Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is a sprawling resort in Bagac, Bataan that is roughly 400 hectares in its total land area. Begun in 2003 by Mr. and Mrs. Jose Acuzar, it was developed to showcase mostly Spanish colonial-era houses and illustrate to visitors how the Philippines was 100, or even 200 years back. Houses in colonial Philippines come in two types: the bahay kubo (from the Spanish word ‘cubo’, which translates to ‘cube’), which is made from conveniently sourced forest materials such as wood, bamboo, and palm fronds, usually from anahao (Livistona and Saribus fan palms) and nipa (Nypa fruticans, found in mangroves); and the bahay na bato, or literally, stone houses. The latter type have the lower level made from stone blocks or bricks, while the upper floor/s are constructed from hardwood. Some earlier types however used stone and brick materials all throughout, but these are very uncommon because such top heavy structures proved susceptible to damages from earthquakes. Still, the most artistically opulent examples of Philippine structures are found in the bahay na bato type.
The establishment offers a walking tour to walk-in and stay-in visitors, although quite disappointingly, only 5 houses were covered out of more than 20 that are found within the premises. The tour starts at Casa Mexico, on the southeast portion of the property. Interestingly, the original house had its parts torn down and sold to a junk shop, but eventually bought and reconstructed again, thanks to an old photograph that served as the guide for its restoration. Casa Mexico has a Banco de Oro automated teller machine, and if one wishes to rent bicycles or golf carts, they have to inquire here, too. Ironically, Casa Mexico is not part of the walking tour itself and we were not shown its upper level floor which is said to have a painted ceiling decorated with medallions.
Casa Bizantina ('Byzantina' is an orthographical variant) is the first stop of the tour. It is a three-story structure built in San Nicolas in Binondo 1890 by Don Lorenzo del Rosario, supposedly the signer of the Malolos Constitution. Prior to a massive fire in 1863, this area in Manila was dotted with nipa huts until Spanish Army Captain Esteban de Peñarubia moved in and rearranged the expanse into regular blocks that were eventually filled in by entrepreneurs, mostly artisans and merchants. The rising economic status of the inhabitants is reflected in the lavish homes and the industry mirrored in the names of the surrounding streets: Calle Fundicion (‘Foundry’), whose most famed inhabitant is probably Don Hilario Sunico, the real-life inspiration of Rizal for his Kapitan Tiago in Noli me Tangere; Calles Ylang Ylang and Aceiteros (where perfume-makers flourished); and Calle Jaboneros (‘soap-makers’). In common with other structures, the ground floor served as a commercial space and the upper levels, residential. Note that despite its name, the architectural style of this building is more Neo-Mudejar than Byzantine.
Catalan architect Joan Josep Jose Hervas y Arizmendi, who designed the Casa, served as the arquitecto municipal of Manila in 1892-1898. His Casa Perez de Samanillo still stands in Barcelona and is now home to the Circulo Ecuestre. The Perez Samanillos were former Manila residents and owned the Hotel de Oriente. In 1910, they had the Perez Samanillo building erected on the Escolta; this was designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of the great painter Juan Luna.
In the Philippines, it would appear that Casa Bizantina is the last surviving example of a Hervas work. In 1914 it was home to the Instituto de Manila until 1919, but after the Second World War, the entire neighborhood deteriorated. By 2000, Casa Bizantina was but a rotting shell of its former glory, its dank interiors said to be filled with the stench of human wastes. In 2008 it was declared structurally unsound. The following year, with more than 20 squatters occupying the building, it was sold and dismantled to be brought to Las Casas, where it stands it its newfound magnificence. As of now, it is the premier hotel in Las Casas, commanding a premium price of 120,000 pesos per night, can accommodate 16 guests at once and serviced by a butler for 24 hours. Furthermore, it boasts of Hermes toiletries for its temporary residents.
After a visit at Bizantina, the tour passes through Casa Baliuag II, which was formerly used by Iglesia ni Kristo. On its left is a series of four, charming, raised, wooden houses that originally came from Cagayan in northeast Luzon and accordingly called Casa Cagayan.
Below is Casa Baliuag II, followed by one of the houses in the Casa Cagayan series:
Right across is Casa Luna, a house owned by Primitivo Novicio, uncle of the Juan and Antonio Luna. The original house was built in Namacpacan in La Union; the town was ultimately renamed Luna in 1906. Casa Luna used to be in the center of the town and has a floor plan of a typical bahay na bato, with a cochera for carriages but also serves as a bodega for storing farm produce, and an entresuelo occupied by servants.
Casa Luna is rich in history. During the Liberation of the Philippines during World War 2, it served as the rendezvous point for the soldiers, and was the headquarters of the USAFIL-NL when the capture of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita was being outlined. Finally, it hosted the Nacionalista Party convention in the 1970’s which also guested Ferdinand Marcos.
