Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentine (Talisay City, Negros Occidental)

This city’s church was first built with light materials by Augustinian Recollect Fr. Fernando Cuenca and continued and completed by Fr. Miguel Garcia in the first quarter of the 1900s.  Fr. Garcia also built the convent whose ground floor he converted into a clinic. On February 1873, Fr. Ezekiel Moreno came and stayed at this famous rectory cum hospital for hydrotherapeutic treatment.

Church of St. Nicolas of Tolentino

Church of St. Nicolas of Tolentino

However, this church was destroyed as was its second replacement which was built with light materials.  The present structure, the third on the site, was started in 1936 by Fr. Luis Alvarez and completed by Fr. Santiago Vida.  On September 9, 1939, it was blessed by Msgr. Guglielmo Piani, Apostolic Delegate to the Philippines.  The remains of Fr. Fernando Cuenca and Gen Aniceto L. Lacson are kept here.

The church interior

The church interior

The only church left in the perpetual care of the Augustinian Recollects in the Diocese of Bacolod, it has a High Renaissance façade, a projecting portico on the main entrance and is flanked by two domed bell towers with tempiettos at the top of the dome and the base of the tower.

The altar retablo

The altar retablo

How To Get There: Talisay City is located 7.3 kms. (a 10 to 15-min. drive) north of Bacolod City.

Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker (Victorias City, Negros Occidental)

The highlight of our visit to the Victorias Milling Co. (VICMICO) was the Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker, an artistic landmark in the Western Visayas that heralded the birth of Filipino religious art in the country.  This modern and futuristic  church, also called the Ossorio Chapel, was designed by New York architect Anthony Raymond (an apprentice of the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright) and was built, on the site of the old factory, from 1948 to 1949.  Earthquake-proof, its tower and nave are connected by movable beams.

The Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker

The Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker

This Chapel, built for VMC personnel and their families, was once featured in Life Magazine (as well as Liturgical Art Magazine) as “The Church of the Angry Christ.”  It features mosaic panels formed with bits of broken bottles of soda, milk of magnesia and other colored bottles gathered by parishioners.

The chapel interior

The chapel interior

A symbol of avant garde art, it depicts the angry Christ (God the Son), with a flaming heart and seated on skulls and a serpent (which represents death), on Judgment Day with big eyes and long, outstretched hands (symbolizing His welcoming of the faithful who were called to this continual last judgment), being received by God the Father, represented by 2 huge, red-orange hands.  The Holy Spirit, represented by a descending dove with multi-colored wings, hangs above. All over the place are multi-colored angels.

The controversial mural

The controversial mural

Christ is flanked by brown-skinned Filipinized saints in native attire, standing as witness to Christ’s resurrection – St. Joseph and the St. John the Baptist on the left and Mary and St. John the Evangelist on the right.  The first Filipinism in liturgical art, its singular rendition of brown-skinned Filipinos as Catholic saints has deliberately “Filipinized” traditional Biblical themes, thus giving it a Filipino face.

Triangle with an overseeing eye

Triangle with an overseeing eye

The controversial altar mural, done in a psychedelic splash of primary colors, was also criticized in the 1950s because of its solid, vibrant colors and striking brush strokes.  It also created a stir in conservative church circles for its depiction of Jesus Christ as angry and fierce-looking, instead of a merciful and gentle god. The altar’s beam has a triangle with an overseeing eye, looking at those who are called – the faithful attending the mass.

Skylight above altar

Skylight above altar

Belgian-born American liturgical artist Adelaide “Ade” de Buthune, the Baroness of Schaerbeek, assisted by Romulo Sta. Ana, was commissioned to decorate the baptistery (depicting Christ being baptized as a Filipino), the tabernacle, the mosaic outer walls (particularly the mosaic of Joseph’s wedding to Mary) and murals at the back.

