You’ve heard of stories of people collecting antiques and furniture with historical values. We’ve seen this art pieces and ancient artifacts in museum and private or government protected heritage houses. But what about a collection of the heritage houses itself, relocated and put into one place? This is what I discovered when we visited Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar recently.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar (literally meaning “The Philippine houses of Acuzar“) is a heritage park in the province of Bataan. It is a project of the New San Jose Builders, owned by art collector Architect Jose Rizalino “Jerry” Acuzar, which is aimed to showcase cultural heritage. Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar celebrates Filipino Heritage through showcase of Filipino talent, ingenuity, and craftsmanship. The legacy of our forefathers, and beautiful Filipino customs and traditions are desired to be preserved through the restoration of the houses in here. Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar yearns for Filipinos to step back into the past, and re-live the traditions and practices that are distinct to our culture.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is built on 400 hectares of land in the town of Bagac, in the south western part of the province of Bataan, with a total land area of 231.20 sq. kms. or 16.5% of Bataan’s total land area. It is about 157 kms. north western part of Manila along the National Highway (estimated 4 hours drive from Manila). Bagac is one of the smallest and oldest towns of Bataan. In the early part of the 17th century, even before the coming of Dominican friars to the island, this town has already been existent, although it did not have an official name yet. This town formerly belonged to Mariveles, another town in the province of Bataan. It also had once become a barrio of Morong, Bataan for the reason that it could not stand on its own because of its population and income. However, when immigrants from different parts of the Archipelago arrived, they saw the town’s idle land, virgin forests, and fishing industry, fit to develop. In due time, Bagac was then able to declare itself as an independent town of Bataan. Today, the town is now on its stage of full development. Its present progress may be pointed to the different efforts exerted by corresponding agencies and communities in implementing the different objectives for the town.
Houses, dating from the 18th to 19 centuries, constellate on this recreated village of cobblestone streets, small plazas and outdoor sculpture, breathing new life and presenting refurbished dignity. Relocated from their original sites, they look at once curiously alike and radically different: powerful testimonies of the past, they meet at and diverge from various visual and architectural points and by extension, with the way once kept and maintained domestic histories and human lives within their walls.
Once owned by the socially and economically elect of their time, the awe inspiring structures, around 27 at latest count, flirt with nostalgia and somehow, with notion that the past, seen through the prism of our mundane concerns, is better than the present. By walking on the street of Las Casas, along side a calesa clip clopping along and amid the rustic sculptures that punctuate the property, its as if we are voyeurs to history, eavesdropping to secret conversations spoken in rooms shuttered by capiz windows, by the staircase with its sinuous balustrades or in balconies swept by wind and light.
Staying in the resort is a step back into a majestic past, reliving the age-old traditions and practices distinct to our culture, without leaving the luxury and comforts of the modern world. If you are a culture enthusiast, there are 34 casas to explore, each from a different part of the country and with a different story to tell. It also helps that there are tour guides who readily explains every details of the heritage houses, as well as the story behind each houses.
Here’s a short description of each restored houses:
- Casa Baliuag 1 (built in 1898; owned by the Tolentino family) served as the municipio (town hall) of Baliuag, Bulacan, in the 1950s. The house contains wood carvings with floral motifs.
- Casa Baliuag 2 was a house originally in the compound of Iglesia ni Cristo in Baliuag.
- Casa Cagayan is a collection of four wooden houses built on stilts. Such houses were usually regarded as houses of poor people in Cagayan in the early 1900s.
- Casa Candaba (built in 1780, owned by the Reyes family) was home to the Spanish governor general whenever he visited Pampanga.
- Two houses from Jaen, Nueva Ecija, originated from the Esquivel clan.
- Casa Lubao (built in 1920; owned by the Arastia and Vitug families) served as storage for rice and sugar, and became a Japanese garrison during World War II. A story goes that a Japanese colonel stopped his men from burning the house in gratitude for the kindness of the Arastia family who, unknowingly, hired him as a driver and gardener before the war.
