Tag archive for "heritage houses"




No Comments 25 February 2010

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.




No Comments 23 January 2010

By Amadís Ma. Guerrero

At C-5 Road in Taguig City, Metro Manila, near my residence, the car bearing friends Odette and Binggirl of the Earth Day Philippines Network hove into view, and we were on our way. It was to be ecotourist tour, with equal emphasis on the environment; and our destination was the heritage town of Taal in Batangas, its Pansipit River, and nearby Lake Taal, the historic body of water and ecological wonder.

We took the Tagaytay route, less traffic and more scenic. Tagaytay the ridge city remains a prime piece of real estate for entrepreneurs and Manila residents seeking to build a resthouse in that cool hideaway. There are now a bewildering number of restaurants, hotels and inns, mansions and subdivisions. But from time to time along the ridge, there were views of Taal Volcano and the lake, as beautiful as ever from a distance.

Odette was enchanted; she hadn’t passed this way for some time. The problems concerning the lake were not evident from here.

Then we reached Batangas and the highway curved downward towards the lowlands, passing through San Nicolas and Agoncillo, with a lot of greenery still around. Then came bustling Lemery and finally, after a relatively brief ride of more than two hours, Taal, with its stairway dedicated to the first Filipino saint Lorenzo Ruiz, miraculous Our Lady of Casaysay Church along the Pansipit River, and row of 19th century ancestral homes leading to the plaza, where stands the mighty San Martin de Tours Basilica, its majesty now marred by a new belfry which looks like an infant formula bottle (biberon, as one resident irreverently told me during a previous visit).

Taal has a rich history and, during the Spanish regime, was the capital of the province, also named Taal (now Batangas). The area it covered stretched from the lake-volcano to Balayan Bay. It was a progressive area, Taaleños (Batangueños) being hardworking. But a catastrophic eruption of Taal Volcano in 1849 wrought havoc upon the lakeshore districts, followed by a severe earthquake in 1849.

The sitios and barrios – Lemery, Bauan, San Nicolas, Santa Teresita, San Luis and Alitagtag – became towns. And Taal itself was transformed into a sleepy, quiet little town overlooking Balayan Bay. It is a living museum town, not quite on the scale of Vigan in the North but still an important reminder of what is worth preserving from the past.

There are many landmarks in Taal, among them the Agoncillo ancestral home, or the Marcella Agoncillo Historical Landmark which is run by the National Historical Institute.

Marcela Agoncillo’s claim to fame in Philippine history is that she sewed the Philippine flag which was displayed during the inauguration of the First Philippine Republic on June 12, 1898. This was at the request of President Emilio Aguinaldo. Marcela and her husband Felipe were also in exile then in Hong Kong.

The museum, restored and well maintained, has antiques, mementoes and artifacts associated with ancestral homes. But what caught my eye were old books in Tagalog, English and French; the latter were acquired while the couple was in the Crown Colony.

Near the Agoncillo home is another architectural gem, an ancestral home built in the late 19th century, and now oddly named Villa Tortuga as a tribute to the marine turtle (pawikan) which can occasionally be seen in the nearby river.

The house still reeks of elegant, bygone days and has original planks for floors, capiz-shell windows, long table, vintage photographs, chandeliers, family piano, a mural depicting the countryside, paintings, staircase, multimedia artworks, and santo. The designer who rents the house has added antiques from his own collection.

And it was to this house that we repaired to for lunch cum briefing on the ecological state of Lake Taal. Our host for the delicious meal (which included tawilis fish, a delicacy from the lake) was renowned glass sculptor Ramon Orlina, who is a favorite son of Taal.

Also present were staffers from the local and regional DENR (Department of Environment & Natural Resources) and consultants.

The consensus was that Lake Taal, which is a prime ecotourist attraction in Southern Tagalog, is in a lamentable condition ecologically (tagilid) due to pollution, overfishing, and proliferation of fish cages. The prized fish maliputo is becoming an endangered specie.

 Talks are ongoing with the mayors of the surrounding towns, and most are cooperating, submitting the names of owners of fishpens which have to be dismantled. These cages have to be reduced to a tolerable level. One mayor, however, seems to be protecting the fishpen owners. Koreans are believed to be the investors/ silent partners in these ventures.

Later we chatted with Peter Capotosto of Sail Philippines, an Italian-American who is a longtime resident of Batangas, and an ecological consultant/coordinator.

“The pollution comes from residents and businesses like the resorts,” Capotosto said. “They are dumping sewage directly into the lake. Taal is a living lake but it is dying. A lot of people also dump their garbage into the rivers that flow down to the lake, including the Pansipit, which is the only river that drains out into the sea.” Pansipit runs through four towns- Taal, Lemery, Agoncillo and Balayan.

 Another source of pollution is fish feed, which is actually chicken waste (s–t). “You see piles and piles of this chicken feed,” the environmental specialist said. “There is a simple solution. Just classify fish feed as solid waste, and you are not allowed to dump solid waste into the lake.” But pollution, he added, is worse in the area of the fish cages.

“The lake used to be very clear but it is now murky,” Capotosto concluded. “You cannot see a fellow diver only several feet away. And this is a tourist zone!”


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