(Last of a series)
In the previous installment, the Urban Roamer wrote about three notable houses in the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar hotel and resort. But those are not the only Manila-based houses that have made their way there.
Other relocated houses
Aside from the ones previously featured, there are three standalone houses in the resort which were originally from Manila and now serve as guesthouses: Casa Tondo, Casa Binondo 1, and Casa Binondo 2. Unfortunately, not much is known about their history. It also didn’t help that there is no information on their previous addresses.
While some houses in Las Casas Filipinas were relocated there as standalone houses, other houses in the property were made part of the resort’s “Accesoria”, a section named after the term used to the rowhouses during the Spanish period which served as both residence (on the upper floor) and commercial space. (on the ground level). Whether these houses were actual accesorias back in the day is not known though.
Instead of commerce, the houses in Las Casas Filipinas’ Accesoria serve as guest quarters. They also make for interesting scenery, seeing the rowhouses along the resort’s main street and along the artificial “estero”. Seeing these houses along the estero may give off the vibe of Venice, which may lead to an impression of Las Casas trying to rip off Venice. The truth though is that the esteros of Manila were like that of Venice before, teeming with life and commercial activity. In fact, Manila during the 19th to the early 20th century was known as “the Venice of the East”.
Not all of the buildings seen in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar are old structures transported to the site. Some of the buildings have been built fairly recently and on site. Nevertheless, they were designed and built to adhere to the design and architecture of 19th century Philippines that many of those houses have.
One particular example is the resort’s reconstruction of old Escolta, which was more of an iteration of the 19th century Escolta rather than of the early 20th century that has been pretty much documented in films and photos. Now this is an actual example of the old “accesoria”, in which one can find rows of shops that serves the resort’s guests.
Resurrecting Hotel de Oriente
But the most notable of the reconstructions at Las Casas is the grand Hotel de Oriente Convention Center. It was named and modeled after the storied Hotel de Oriente in Binondo, Manila, which is considered to be the first and, for quite a while, the only luxury hotel in the country.
The original Hotel de Oriente was opened in 1889 as a venture of a wealthy Spanish business tycoon, Manuel Perez y Marqueti, with renowned Spanish architect of the era Juan Jose Huervas y Arizmendi as its architect. It was a grand 3-storey structure with 83 rooms and provisions for stables as well that can accommodate up to 25 horses.
By the time the Americans took over Manila, Hotel de Oriente’s old glory was beginning to wane. With its luster now fading, the American authorities proceeded in building what would become Manila’s new landmark hotel, the Manila Hotel. Meanwhile Hotel de Oriente was eventually converted into the headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary (the precursor of the Philippine National Police) and a museum before the building was eventually destroyed during World War II.
70 years after the end of World War II, it was fitting that Hotel de Oriente would rise again, this time in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan and as a convention center. Instead of hotel rooms, it now houses a grand ballroom and function rooms on the two upper floors, while the ground level is being utilized as the breakfast area.
The Hotel de Oriente convention center was opened that year with quite an opening salvo, as it was chosen to be the venue of the 2015 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in the Philippines. The venue is open for the public to appreciate, subject to a separate entrance fee.
In the previous installment, I touched upon the still ongoing debate about Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar and the state of heritage conservation in the country. To be honest, I see both sides have their own merits and regardless where you stand in the issue, there is actually no right or wrong answer in all this.
As for me, a part of me feels glad to see these old structures that have otherwise would have been left rotting were given a new lease of life. But there’s also that sadness that this new life had to be found elsewhere rather than in their own communities in which they might be able to give life to if they were given the importance they deserved.
In a way, the houses at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar mirror the Filipino experience, that sad reality of many Filipinos who have no other recourse but to leave the country to find new opportunities elsewhere. When you think about it, those structures are as Filipino as one can get.
Acknowledgements to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar for their hospitality during my stay. For tours or accommodations at the hotel/resort, you can visit their website