A sculpture of Benjamin VValenciano

A sculpture of Benjamin VValenciano

Local engraver Arcadio Anore executed Bethune’s designs for the brass plates decorating the pulpit, baptistery and other parts of the church. Local artist Benjamin Valenciano, a carpenter from Victorias, did the the crucifix, the Stations of the Cross and the images of Joseph and Mary, garbed as ordinary brown-skinned Filipinos.

Bell tower

Bell tower

Philippine-born American abstract expressionist Alfonso A. Ossorio, the New York-based artist son of Don Miguel Ossorio, did the mural decoration of the altar within 11 months.  Alfonso studied Fine Arts at Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachussets, U.S.A.) and continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. Among his friends were the famous abstract expressionist artists Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper

As painting medium, Alfonso used ethyl silicate 40, recommended to him by Ralph Mayer, a paint chemist, as appropriate for the tropics as it fghts humidity and withstands the dampness. Up to now, the murals have not been retouched and their bright colors still looks magnificent.

The Virgin Mary with the Holy Spirit

The Virgin Mary with the Holy Spirit

The front facade of the church has a mural showing three scenes from the life of St. Joseph – the marriage to Mary, the workshop at Nazareth, and the death of Joseph. There;s also the comic-like painting outside depicting “The Prodigal Son” (believed to be a pioneering work on the comics art in the Philippines) while the back of the church depicts “The Last Supper” and “The Virgin Mary with the Holy Spirit.”

The workshop at Nazareth

The workshop at Nazareth

Outside the church is a Carabao Sundial, built in December 1975 by Senior Machine Shop students of Don Bosco Institute, led by Hezekiah B. Katalbas and Vicente Gonzaga, with the assistance of VMC management.  Its horn is exaggerated to become the dial face.

The Three Kings

The Three Kings

As it features the works of world famous artists, this chapel should be protected and preserved for other generations to appreciate and, to ensure its preservation, it should be declared as a National Heritage Site or National Cultural Treasure.

The Carabao Sundial

The Carabao Sundial

Church of St. Joseph the Worker: Victorias Milling Co. (VICMICO), Victorias City, Negros Occidental.

How to Get There: Victorias City is located 34 kms. (a 45-min. bus or jeepney drive) northeast of Bacolod City.  Upon reaching the intersection of the National Highway and the road leading to VMC, hire a tricycle that goes straight to the church.

Chapel of the Cartwheels (Manapla, Negros Occidental)

From the mansion, Mark next drove us a short distance, across the field behind the Gaston Mansion, to the hacienda’s unique chapel.  Built during the hacienda days of the 1960s, it is probably the most native-looking of all Philippine churches.

Chapel of the Cartwheels

Chapel of the Cartwheels

Built by secular priest Msgr. Guillermo “Gigi” Gaston for the farm’s workers, its farming motif is reflected in its facade made mainly from various farm implements including plows, mortar (candle holders) and pestles (a holy water container), all indigenous to Hacienda Rosalia, as well as margaha sand and rocks from the nearby seashore.  The chapel’s benches were each made with slabs of hardwood by families who attended the mass.

The chapel's interior

The chapel’s interior

Its tall roof is a stylized wooden salakot (headgear) and the walls are made of artistically-linked discarded carabao cartwheels, an idea thought of by Msgr. Gaston who knew that the farm workers and their families could easily relate to this simple but widely used object in the farms where they worked.

The chapel's altar

The chapel’s altar

For him, the cartwheel also symbolizes the Holy Trinity with God the Father as the center of the wheel; Jesus Christ as the spokes surrounding it, leading the people towards God; and the the Holy Spirit as the outer rim  who ensures that the people don’t get lost on their way towards the center.

Seating area for the priest and 2 sacristans

Seating area for the priest and 2 sacristans

A huge, centuries-old boulder serves as the altar and the wall behind it is made of native stone and punctured by 3 cartwheel-shaped stained glass windows (representing God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit) with broken pieces of glass bottles (wine, milk and soda) in different colors, giving the altar a more creative and lively look. Boulders were also used as the podium top and seats for the sacristans.

