Friday, June 13, 2014

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, The heritage theme park

I have read about Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar years back and got a glimpse of the place for the first time on the boob-tube, while channel surfing and chanced upon the local version of the series "Zorro", starring "It Takes Gutz to be a Guttierrez" matinee idol Richard Guttierrez.

But then I digress.

Going back, I was impressed on how they were able to transplant entire houses and buildings all the way from its place of origin to the sleepy, fishing village of Bagac, Bataan.

So when our group, Kapitbahayan sa Kalye Bautista Inc, were offered a free tour of the place courtesy of Jam Acuzar, (one of our good benefactors , whose father - Jerry Acuzar, conceptualized the heritage themed resort), I immediately signed up.

It was a long commute from my place in Caloocan to Bagac. The journey up north is worthy of another blog entry itself. I left at home at 5am and after four bus transfers I finally reached Bagac at a little after 9am.  I was supposed to meet up with the rest of the group but I arrived a little earlier than expected so I decided to wait for them at Casa Mexico, which is also a restored heritage house from Mexico, Pampanga, and now acts as the reception area.

Mr. Dexter Manansala 
When the rest arrived, we decided to join the walking tour after lunch, with Mr. Dexter Manansala as our tour guide.

Walking on cobbled streets amidst rows of centuries-old heritage houses at the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is like going through time and space warp. There are around 27 authentic stone houses from the 19th century all of which are hiding intriguing stories of love, lust, and betrayal during tumultuous periods of our country's history. From what I've learned from my History I class during college, a stone house was equated with wealth as most people lived in wooden houses or "bahay kubo". So basically this is like getting VIP access to the life, times and "chismis" of the creme de la creme of society during the Philippine's heydays.

According to tour guide - Dexter, each and every wall in Las Casas Filpinas harbors a different story.

He explained that these heritage houses were painstakingly transferred from their original locations in different parts of the country and carefully restored by the resort's in-house artists, which were hired even as far as Paete and Pakil Laguna.

Dexter explained, "Binabaklas po ang bawat parte ng bahay and then dinadala po dito isinasakay sa malaking truck and then dinadala po dito. Pagdating po dito, muli po siyang binubuo, para pong puzzle ang dating."

Guests are also asked to remove their slippers as they enter the heritage houses. "Filipino tradition po kasi yan dito, bilang tanda nang pagbibigay galang po natin sa may-ari ng bahay."

Every house in Las Casas Filipinas is full of memory, of amazing stories.

The first house the we visted was Casa Lubao owned by the Arrastia-Vitug family and built in 1920. I nicknamed this, The Good Vibes House, you'd know why in a few...

The Arrastia's were the family who shouldered the school expenses of the young Diosdado Macapagal. The house sat directly in front of the Lubao municipal hall. It is a huge establishment with hardwood furnishings and an eccentric ceiling fruit embelishments. Base on our guide's explanation, the Arrastia's used to hang the fruit baskets on the blades of the ceiling fans so that the children won't be able to eat the fruits before meals. But one time, one cunning kid discovered that by turning the ceiling fan on the baskets would fall and they would be able to get their hands on the contents. So when they did this the fruits fell like rain inside the house. And this inspired the artisans to make the fruit carvings on the ceiling.

One great story about the house was told by Dexter in a very mysterious tone. Before the Second World War, a Japanese man came to work as a driver for the family. It turns out that the driver was one of the many Japanese soldiers who infiltrated Filipino communities years before the war.

When the war broke out, the Japanese seized the house and used it as a garrison. Although Philippine history is ridden with horrors of Japanese cruelty, the Arrastia-Vitug family was spared, thanks to their driver, who turned out to be a Japanese colonel.

Casa Biñan (Alberto House)
The next house intrigued the living daylights out of me, it was Casa Binan, where the resort's Sunday masses are usually held while waiting for the construction of the church. I saw the ruins of this house when I frequented Laguna during my college days and was excited to finally be able to see its interiors.

It was indeed a perfect example of a class A bahay na bato during the mid 19th century. It's courtyard was massive! But the story behind the house was such a tidal wave of events that I couldn't help but pay attention to Dexter while he dramatically relayed the secrets of this house.

This, according to him, was the Alberto Ancestral Mansion, which was owned by Jose Alberto - the half-brother of Jose Rizal's mother, Teodora Alonzo.

The whole view of Alberto House
According to researches, he was married to a 12 y/o girl from Vigan named Paula Florentino but they never had a child. Ten years after, Brigida Querubin came into picture in Lorenzo's life. He was not married to Brigida making all her children with Lorenzo illegitimate.

But Jose Alberto married Teodora Formoso. It is said that she had been unfaithful to Jose especially when he was out of the country. She had an affair with an officer of the civil guards. Upon knowing what had happened, Jose Alberto imprisoned Teodora Formoso inside their mansion.

Teodora Alonso came to the aid of her hurting brother, the bunso in the family, even against the will of her husband, Francisco Mercado.

One time, Teodora Alonso with her eldest, Saturnina, brought snacks for Teodora Formoso. Immediately, Teodora Formoso put the food on the floor and called her dog to eat it. The dog died instantly and she accused her sister-in-law of attempted murder. She suffered two years in jail as a consequence.

