By Amadís Ma. Guerrero
An impressive, almost awesome sight.
Sprawling over a 400-hectare area facing Bagac Bay, Bataan, with its bracing sea breeze, are over 20 imposing ancestral homes, transplanted from their native soil, brought by brick by brick by trucks to this town (Bagac) known for its resorts, coded, reassembled, painstakingly reconstructed, and restored to their former splendor.
This is Cuidad Real de Acuzar, a project of Gerry Acuzar, 54, an art collector from the capital city of Balanga, and owner of San Jose Builders. “I believe that it is every Filipino’s duty and responsibility to safeguard his cultural agency,” Acuzar feels.
Acuzar bought the houses, which were in a state of neglect, from the owners, and in some cases also purchased the lot where the bygone mansions stood. The owners of ancestral homes which were well-preserved were not approached. There are no houses from Vigan.
The project actually started eight years ago but only gained momentum during the past three years. The bahay na bato, or great houses made of stone on the first floor and of wood on the second (constructed this way to withstand earthquakes), come from Tondo, Binondo and Quiapo, Manila; Quezon, Pampanga, La Union, the Ilocos and Cagayan.
A recent exposure trip organized by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines introduced the Ciudad to media persons and others interested, or involved in, heritage conservation. Location shooting was also ongoing for an ABS-CBN costume telenovela, with the cast and some stars promenading in Old-World attire. An informal photo-op ensued, and there were some extras dressed as guardia civil.
The Ciudad has a workforce of 130, including 10 wood sculptors, three metal sculptors, 30 craftsmen who design ceilings, along with construction workers. There are also five architects, two of them historical architects, and two artists.
Art director Jose Ceriola estimates the houses are in a 60-70 percent original condition. In one house, tiles have become fresco paintings depicting imaginative scenes from olden days.
In a fit of whimsy, for instance, Ceriola painted one native in tribal gear who is – texting!
The bodega (warehouse) has materials (Philippine hardwood) good for 50 houses. Ceriola said 22 mansions have been constructed, eventually to reach 50.
Many of the houses have four-poster beds, grand staircases, capiz-shell windows, vintage photos and paintings, santó and other objects redolent of the late 19th century and early 20th century.
“The most impressive house,” said tour guide Nico Manalo, is that of Rafael Enriquez, a well-known visual artist of the late 19th century. Indeed, it is a grand structure, built by architect Felix Roxas in 1970. On the other hand, the “daintiest house” is in pink while the most “macho” (as in grey and massive) came from Candaba, Pampanga. The Novicio Santo Romano House was once owned by a relative of the Lunas from Badoc, Ilocos Norte. Many important meetings were held here during World War II.
One house used to belong to a Nueva Ecija warlord who was the target of assassination attempts during the 1970s and 1920s. The term used to describe it was “pinaulanan ng bala” (literally bullets rained down upon him). He survived.
A day tour (walk-in or reservations) of the Cuidad de Real Azucar costs P750 per. There is also a big building, Escolta, which is distinct from the others. It is modeled on the architecture of the old shopping district of Manila, and may soon function as a hotel, for the rooms are ready.