(First of two parts)
Ever since it became operational in 2010, the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar hotel and resort has been a subject of so much mixed reception.
On one hand, there are those who applaud its efforts bring the country’s past to life thanks to the many houses from across the country that were relocated there and given new life instead of letting them rot. On the other hand, there are those who feel that its relocation works are tantamount to what is considered “loss of history” that adversely affects the community where the houses originally came from. Truth be told, there are merits to both arguments.
The Las Casas situation has raised a contentious debate with regards to conservation that will likely rage on for a while. Indeed, the complexity of this question, especially in the Philippine setting, has made it difficult to choose a definitive stand. While the issue is something that can be tackled here, it will have to be done on another day but more so, I don’t feel qualified enough to make a sound opinion of it.
In spite of those issues, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar has become one of the most popular destinations in the country. And it definitely helped put the sleepy town of Bagac in Bataan’s west coast on the map, giving it an unprecedented level of recognition that it didn’t have before. Regardless of where you stand in the debate, there is no doubt that one has to see the place for himself.
As a traveler and a heritage advocate, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is something in my bucket list that I long wished to realize, which finally happened recently. Suffice to say, it was an experience to finally see those storied houses and see the relocated/reconstructed heritage houses up close, especially the ones that used to stand in Metro Manila.
Casa New Manila
Casa New Manila bears the unique distinction of being the first and (one of) the last. It is the first house you will see upon entering Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar since this is the resort’s reception area, as well as home to one of the hotel’s restaurants. Architecture-wise it is one of the resort’s more “recent” houses, having been first built in 1926 along Balete Drive in New Manila at what is now Quezon City.
As such, the house’s design is American-inspired with its wide-open verandas and a fireplace as well. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, it was a favorite location for various films and TV shows before Jerry Acuzar, the owner of Las Casas Filipinas, acquired the property and relocated it to the resort.
Originally built in 1890, the house bears influences from various styles, especially those prevalent in Southern Europe such as Byzantine (hence the name), Romanesque, and Neo-Mudejar. The ornate facade, as well as the interiors show the rich character of the house.
Casa Byzantina originally stood in San Nicolas district at the corner of Madrid and Penarubia streets. Originally a residence of Lorenzo del Rosario, one of the most prominent contractors of the late Spanish period, the house was later leased by a number of tenants, notably an educational institution called Instituto de Manila from 1914 to 1919 where it would eventually become a university called the University of Manila. Eventually, it was occupied by informal settler families which contributed to the house’s decay until it was bought and transferred to the resort.
Interestingly, the house currently serves as the quarters for the resort’s premier guests, with amenities such as Hermes items in place, 24/7 butler service, and free cocktails. A far cry from recent squalor past, though it comes at a hefty price.
Built in 1867, Casa Quiapo was designed by Felix Roxas, the first Filipino to practice architecture during the Spanish regime. It was also known as the Enriquez Mansion after its original owners, the family of prominent artist Rafael Enriquez and used to stand along Hidalgo Street in Quiapo, Manila.
The house was considered as the “most elegant” in the country by some authors who got to see it. While this declaration may be subjective, at the very least, it may have been a nice enough place that it was chosen to be the first site of the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines when it opened its doors in 1908 (yes, the College of Fine Arts was one of UP’s first constituent colleges) until it relocated to the university’s Padre Faura campus in 1927. Interestingly, or perhaps not, Rafael Enriquez served as the first dean of the said college.
The house was eventually “divided” to be utilized into other functions like a barbershop, eatery, and, reportedly, a sex den at one point. Acuzar eventually bought the decaying house and was one of the first houses to be transported to the resort. Interestingly, the site where the house used to stand is now the site of a high-rise condominium built by Jerry Acuzar’s real estate company New San Jose Builders. More interestingly, Acuzar through New San Jose Builders made his way across the street and acquired the school in front of the former Enriquez house, Manuel L. Quezon University.
In honor of its artistic past, the house now rechristened as Casa Quiapo in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar serves as an art space and a home of the Bellas Artes Projects, a nonprofit organization founded by Jerry Acuzar’s daughter that aims to support contemporary artists
To be continued…
For a stay or a tour of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, you can visit their website