Be It Ever So Humble (or Grand) … (Part III)

Published August 16, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jaime Laya

A tour of heritage houses in Batangas, Bicol, Bulacan, and Boac

Wala Lang

… there’s no place like [an ancestral] home. 

Most unusual was a Taal (Batangas) bahay-na-bato that was a bahay kubo in disguise. You wouldn’t notice the masquerade from outside. The home had the usual stone-walled ground floor and wood panels and capiz windows above. As expected, entry was from the street, via the front door on the stone wall. That’s where the similarity ended. 

Once inside, you walked straight through the zaguan and out another door to a paved open-air courtyard at the back.  Stone stairs were to the right, up which was a stone platform—the batalán of a bahay kubo and azotea of a bahay-na-bato. From there, you entered the house proper—the house had two entrance doors! That second floor outside door opened to the dining-room-cum-kitchen. A door to the right led to the main room that looked out to the street. Off it was the cuarto that also overlooked the street. It was one step higher, providing more head room to the entrance passage below. The cuarto was furnished with an almario (pillow rack) and a long cabinet that was the family altar, with santos in urnas and glass domes. 

WHERE THE PAST LIVES ON –Ceiling painting by Fernando Amorsolo in the Luis M. Santos home, Malolos (photo from Art Deco Philippines on Instagram).

It was exactly like a nipa hut where the way up and inside would be through the silong to exterior stairs at the back, up which would be the batalán, kitchen, main room, and silid. Probably dating back to the early 1800s, the owner-builder might have been perfectly happy with his old nipa hut but could now afford a bigger and better version. He might also have been thinking of it as the ultimate Taal-volcano-eruption-proof bahay kubo.

Sailing Ships and Bicolandia

Before ocean-going steamships became popular in the mid-1800s, people and cargo traveled the seas on majestic sailing ships, sails billowing in the wind. Ropes kept masts upright, rigging (ropes keeping sails properly deployed), stowing cargo, etc. They were made of hemp, the best kind being manila hemp or abaca. This brought wealth to abaca plantation owners of Bicol, Masbate, Marinduque, and wherever else the plant grew.

I haven’t gone around much in Bicol and the only heritage home I’ve seen there is the 1930s Naga City home of the Almeda family among whose members are the late Mrs. Fredesvinda Consunji and Mrs. Angelita Cruz (spouses, respectively, of construction magnates David Consunji and F.F. Cruz). It was a large white-painted Art Deco home and had, among other treasures, Sung and Ming Dynasty jars that a brother collected.

I remember more vividly the 19th-century Marinduque home of Don Pedro (“Kapitan Piroko”) Lardizabal. Wealthy among others from abaca, coconut, rice, and shipping, the mansion was the largest in Boac and possibly in the entire province. 

A carriage would enter the large front door, discharge passengers at the foot of the stairs, and exit the equally large backdoor toward the stables at the end of the property that was an entire block. Upstairs were the caida, the wide and airy sala, and two cuartos. The kitchen was in a projecting wing floored in stone so heavy that it collapsed one fine day shortly before my look-see. The heirs (among them Chief Justice Ricardo M. Paras, Jr. and Associate Justice Edgardo L. Paras) had moved to Manila and the mansion was a dormitory when I first saw it. In 2018, a neighboring house caught fire. Flames leaped across the street and the grand home is no more.

Bulacán’s Palayán and Palaisdaan

Rice fields as far as the eyes could see in Eastern Bulacan and Nueva Ecija gave birth to the grand houses of San Miguel de Mayumo. One house had a large jar that if memory serves, was filled with soil scooped from where Rizal fell in Bagumbayan. Life-size images of Christ and the 12 Apostles seated around a table were in another. Occupied by a caretaker family, the ancestral home of Doña Narcisa Buencamino de Leon (founder of LVN pictures) looked sad and lonely. The town’s largest, the Sevilla house, had three floors. The top floor was a ballroom where, in happier times, the Bulacan elite gathered for Celia Club’s Annual Ball. The house was completely empty and was evidently standing only by habit. Termites had been busy and I was warned to not to move away from the top of the stairs lest the whole house come tumbling down. I didn’t dare put my full weight down the whole time.

WHERE THE PAST LIVES ON – The Lardizabal home before it burned down, Boac, Marinduque (photo from Wikipedia)

Plaridel’s Bert and Tess Castro once invited me and some friends to watch the Good Friday procession from the windows of their home (three family carrozas were joining). The house was huge. Like the much-photographed Mercado house in Bustos, its ground floor was of sculpted adobe blocks. Upstairs overlooking the street were the sala furnished with Vienna bentwood furniture and a cuarto where the life-size processional images were kept. Behind were the stairs and caida, hung with framed photo-oleo portraits. The kitchen-dining room was in a projecting wing, in it a couple of large dining tables and long benches.

Interestingly, the Castro home’s L-shaped footprint was exactly like those of the equally large Lardizabal home of Marinduque, the massive older Ordoveza house of Laguna, and the much smaller homes in Pandacan (Manila) and Bustos (Bulacan) described in Part I of this series. 

Malolos has numerous old houses, some still occupied by the owners and still with original furnishings. Many are in the Kamistisuhan District near the Malolos Cathedral. The late Dez Bautista, culture and arts leader, lived in the celebrated house with a caryatid-embellished facade. The principal rooms were filled with family possessions and Dez’ collections. Just across the street was the ancestral home of the Reyeses (including FEU’s Lydia Echauz and Meralco’s Oscar Reyes), that as I recall was destroyed during World War II. It has been rebuilt, the second floor now an assembly hall. An old stone camalig in the backyard has survived and with the rebuilt home’s ground floor is a private museum of life-size santos dressed and brought out for Holy Week and fiesta processions. Nearby is the beautiful Art Deco home of famous pre-war eye doctor Luis Santos, renowned for a round ceiling painting by Fernando Amorsolo.

Before they moved to Tarlac and Hacienda Luisita, the Cojuangcos lived in Barasoain, a barrio of Malolos, across from the church where the Malolos Congress met. The house was a relatively small bahay na bato. It looked new, making me think that it had either been heavily restored or entirely rebuilt. Like the Reyes house in Kamistisuhan, an old camalig stood at the back of the property. 

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