Stained glass window

Stained glass window

The sliding doors feature mats of 128 panels portraying Biblical events and the usual Christ on the cross is modified by a farmer crucified on a cartwheel. Masses,  attended by hacienda farm workers and their families, are still being held in the chapel. The chapel, also open to guests and tourists who visit the town, is also a popular venue for weddings.

Christ on a crucified on a cartwheel

Christ crucified on a cartwheel

Chapel of the Cartwheels: Hacienda Rosalia, Manapla, Negros Occidental.

How to Get There: Manapla is located 44.7 kms. (a 1-hour drive) northeast of Bacolod City.

The Gaston Mansion (Manapla, Negros Occidental)

Jandy and I arrived at the Manapla Municipal Hall by 10:30 AM.  Here, we met up with town councilor Marcos “Mark” L. Escalante, my nephew and son of town mayor Lourdes Socorro “Uding” L. Escalante, my first cousin, who was at the U.S. at that time. Mark drove us to Hacienda Rosalia, home of the Gaston Mansion and the Chapel of the Cartwheels, two of Manapla’s tourist attractions.

The Gaston Mansion

The Gaston Mansion

The mansion's lush garden

The mansion’s lush garden

We first stopped over at the Gaston Mansion.  Its resident and current owner, the secular priest Msgr. Guillermo “Gigi” Gaston, wasn’t around, being at Bacolod at the time of our visit, but the caretaker allowed us to look around the living and dining areas of the mansion.  Incidentally, the mansion was featured in Peque Galalga’s 1982 multi-awarded film Oro Plata Mata, where it was referred to as Hacienda Lorenzo.

The ground floor

The ground floor

Stairway to second floor

Stairway to second floor

This stately and elegant, 2-storey mansion, the  ancestral home of Jose Gaston, one of the sons of Yves Leopold Germain Gaston, and his wife Consuelo Ascona, was built in the 1930s.  They had 8 children.  It is set in lush, verdant and gorgeous garden of flowers, shrubs, trees, potted palms and herbs. Within the grounds are a now-disused swimming pool (used as hiding place during World War II), a Victorian fountain, a pond and a time-worn shoe house (which was used before as a playground).

Dining Area

Dining Area

Chess table

Chess table

Its second floor dining room, opening into a breezy azotea overlooking the garden, had a wooden floor, a high ceiling and large windows.  What truly amazed me was its antique, 24-seater wooden table.  All around it are cabinets filled with crystal stemware, antique silverware and fine china.  Buffet lunches, served by servants of the Gaston family, are also offered for paying guests.

China cabinet

China cabinet

Antique telephone

Antique telephone

Gaston Mansion: Hacienda Rosalia, Manapla, Negros Occidental.

How to Get There: Manapla is located 44.7 kms. (a 1-hour drive) northeast of Bacolod City.

The Ruins (Talisay City, Negros Occidental)

The highlight of our Silay Heritage Tour was our visit to The Ruins in nearby Talisay City.  Here, a wacky, English and Tagalog-speaking tour guide narrated to visitors the fascinating tale of The Ruins, injecting humor along the way.

The Ruins - the Taj Mahal of Negros

The Ruins – the Taj Mahal of Negros

The Ruins is what remains of the grand, 2-storey mansion that Negrense sugar baron, Don Mariano “Anoy” Ledesma Lacson (1865-1948) built in the middle of his 440-hectare sugar cane plantation in the early 1920s, following the death of his first wife, Maria Braga, a Portuguese from Macau who died in an accident while pregnant with their 11th child. Don Mariano is the youngest of the 8 children of Lucio Lacson and Clara Ledesma from Molo, Iloilo.

Our tour guide explaining the history of The Ruins

Our tour guide explaining the history of The Ruins

He later remarried, this time to Concepcion Diaz from Talisay, adding 3 more children to his existing brood of 10 (which included Rafael Lacson, the former governor of Negros Occidental). It became the residence of Don Mariano and his unmarried children. After drawing lots, Don Manuel’s sugar plantation was divided among the 10 children by his first wife Maria and  the mansion went to Mercedes Lacson who married Manuel Javellana from Jaro District in Iloilo.