- Casa Mexico was salvaged from a junk shop and reconstructed using an old photograph.
- Casa Luna (owned by the Novicio family) now houses a museum. Built in 1850, its original location was in Namacpacan (now Luna town) in La Union. The town was later renamed to honour its revolutionary heroes and brothers Antonio and Juan Luna, whose mother was a member of the Novicio clan.
- Paseo de Escolta used old and new material to recreate commercial buildings in the early 1900s in Manila. With 17 rooms, it houses a hotel within the heritage resort. Its ground floor houses shops.
- Casa Bizantina (built in 1890) is a three-story intricately designed bahay na bato (stone house) from Binondo, Manila. The Instituto de Manila (now the University of Manila) rented it for elementary and high school classes until 1919 when the institute moved to Sampaloc, Manila. After World War II, the building was leased to various tenants. Before it was demolished in 2009, the house was used by 50 informal settlers.
- Casa Meycauayan (built in 1913 by the Escota family) was originally built in City of San Fernando in Pampanga. It was reconstructed in the 1950s in Meycauayan, Bulacan, where Rogelio Urrutia bought it.
- Casa Unisan (built 1839) is the Maxino house in Unisan, Quezon. The house is made of hardwood complete with trap doors. Only one girl survived the massacre on the family and that tragedy makes the house much talked about not only for its beauty. Its ground floor is now a Filipino restaurant called the Marivent Café.
- Casa Hidalgo (built in 1867) was the first campus of the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts. (Its house owner Rafael Enriquez became its first director). Thence, it has housed the first school of architecture in the country, a bowling alley, a dormitory and flesh joint.
- Casa Biñan (Alberto House) is a replica of the house of Teodora Alonzo, the mother of the Filipino freedom fighter Dr. Jose Rizal. Acuzar used the original wooden door, stairs and a few planks when he recreated the house. He abandoned the planned donation of the house by its current owner, Gerardo Alberto, amid protests by heritage advocates and local officials.
Aside from the authentic heritage houses, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar also built new houses (which serves as hotel rooms) but designed as an old house. We stayed in one of the replicate houses called Cordillera near the beach front. This replicate houses can be appreciated by people scared of sleeping in old houses. The look and design may be old but it is actually brand new.
One part of the heritage park that excites me to see in the future is the replica of the Binondo Canal and the San Jose Church. The owner wanted to buy an old church but it was said to be not allowed, so he decided to replicate one. This church will be operational and will serve as venue for weddings.
What I like about Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is how they preserve this heritage houses that is being neglected by many, and even by our government. Take for example the Casa Vyzatina (Byzantine), originally located in San Nicolas Binondo. Before its relocation, this place was home to 50 informal settlers. The house was moved and restored (brick by brick) and can now be appreciated again for its beauty.
A living museum of Philippine customs and traditions are re-born in a community typical of the 18th to early 20th century Philippines. Historical Principalia or noble class mansions, House of Stone (Bahay na Bato) and Wooden Stilt houses that once, were old and decaying architectural pieces of a bygone era and slowly fading into the background of modern urban life are now, restored in a picturesque setting reminiscent of a Juan Luna or Amorsolo paintings.
These architectural treasures that have been carefully and painstakingly reconstructed from different parts of the country and rebuilt, “brick by brick” and “plank by plank” now, stand resplendent with pride against a backdrop of majestic mountains, expansive rice fields and a running river that flows to the sea.
Currently, there are thirty four heritage architectures, each full with memories and history. Walking along village cobblestone streets or riding one of the caruajes (horse-drawn carriages) commands a feeling of nostalgia and wonder, romance and appreciation of simple living at its best. At Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, the legacy of our forefathers and the beautiful Filipino traditions live on. It is a step back into the past, reliving the age- old traditions and practices distinct to our culture, without leaving the luxury and comforts of the modern world.
A showcase of Filipino talent, ingenuity and craftsmanship, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar takes pride in the past… And keeps its hope for the future.
To book your stay at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, please visit their official website at http://lascasasfilipinas.com/.