Intramuros, but also on the same land where the PLM stands, it is but fitting that the youth of Manila come here to fulfill the Filipino dream.