The interior of The Ruins

The interior of The Ruins

Later, the land was again divided into equal parts among the couple’s 12 children and the 3.6 hectares that included the mansion was given to Ramon Javellana. Raymund Javellana, one of Ramon’s children, thought of restoring the mansion and converting it to a tourist spot but the mansion remained abandoned for 67 years until they started to develop it on May 2007.  On January 2008, it was officially opened to the public as a tourist attraction.

The main entrance

The main entrance

The 903 sq. m., 10-room (8 rooms for their children, a master’s bedroom and a family room) mansion, of Italianate architecture, has twin Neo-Romanesque columns with the first letters of the names of Don Manuel and Dona Maria engraved onto the mansion’s posts.  They actually looked like Es that face each other.

The mansion grounds

Cheska, Marve, Kyle and Grace at the mansion grounds

Facing the main door, the boys’ and girls’ bedrooms, at the ground and second floors respectively, were all located on the left side. The master’s bedroom and the family room were both located upstairs and facing west, on the left and right, respectively. A small arched window, between the kitchen and the dining area, facilitated the movement of food, minimizing the servants going in and out of the kitchen.

The "M" moldings

The “M” moldings

The picturesque mansion, one of the top 12 fascinating ruins in the world and the Taj Mahal of Negros, has many interesting tales to tell.  Its top edges also feature a shell-inspired decor which, in New England, indicates that the homeowner is a ship captain. At the glassed-in sunroom with bay windows, Don Mariano would be often seen sitting as he viewed ships that come and go along the coastal waters of Talisay. Maria Braga’s father was also a ship captain.  Again, in keeping with the marine theme, the mansion’s second story also features a belvedere, between the master’s and family room  and also facing the west, where the family would gather to watch the sunset.

The restaurant dining area

The restaurant dining area

Felipe, one of Don Manuel’s sons, supervised the continuous concrete mixing and pouring, done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  This ensured that the concrete was very compact and that no air got in, resulting in the high-quality strength of the structure.  The concrete mixture also incorporated egg whites which, to this day, visitors can still see the gloss or shine on the mansion’s walls because of it.

The remains of the stairs

The remains of the stairs

In 1942, during the Japanese occupation in the early part of World War II, the mansion was reduced to its skeletal frame when USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) guerillas set the mansion ablaze, with the consent of Don Manuel, so it would not be used as headquarters by the Japanese forces.

Detail of column capital

Detail of column capital

The mansion’s roof, ceiling and the 2-inch thick, meter wide and approximately 20.5 m. long, jointless wooden floors, extending from the main entrance up to the end of the dining area, were all burned during the non-stop, 3-day fire but the foundations remained standing, thanks to its oversized steel bar reinforcement and the meticulous way of pouring the A-grade mixture.  The original Spanish machuca floor tiles, the hardest and most expensive during that time, also survived.

Detail of arch

Detail of arch

The original, 4-tiered fountain outside the mansion was, in its heyday, surrounded by a beautiful lily garden maintained by a Japanese gardener who, following the burning of the mansion, mysteriously disappeared.   Today, its landscaped garden draws various inspirations – from formal English to Japanese-inspired gardens.

The original 4-tier fountain

The original 4-tier fountain

Viewed just outside the mansion, with a tree on top, is the chimney (simborio) of the muscovado sugar mill (where the juice of the sugarcane is extracted) of the family’s sugar farm. From the mill, the extracted sugarcane juice is then transferred to large vats, heated and then cooled to produce the sugar crystals.

Exterior detail

Exterior detail

Inside The Ruins is a semi-fine dining restaurant (offering Mediterranean cuisine), a mini-bar and a souvenir shop while around it are modern additions – an 18-hole mini golf course, a snack bar and newly built toilets that still use the mansion’s original septic tank.