Casa Lubao is the Acuzar ancestral home and built in the early 1900’s and was originally situated in front of the Lubao Municipal Hall. The ground floor is now used for providing visitors an opportunity to engage in indoor games, including billiards, pool, table tennis, darts, dama, and chonka (or ‘sungka’ as it is spelled nowadays).
Below is Casa Lubao, with a sculpture of Lola Basyang, a storytelling character conceived by Severino Reyes. The sculpture fronts a replica of the Jones Bridge, the original of which was designed by Juan M. Arellano. Menzie sits with the kids...
Menzie fooling around again:
Casa Biñan is also known as the Alberto House and is situated in Biñan, Laguna. Reputedly, it was built by Gregorio Alonzo sometime in the 1700’s and the ownership of the house was then passed to one of his sons, Cipriano. Cipriano, a former representative of the Spanish Cortes, married Maria Florentina and they had a son named Lorenzo Alberto Alonzo. Lorenzo married Maria Florentino, then age 12, from a prominent family in Vigan. Lorenzo's second wife, Brigida Quintos eventually bore him 5 children, among them Teodora Alonzo-Realonda, the mother of Jose Rizal.
By the early 1900’s the house was converted to a movie theatre known as ‘Cinema Ligaya’. Much later, the current owner of the house Gerardo Alberto, leased the ground floor to a bank and used the upper level as office space. A portion formerly occupied by the theatre caught fire and upon re-construction was leased to a supermarket. But due to maintenance costs and the declining state of the building, Gerardo decided to dismantle it and sell whatever is still salvageable until arrangements were made to transfer it to Las Casas. The move did not materialize however due to protests of heritage advocates and so the version at Las Casas is but a replica, though said to be as faithfully rendered as possible. Casa Biñan doubles here as an La Bella Teodora, an Italian restaurant.
Before the visitors were invited to visit the upper level of the house, they were treated to a short play as homage to our national hero, although in one bit, the actors played a scene derived from Sa Aking mga Kabata, a poem supposedly written by a young Rizal. Current evidences point to a very real possibility that the poem was written by someone else, at a much later date.
Nevertheless, and as an added note, its patio is the shooting location for the assassination scene of Gen. Antonio Luna, characterized by Jon Arcilla, in the movie Heneral Luna.
The last stop is Casa Quiapo, a mansion built in 1867 and featured Ionic columns. It was designed for the Rafael Enriquez family by Felix Roxas y Arroyo, the first professional Filipino architect during the Spanish period. This mansion was formerly located in Calle San Sebastian and was once described as the country’s most elegant during the Spanish colonial period. In 1908, it was employed as the first campus of the University of the Philippines School for Fine Arts with Enriquez as its first Director, until 1926. Enriquez passed away the following year, the same year when the structure was moved to Padre Faura Street. From being a school, the building was then used as a bowling alley, a dormitory, and then later as a torohan, a notorious live sex show. This sordid form of entertainment coincided with the deterioration of the building itself.
Yet in its finer days, the building also hosted the first school of Architecture in the country. Casa Quiapo, as a school, produced the likes of Fernando Amorsolo, Guillermo Tolentino, Emilio Alvero, Carlos Francisco, and Tomas Mapua.
Inside the houses were original Ionic columns such as this one:
On the ground floor is an exhibit by Polish sculptor Pawel Althamer who is currently exploring the connection of religion to people. That's my stepbrother Simon Uppgren taking some photos.
Casa Quiapo as seen from the Jones Bridge replica.
By 6 PM, we proceeded to Hotel de Oriente where guests were treated to a cultural show featuring folk dances. The estudiantina is a favored dance amongst students during the Spanish colonial period, and when it was performed, I was reminded of Jose Rizal, as he used to be involved in such activities during his stay at the University of Santo Tomas. The singkil was particularly intense, and on the final dance, the tinikling, guests were encouraged to try and join to allow them to have a more full-rounded experience. The entire affair was capped by two song numbers that featured Celeste Legazpi songs, Pipit and Paru-parong Bukid.
Below is a replica of the the iconic Hotel de Oriente. The original structure was built in 1889 at Plaza Calderon de la Barca in Binondo by Don Manuel Perez Marqueti and designed by architect Juan Jose Hervas y Arizmendi, and built at a cost of $100,000- despite the dollar sign, it's read as 'pesos'. The original structure had 3 floors and 83 rooms, and stables for 25 horses, complete with ceiling fans and electricity. It was situated next to La Insular Fabrica de Tabacos y Cigarillos and then to Binondo Church, with several Chinese retail stores within the vicinity. Additionally, it was near Intramuros and Escolta, making its location very accessible. Hotel de Oriente was consumed by fire in 1944, during the Second World War. Of note is that on June 26, 1892, Jose Rizal and his sister Lucia arrived from Hong Kong and stayed at Room 22 of this hotel. He was exiled to Dapitan a few days later, beginning four years of solitude and a life away from politics.