I am dedicating this tribute to fallen a grand dame.
For more than a century, this stunning three-story bahay-na bato has stood at the corner of Madrid and Peñarubbia streets in the heart of Manila’s San Nicolas district. Easily the grandest example colonial domestic architecture this side of Chinatown, this mansion eclipsed most of the period homes in terms of artistry, details and size.
It was a house that awed me as little boy growing up in Binondo, its architectural merits carrying me through as I moved out of Chinatown, learning to appreciate and love the very unique qualities of our very own bahay-na-bato.
A few Saturdays ago (May 09 to be exact), I was doing an impromptuu walking tour of San Nicolas’ old houses with a restoration architect and his friend when I saw this:
Sigh. The old lady has finally bitten the dust. It feels sad. Really sad.
This was, after all, a no ordinary house. According to Eliza Agabin, a researcher from the UST Cultural Heritage Studies program, this house ” was built in 1890 by a certain Don Lorenzo del Rosario. From 1914 to 1919, the house was leased out to Instituto de Manila to hold elementary and high school classes. It was a school until 1919 when the Instituto moved to its own building at Sampaloc and expand to become The University of Manila. Around after the second World War, the house was leased to various tenants. “
Read on and mourn what we just lost.
” The Casa Vizantina, made primarily of local hardwood, is aesthetically significant for being representative of the prevailing late 19th century Floral style bahay na bato in Binondo. The characteristics are evident in the delicate embellishments on the facade, including neo-Byzantine elements like slender colonettes and round wooden arches. The facade is significant for its use of quality Philippine hardwood and the workmanship involved in its creation. The facade and the house, forms part of an aesthetically and architecturally important street scape in San Nicolas, Binondo.”
This part is even sadder when you realize what people had just taken apart.
“The house is one of the surviving three-story structures from the 19th century that was once common in areas like Binondo that still retains most of its original fabric.”
I can attest to this stylistic rarity as I’ve only seen two examples of this in my lifetime (in Chinatown) this and another one which is now just a mere facade.
There is little ray of hope though.
My sources tell me that the house is being rebuilt in the controversial colonial homes theme park of Mr. Jerry Acuzar in Morong Bataan, something that my fellow namesake and heritage activist Ivan Henares takes a very, very strong stand against of.
I, for one, am seeing a small light in this particular issue , the structure itself hasnt been very well maintained in the last few decades. I once took a friend who literally picked up a wooden carved detail which fell off the house. It was a huge squatters camp with electrical wiring dangling dangerously near the wooden panels. A fire could have devoured the house in a couple of hours- easy.
Rather than have it fall into that worse fate, this is probably is the most doable current option to save it. Not unless somebody is willing to put millions into it.
Still, it is with a heavy a heart that I document this unceremonious uprooting of a physical link with Manila’s past.
I can only only hope (and pray!) that its architectural integrity is done right when it is resurrected in Morong. We owe it in honor of the artistic legacy of our ancestral builders.
In 2005, I made a mini photo documentary of the houses in San Nicolas/Binondo-perhaps the biggest concentration of 19th century period homes in the city. Let me again walk you through and see how architecturally rich this part of my city is.
Thanks to Out of Town Blog ,my fellow guide Carlos Celdran and Katrina Holigores for the photos. Thanks too to Eliza Agabin for the info.