Belvedere detail

Belvedere detail

Aside from tours and dining, The Ruins are also be used for special events such as weddings, family reunions, pre-nuptial pictorials, etc.  There are also a stall selling Erv’s sugar cane juice, camping and picnic grounds, bath houses and a pavilion. Also within the grounds is a 3 m. high obelisk,the Landmark Award of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineering (PICE). Too bad, we left at 5 PM.  According to our guide, you will see the building glow from the sunset around 5:30 PM.

The simborio

The simborio

The Ruins: Open daily, 8:30 AM to 8 PM. Tel: (034) 476 4334. Admission: PhP60 (adults), PhP40 (students) and PhP30 (children).

 

 

Silay Museum (Silay City, Negros Occidental)

Entrance

Entrance

The Silay Museum, inaugurated last November 4, 2012, the eve of the Cinco de Nobiembre celebration, is located at the former site of the City Library.  It is a fulfillment of the dream of Mayor Jose “Oti” Montelibano and the Silaynons for a museum that would tell Silay’s history and the aspirations of its people. The concept, prepared by city councilor Neil Solomon L. Locsin, grandson of the late Sen. Jose C. Locsin, was executed by cultural affairs officer Achilles “Panoy” Corteza.  

Jose C. Locsin Memoabilia

Jose C. Locsin Memoabilia

Near the door and adorning a cozy nook along the walls are  numerous photographs, taken by members of the Camera Club of Negros, through the Negros Cultural Foundation, of 28 ancestral houses which were identified by the National Historical Commission (NHC) as architectural landmarks. 

Photo Gallery of Ancestral Houses

Photo Gallery of Ancestral Houses

museum-1Glass enclosures preserve a collection of clothes and manuscripts owned by famous sons and daughters of Silay.  They include the vestments of Silay parish priest Fr. Eusebio Locsin of Molo (who encouraged his relatives in Iloilo to settle in Silay because of its promising sugar industry), collection of traje de Silay (gowns) and precious documents (last entry of Fr. Eulogio Saez in Libro de Baptismo de Silay, etc.) and articles  (old statue of San Diego Alcala, etc.) from the San Diego Pro-Cathedral and the Diocese of Bacolod, with permission from Fr. Demetri Gatia and Bishop Vicente M. Navarra.

Dioramas

Dioramas

A collection of 27 paintings (“KABUHI, Paghim akas kag Pagkabahaginan ni Rizal”), done by the relatively unknown and underrated Caviteno master painter Simon Saulog (1916-1995), was commissioned by Sen. Jose C. Locsin in 1957 for the Filipiniana section of the public library.  They depict the different episodes in the work, life and death of Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal whom the senator personally admired. Saulog was trained in the Fernando Amorsolo school of painting espousing Classicism and idealizing rural life.

museum-3

Its seven eye-catching and colorful dioramas, inspired by the Ayala Museum. tells the cultural history of Silay from its beginnings (The Village by the Sea: 16th -17th Century, Life within the Estacada: 18th Century), how it was shaped by the sugar industry (Migration and Development: 19th Century), the the struggle for freedom (Cradle of Freedom: 1898 Cinco de Noviembre Revolution), the birth of the “Paris of Negros” (The Golden Age: The 20th Century), the effects of the war (The Last Stand: World War II, ) and to where it is now (Cityhood). 

Fr. Eusebio Locsin vestments

Fr. Eusebio Locsin vestments

Also on display are memorabilia and manuscripts (including a classified document presented to him that discusses, among other things, action plans that the country will take upon the expiration of the 1954-1974 Laurel-Langley Agreement) of the late Sen. Jose C. Locsin;, old coins and paper currency; antique furniture;  scaled models of Balay Negrense and San Diego Pro-Cathedral; an old kawa (cauldron used in the making of muscovado sugar); and old photos of Silay and its notable personalities. 

Simon Saulog paintings

Simon Saulog paintings

Silay Museum: Jose C. Locsin Cultural and Civic Center (in front of the Silay Tourism Office), 6116 Silay City, Negros Occidental. Tel: (034) 495-5553.

