Be it ever so humble (or grand) … (Part II)

Published August 9, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jaime Laya

Wala Lang

… there’s no place like an ancestral home. With the end of the Galleon Trade in 1815, the Spanish colonial government embarked on structural reform. Foreign trade, heretofore restricted to Spain and her colonies, was opened to other countries. Commercial agriculture was prioritized and locals waxed rich from coffee, sugar, rice, abaca, coconut, fishery and fishponds, tobacco, domestic shipping, and so on.

THE SPIRIT OLD HOUSES – A Taal bahay-na-bato restored by Michael T. Rodriguez

Naturally a farm house was not enough. They had to have a place in town and with business in Binondo or children in Sto. Tomas, Ateneo, or La Concordia, another one in Manila. That also gave them a chance to do business and maybe socialize with the Español and Chinoy old rich. For example, in addition to their mansions in Calamba, Vigan, and La Union respectively, the Rizals, SyQuias, and Lunas also had homes in Binondo and San Nicolas. Latecomers followed suit in Malate and Pasay.

Much of old Manila, Lipa, and Cebu went up in smoke during World War II or were swept away in later uncontrolled urbanization. Bacolor did not escape Mt. Pinatubo’s fury. Happily, one can still glimpse townscapes of old in Vigan (Ilocos Sur), San Miguel and Malolos (Bulacan), Silay (Negros Occidental), Taal (Batangas), and a few other places. I should add that still on my bucket list are Pila (Laguna), Sariaya (Quezon), San Juan (Batangas), and Carcar (Cebu).

Ilocandia and Tobacco

Calle Crisologo, Vigan (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long a trade center, Vigan has massive homes 200 years old or older from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Unlike the more common bahay-na-bato with a masonry ground floor beneath a cantilevered upper floor of wood, the older Vigan homes have thick brick walls faced with lime mortar from ground to tile roof. Their capiz windows are outside on the façade, visible whether closed or open. I once stayed in an old house adapted into a boutique hotel, its common rooms still with the feel of an old home. I was grateful not to be welcomed by ghosts allegedly still in residence.

The dining room of the SyQuia mansion in Vigan (photo credit: Dan Lundberg / Flickr)

The enormous SyQuia home is a museum. Retaining much of the family possessions, one can imagine oneself as a guest in a luxurious home of olden times. In the caida is a large replica of Luna’s Spoliarium. There, too, is the notorious bed that helped defeat President Elpidio Quirino in the 1953 elections—it was denounced for costing 5,000 pesos, then unimaginably extravagant.

The earlier, smaller home of the martyr priest Jose Burgos is also a museum, furnished with antiques of various periods and, when I visited, with the famous 14 Basi Revolt paintings.

The Marcos ancestral home in Batac (Ilocos Norte) is likewise a museum, memorable to me for a pack of butong pakwan like what the pretty Imelda Romualdez was cracking open when Ferdinand Marcos spotted her from the Senate floor. Behind the modest structure is a 1980s Vigan-type mansion, the replacement Marcos ancestral home. Several towns away in Sarrat is the refurbished home of the Edralins, maternal ancestors of President Marcos. Rehabilitated in the 1980s in time for the Irene Marcos and Greggy Araneta wedding, the house contains memorabilia on the first floor while the second floor is fitted out as a middle-class Ilocano home.

Batangas Barako

Batangas coffee planters became super rich in the 1870s and 1880s when coffee rust wiped out the coffee trees of Africa, Brazil, and just about everywhere else. For several years, the Philippines was the world’s main coffee supplier. The disease arrived here in 1889 ending the revelry. Till then, Lipeños were Olympic gold medalists in conspicuous consumption. La Estrella del Norte (the day’s equivalent of Rustan’s and Greenbelt 4 combined) put up a branch in Lipa to share in the bounty. Tales are told of dinners with gold tableware, silver slippers studded with diamonds, immense homes filled with European furniture imports, etc, etc. Unfortunately, much of the evidence was destroyed during World War II and I haven’t been to any of the few surviving homes.

A tertulia at the Acosta-Pastor home in Batangas City, Antonio A. Pastor singing

One gets an idea of those vanished palaces in Batangas City’s Acosta-Pastor house, built in 1883 by Don Alejo Acosta, gobernadorcillo and maternal great-grandfather of Antonio A. Pastor, the current owner. It’s burnished to perfection, fully furnished with heirlooms, and still lived in. The gracious Tony Pastor holds occasional tertulias, himself singing or playing on a Bősendorfer, one of two grand pianos in the caida (the other is a Steinway). A bullet hole remains on a sala wall, memento of the bad shot of an assassin targeting American Governor-General William Howard Taft who was holding a meeting there in 1901.

On Taal’s main street are Agoncillo and Apacible ancestral homes, NHCP-run museums furnished with family possessions. They look as if everyone had just gone out to church. Also on the main street are a pair of Ylagan homes. The sala of one of them has elaborately carved and gilded arches.

Still privately owned are the impeccably restored, furnished, and maintained homes of the Villavicencio family who were big supporters of the Philippine Revolution and of the Aguinaldo-led Republic during the Filipino-American War. Contrary to the popular impression that they were either painted white or varnished, old homes were colorful both inside and out, many with murals on walls and ceilings. The Villavicencio homes were given that look with advice from the late authority Martin I. Tinio, Jr.

A middle-class mid-1800s bahay-na-bato had been empty for years. It was acquired and sensitively restored by investment banker Miguel Rodriguez. With Escuela Taller de Filipinas graduates, he reinstalled the ceilings, replaced or repaired missing and decayed parts, tore out unsightly additions, overhauled the electrical system, replaced an outhouse with modern plumbing, added rooms at the rear. With antiques and vintage furnishings, it looks as if it had been passed down five or six generations.  Mike has adaptively reused the home as a bed and breakfast named Posada la Patriciana.

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