Dexter said that this caused a rift within the household and the Albertos and Rizal's kin were never in good terms after that.

The Casa Hidalgo

The Rafael Enriquez House, also known as Casa Hidalgo
Another house, Casa Hidalgo, built in 1867 in Quiapo, Manila, was designed by Felix Roxas y Arroyo, the first Filipino to practice architecture in the Philippines. Owned by Rafael Enriquez, the house was considered the most elegant during the Spanish regime.

Inside Casa Hidalgo
In the 1870s, the Philippines' best young artists, such as Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo, trained at the house's entrezuelo (mezzanine).

The mansion was also used as the first campus of the University of the Philippines' School of Fine Arts. Enriquez was the school's first director, serving from 1909 to 1926, a year before he passed away in 1927.

The Seal of  University of the Philippines' School of Fine Arts.
When the UP School of Fine Arts transferred to Padre Faura in Manila and later to Diliman, Quezon City, the mansion was neglected.

Casa Hidalgo eventually became a dormitory for boys and girls, a bowling alley, and even a shooting location for pornographic films.

"Then, much worse po, naglagay po sila dito ng abortion clinic, pero nung nilpat na po tong bahay dito ay nagpablesssing naman po sila para mataboy ang nakaraan ng bahay." said Dexter.

Casa Baliuag

If you are planning to stay with your family for an overnight get-away, the lowest-priced house is Casa Baliuag, previously located just in front of the Catholic church in Baliuag, Bulacan.

In the 1950s, Casa Baliuag, which has elaborate adobe carvings, served as the municipal hall of Baliuag. Sadly, the house was later abandoned and some of its architectural details were either stolen or ruined. Good thing that the pineapple carvings which can be found on its ceiling are still intact.

Casa Binondo

Casa Binondo 3 - also known as Casa Vizantina
One of the best restored houses within the site is the Casa Binondo 3 - also known as Casa Vizantina, formerly located in San Nicolas, Binondo, Manila. For the first three-story house in the country, today's guests will have to shell out P150,000 per day.

The house, built in 1890, was a floral bahay na bato, influenced by the neo-styles of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Byzantine periods.

Around 1914, the house was leased out to the Instituto de Manila, for the holding o elementary and high school classes. The school later transferred to its own building in Sampaloc and became known as the University of Manila.

After the Second World War, the house was leased to different tenants until it became abandoned and was taken over by informal settlers, who stayed there until 2009. Unaware of the value of the house, some 50 squatter families built structures inside the house, even destroying floral architectural designs made of pure gold by installing clotheslines.

Per our tour guide, the informal settlers had no idea they were breaking pure gold designs when they installed clotheslines here. They just thought that they were merely ripping off paint.

Casa Unisan

Casa Unisan (built 1839) is the Maxino house in Unisan, Quezon.
The other houses though not as assuming as the lavish Casa Vizantina, are also rich in stories to tell. Casa Unisan, constructed in 1839, was the first stone house to be built in Unisan, Quezon.

Casa Unisan was owned by Antonio Maxino, whose entire family was murdered by a gang of thieves. Only youngest daughter Carmen survived after being hidden by a helper in a storage bin-a bayong-for dirty laundry.

Dexter said Casa Unisan now houses one of the resort's restaurants, Café Marivent, where guests staying overnight get free breakfast.

And you can tell that they have an excellent menu just by the gastronomic smell that wafts from the place.

Casa Paseo de Escolta

Then there is Casa Paseo de Escolta, which is only a replica of typical commercial structures in Escolta, Manila in the 1900s. The original structures were bomb during the Second World War. This serves as their main hotel and an overnight stay at a studio deluxe room, for two adults and two kids, starts at around P3,800 per day and goes up to as high as P7,500 per day. This also houses their gift shop and an in-house convenience store.

Here some of the Casas in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

Casa San Miguel
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.
Though this trend of rellocating old houses from their point of origin to a heritage resort has been the subject of debate for years now, what I like about Las Casas was that deep in my heart I know that the houses are being taken cared of and in a way - LOVED. It's just a bit sad that only a few could afford the place. I bet it would be great if they can think of a way to entertain underprivileged honor students, like a free  fieldtrip once a year would matter so much and inspire a child. To think that the place inspired good-old-jaded me, imagine the awe it would give to some young mind? :)

I went to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in order to check another place off my bucket list but I came home appreciating my heritage more and learning so much about my past. Here's hoping that with my involvement with Kapitbayan sa Kalye Bautista, I would be able to help restore the old grandeur of Casa Boix without uprooting the house from Quiapo's cradle.

Written by Cristina Burwell
Photo by : AXLPPI

About Cristina Burwell is single mother who working in multinational company and she currently member of the Kapitbahayan sa Kalye Bautsita at Iba Pa ( KKB is a non-stock, non-profit organization mobilized by students & adults from different fields who advocate for cultural & heritage preservation.)

All photos here is exclusively copyright of Axl Powerhouse Group.


  1. Great post! It seems like you have covered all the histories of the houses in general as they were narrated by the guide. I have visited Las Casas and remembered the same. :)