Silay City Tourism Division: Tel: (034) 495-5553.Fax: (034) 495-0848. Email: silaycity_tourism@yahoo.com.

Patag Valley (Silay City, Negros Occidental)

On our last day in Silay City, I, together with my wife Grace and children Jandy and Cheska, decided to do some trekking at Patag (meaning “flat plain” in the vernacular) Valley, located 45 kms. from Bacolod City in a valley 1,600 ft. (490m.) above sea level, between the highlands of Mt. Silay and Mt. Marapara.  After breakfast at Balay Daku, my grandfather’s ancestral house, we left by 7:30 AM and were accompanied by Neil Solomon “Solo” Locsin, my young first cousin, who was familiar with the place.  During World War II, the valley was a battlefield, being the last stronghold, in the whole region, of the Japanese Imperial Army’s Nagano detachment.   Here, 15,000 Japanese and hundreds of Filipino and American (from the U.S. 40th Division) soldiers died.  The Japanese surrendered after 5 months.  Today, a wide Japanese altar commemorates the last battle between the two forces and underground, manmade Japanese tunnels can still be found.  

The Von Einsiedel Resthouse


Throughout the 32 km., 1-hour trip, east of the city, to the valley, we passed huge expanses of sugar fields.  We first made a stopover at the beautiful resthouse of Milou von Eisiedel, another first cousin of Neil and I.  Designed by her husband and fellow U.P. alumni and architect Nathaniel “Dinky” von Einsiedel, the a resthouse had two bedrooms, living and dining area, kitchen, a mezzanine and a huge balcony that overlooks a terraced garden with beautiful flowers below and the verdant valley and mountains beyond.  

Returning to our car, our driver then drove us up to the end of a dirt road.  From hereon, it was all footwork as  we were to trek to a waterfall.  Leading the way, Solo guided us along a well-marked but slippery trail.  We were all wearing shorts which seem unsuitable as it exposed our legs to scratches from prickly plants and sharp rocks.  At one time, we had to wade through a stream made murky by an unsightly dam.  This aside, everything else was beautiful as we passed small waterfalls and beautiful turquoise-colored streams After 30 mins. of continuous hiking, we finally arrived at a beautiful, 25-ft. high waterfall.  This was as far as our schedule would allow and, after some photo ops, we retraced our steps back to the car. 

This short tour perked up an appetite to explore the valley, in more detail, sometime in the future.  The valley is a favorite for ecotours, it being a base for exploring stretches of rain forest and some of its 300 waterfalls, the most beautiful of which is the breathtaking Pulang Tubig Waterfalls (not in our itinerary though, being too far out) whose waters seems red in color because of its red or orange rocks it falls unto.  The valley is also home to sulfataras (sulfur geysers) and endangered species of wildlife including the Negros spotted deer (cervus alfredi).  This is also the jump off point for the hike going to Tinagong Dagat (Sipalay City) or Mt. Mandalagan and a site for Boy Scout Jamborees and Red Cross Training.

Bernardino-Ysabel Jalandoni Museum (Silay City, Negros Occidental)

From Balay Negrense, Solo next brought us to the nearby 2-storey Bernardino-Ysabel Jalandoni Museum, beside the City Public Market  and near the San Diego Pro-Cathedral.  Also called the Pink Museum, the house was first owned by Don Bernardino Jalandoni and his wife Dona Ysabel Ledesma-Jalandoni.  
 
Bernardino-Ysabel Jalandoni Museum
 
Their grandson, Luis Jalandoni, was a former priest who became one of the top leaders of Communist Party of the Philippines.  Since the 1970s, he has been living in exile in the Netherlands.  Luis spent the first 12 years of his life in this house.  The current heirs, Mr. and Mrs. Antonio J. Montinola have entrusted its care to the Silay Heritage Foundation, a non-government organization.  Built from 1908-1912, it was declared, on November 6, 1993, as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute (NHI).  
 
