It’s hard to imagine it now but once upon a time, Parañaque, especially the stretch alongside Manila Bay from Tambo to Dongalo, was known as a posh neighborhood with rows of grandiose houses lined up facing the then public beach. In fact, Eugenio Lopez Sr., one of the riches and most powerful men in the postwar pre-Martial Law era, held residence in Tambo, which was the venue of his 40th (ruby) wedding anniversary in 1967 which had some European royalty as guests and flowing champagne fountain. You can imagine the furor it caused at that time.
Sadly, urban decay that began in the 1970s and the reclamation activities in the 1990s, brought forth a steep decline for this once affluent neighborhood. The old mansions were being demolished in favor of structures like high-rise condominiums to keep with the demand of the times.
Throughout all this time, one structure has remained standing all these years, having experienced the glamourous heydays, the sad decline, and a glorious rebirth, a former family mansion known today as the Palacio de Memoria. (Spanish for “Palace of Memory”)
Sadly no verifiable information exists on the exact origins of the structure. However, reports suggest that Antonio Melian, the man behind El Hogar, had it built in the 1930s as a family residence. The elements present in the structure suggest that it was designed by Juan Nakpil, though that is just conjecture as well.
It was originally built as a two-storey structure that managed to survive World War II. After the war, in 1951, the property was sold to Francisco Villaroman, who proceeded to add five additional floors to house his growing family. as well as a grand terrazzo and a tower that served as an observation tower.
However, the aforementioned urban decay and reclamation drove the house into a long decline. The Villamroman family eventually abandoned the house in the 1980s, which further accelerated the decay. Eventually, the house was bought in 2004 by the Lhuillier family (yup, that family famous for their jewelry and pawnshop businesses) who took the initiative to have the house restored and put into adaptive reuse.
The result is the Palacio de Memoria, a 1.3 hectare development which opened in 2019 that consisted not only the old Villaroman house but also other properties, including a chapel, pool and outdoor restaurant, and two old airplanes, which will be expounded in a bit. It is a mixed-use development with a museum complex, events place, and recreational venue. It is also the home of the auction house Casa de Memoria, so auctions are held here as well from time to time.
Of course the centrepiece of Palacio de Memoria is the seven-storey house itself. It has been reoriented such that each floor has its own functions. The first two floors are open to the public, with the first floor consisting of the Los Tamaraos ballroom (named after the historic Tamaraos Polo Club which was located near the house) and rooms where artworks and other antiques are displayed.
The second floor houses some more artworks, a grand veranda, and the Villaroman Function Room, where events are held.
The upper floors are not usually open to the public save for some functions. The third floor is a showroom for curated exhibitions, the fourth floor is another gallery for more exquisite pieces, the fifth floor is a private quarters with a queen-sized bed and shower, the sixth floor houses an exclusive bar and wine cellar, and the seventh floor is closed off from public use.
The house is surrounded by wide green gardens with towering trees for shade, a perfect place for outside gatherings. Not to mention the patio at the side of the house called the Loggia, as well as bar and small pool nearby for dining and cocktails.
The property also had a chapel, which has been transformed into a museum, housing antique religious items taken from different sources, as well as items that were found in the house itself during renovations.
Then there is the curious sight of two old airplanes docked in the property gardens. One of them is an Antonov 24 B Russian aircraft, operated by a now-defunct airline Mosphil, which was reused to look like a vintage private airplane with a bar and lounge. It is open to the public as the Mosphil Lounge. As for the other airplane, it is not yet open to the public at this time of writing but it will be interesting to see the concept for it.
Palacio de Memoria is a welcome landmark that has managed to revive and preserve the glamorous past of this part of the metropolis. May it not only continue to thrive but also, hopefully, make the other parts of the property open to the visiting public as well. For what it’s worth, such grandeur should be appreciated much more fully as a way to honor the past and help carve a more livable and culturally-rich future.
For more information, including admission details, visit the Palacio de Memoria website