The expensive doll collection
The sala
A 4-poster, “An Tay” bed
The Steinway piano
Solo and Jandy browsing through books
on the round, single slab table
An old phonograph
 
We were toured around the house by a male guide.  The house was built with durable balayong, a hardwood coming all the way from Mindoro.  At the ground floor are photographs of Silay’s ancestral houses, a display to the Jalandoni’s expensive doll collection, 2 carriages, a gallinera (its bottom was used as a temporary enclosure for chickens) and a carroza with the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is still being paraded around the city during Holy Week.
A Stradivarius violin
A grandfather clock
A wooden harp

The second floor has embossed, prefabricated steel trayed ceilings imported from Hamburg, Germany.  Intricately carved, French-designed wooden calado transoms, a study of visual aesthetics and function, allow air to circulate within the house.  On display are antique furniture (including a single slab round table and 4-poster, Chinese-made “An Tay” beds), a wooden harp, Ming Dynasty chinaware, an old telephone, sewing machine, a Stradivarius violin, a grandfather clock, an old phonograph, a Steinway piano, chandeliers, etc.  The museum also features a fine collection of books, glassware and lace supplied by the Silay Heritage Foundation members.

Grace and Cheska at the grand stairway
Bernardino-Ysabel Jalandoni Museum: cor. Rizal and Severino Sts., Silay City, Negros Occidental.  Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 9 AM-5 PM.  Admission: PhP50.  Tel: (034) 495-5093.

Balay Negrense (Silay City, Negros Occidental)

After lunch at Locsin Reunion venue, Solo again toured us around the city, this visiting the 12-bedroom Balay Negrense (Hiligaynon for “Negrense House”), one of the largest if not the largest ancestral house in the city.  The first museum to be established in Negros Occidental, it was built in the Neo-Renaissance style, from 1898-1912, by Yves Gaston.  Yves was the son of 19th century sugar baron Yves Leopold Germain Gaston of Lisieux (Normandy, France) and Prudencia Fernandez, a Batanguena.  Yves generated wide-scale interest in commercial-scale sugar cultivation with his horno econonmico, the precursor of today’s sugar mills.  

 
Balay Negrense

Victor Gaston and his 12 children lived here from 1901 until Victor’s death in 1927. During World War II, the house was said to have been occupied by Japanese military officers. Later, the house became a venue for a ballet school run by one of the descendants until the early 1970s but was abandoned shortly thereafter and fell into disrepair.

The grand W-shaped staircase

The Negros Cultural Foundation, a group of concerned Negrenses, managed to acquire, through a donation, the house from the heirs of Gaston. The structure was then repaired and furnished with period furniture and fixtures through donations from prominent individuals and, later, the Department of Tourism.  This lifestyle museum was officially inaugurated on October 6, 1990.  

The spacious living area
The round table with names of Gaston descendants

Now a showcase of Negrense art and culture, it displays antique furniture, a grand piano, Filipiniana costumes and Gaston memorabilia.  The museum boasts of a grand W-shaped stairway (women used the right stairway, men the left), calado or carved panels that served as ventilators between rooms, etched window glass, fancy-grilled ventanillas (smaller windows beneath the large windows with sliding panels that can be opened to admit the wind) and sprawling gardens.  Solo showed us a big round table with lists of the names of the owner’s descendants, some of them familiar names of celebrities and politicians.  Some of them were my relatives.

The grand piano
The 2-storey house has a lower storey of concrete, with foundation posts made with trunks from the balayong tree, a local hardwood also used as floorboards for the house. The upper storey is made of wood while the roof uses galvanized iron.  The house has a 4-m. high ceiling and is elevated from the ground level by a 1 m. high crawlspace which enhanced air circulation, allowing the wooden foundations to be aerated, preventing dampness from rotting the wood and preserving the integrity of the house.
 
L-R: Jandy, Grace, Solo and Cheska
 
Balay Negrense: Cinco de Noviembre St., Brgy. III, Silay City, 6116 Negros Occidental.  Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 9 AM-5 PM. Tel: (034) 714-7676 and 495-4916.

Ramon Hofilena: The "Father of Heritage Conservation" in Silay City (Negros Occidental)

Manuel Severino Hofilena Heritage House

Certainly one of the highlights of our three-day visit to Silay City (Nregros Occidental), with my wife Grace and children Jandy and Cheska, was, aside from attending the 8th Locsin Family Reunion (my first), our tour of some of Silay’s 31 ancestral homes, accompanied by my young Silayanon cousin  Neil Solomon “Solo” Locsin.  Our longest visit was at the Manuel Severino Hofilena Heritage House, an illustrado’s house built in 1934.  A visit here was by appointment with current owner Ramon “Monching” Hofilena but Solo set it up for us with call to him. On hand to greet us was the 72-year old Ramon Hofilena himself.  

Ramon Hofilena

Since 1962, Monching has been welcoming visitors to his family’s ancestral house, the first Heritage House in Silay to be opened to visitors.  Also, since his return from New York in the 1970s, Monching has also been on a life-long crusade  to restore and protect Negrense cultural heritage.  He organized the Annual Cultural Tour of Negros Occidental (ACTNO), the longest running (nearly 40 years) cultural tour in the world.  Its itinerary includes Bacolod  City, Silay City (Jalandoni and Hofileña heritage homes), Victorias City (Church of St Joseph the Worker); Manapla (Chapel of the Carwheels) and Talisay City (PhP600/person, limited to 55 people).  The tour is often conducted yearly on all Saturdays of December, except holidays, from 9 AM to 5:30 PM.

The living room

The interiors of the house to be  exudes touches of genteel elegance.  The formal living room still has its original 1930s Art Deco period furniture.  Beside it is a 150-200 year old, German-made M.F. Rachals upright piano handed down by Monching’s great grandmother. Monching, a lover of art and culture, gave us a two-hour guided tour of his collection of museum-worthy pieces such as  antique lamps and chandeliers, large Ming dynasty jars, copies of the world’s first pocket books, silver picture frames (with pictures of his parents and 8 siblings; all of whom were involved in the arts: piano teachers, ballet and flamenco dancers, theater artists), a dining table set with fine china, silverware, wooden images of St. Vincent Ferrer, saved from the island’s old churches), wine glasses and silver candelabras, none of them reproductions.

The dining room


The comedor (dining room) has hardwood and glass cabinets (plateras ) that display Pre-Hispanic Chinese porcelain and ceramics, all of them archeological finds discovered in Silay (some an incredible 3,000 years old).  Monching also has a  collection of small dolls (said to be the smallest in the world, you need a magnifying glass to appreciate them) and curios from around the world, including tektites (meteorite stones) and anting-antings (good luck amulets).  The house also has an old press from Silay Printmaking (founded in 1970), the oldest printmaking workshop outside Manila.  Monching is working to popularize printmaking as an art form.  

Monching shows us his painting collection

Upstairs, lining the walls, are Monching’s  impressive collection (the most comprehensive personal collection on public display) of more than 1,000 works by foreign artists Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, Albrecht Durer, Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige; National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal (when he was 15 year old student at Ateneo) and works of local artists from the 19th century to the present – Juan Luna, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Ang Kiukok, Fernando Amorsolo, H.R. Ocampo, Jose T. Joya, Cesar Legaspi, Napoleon Abueva, Vicente Manansala and Bencab (Benedicto Cabrera).  Monching, with much emotion, gives special mention to abstract expressionist paintings of Conrado Judith, a poor and unknown Silaynon high-school graduate with no formal art education who died from tuberculosis at the age of 34. His canvas paintings, some damaged by sun and rain, were discovered by Monching in his thatch house.

L-R: Ramon Hofilena, Solo Locsin, Grace, Jandy, me and Cheska
Manuel Severino Hofilena Heritage House: Cinco de Noviembre St., Silay City, Negros Occidental.  Visits are by appointment.  Tel: (034) 495-4561.