SILAY CITY being a “museum city” and City of Museums, we turn to three of its most illustrious mansions-turned-historical landmarks. There are about 30 heritage houses spread around the town with a few declared as national treasures. I’m not really into 19th century Philippines, but every pieces of info each museum guide recites — of little or great importance — is interesting as a bombshell. We’re on a swing around a historic neighborhood. With fresh takes from the past.
First of, the Bernardino Jalandoni House Museum. Established in 1908. Property of Don Bernardino and Doña Ysabel Jalandoni. Recognized by the National Historical Institute as the first museum and heritage house in Silay City.
French cut. Turn-of-the-20th century mansion. The original hardwood materials (from faraway Mindoro) still intact. Functional use of glass, capiz shells, steel grills, wooden louvers and panels for windows to brighten up the room.
A 19th century gizmo: the erstwhile means of pressing clothes, sheets and table linens
Also known as the PINK HOUSE.
The VICTOR FERNANDEZ GASTON Ancestral House. More popularly known as BALAY NEGRENSE (Negrense House). Established by Negros island sugar industry pioneer Yves Leopold Germain Gaston of Lisieux, France. Declared in 1994 as a Heritage House by the National Historical Institute.
The Gaston’s intricate color-coded ancestral chart. But what really caught my eye was the beauteous late great mezzo soprano, Conchita Gaston.
Tales from Balay Negrense:
- The steps were built in conformity with the old ORO, PLATA, MATA belief for good luck. The landing or the platform in the middle is for an immediate rest for the ladies since climbing the staircase can be arduous with their long, elaborate gowns on.
- The Gastons used to throw big parties a lot. For every gathering, the Baron would be watching from atop the staircase as guests walk up the main hall. The ladies use the right flights, while the men use the left.
- The host receive each guest with a welcome drink — hot cocoa, in two different blends. One blend prepared thick and rich, while the other, dull as a dishwater. The latter is meant to be served to unwanted party guests. Nothing short of showing the door to.
- This is an old buzz, but I think the museum guy validated this, blame it on the coiffure: Women’s hairstyles back in the day was extremely complex and requires huge amounts of labor and time just to be a la mode. To avoid the strenuous hair dressing, the ladies keep their dos on most of the time, even in bed. Which also means hair-washing or — at most — bathing, was a seasonal activity.
- These are the days when homes reeked of human wastes. There were no indoor toilets then. People relieved themselves into an orinola which is usually left for the next user until housemaids decide to empty it.
- Balay Negrense’s guest lounge is off limits to children, especially during important gatherings. It’s amazing how all the bedrooms around the 2nd floor are interconnected with doors to allow kids to go around the house without going through the middle lounge.
- Servants, housemaids, cleaners and every household helps are barred from loitering around as well.
The HOFILEÑA HERITAGE HOUSE. The canvas says it all so meet the host, Ramon Hofileña. Boss man. A living legend. One of the great personalities Negros Occidental has ever produced. Father of Heritage Conservation in Silay. A walking tourist-wonder. Erstwhile boxer, swimmer, runner, stage actor and — nude model.
And the house, the only inhabited museum in Silay — this is where he eat and sleep.
Built in 1934 by Manuel S. Hofileña and Gilda L. Hojilla, the structure retains its original materials such as the staircase made of the lasting balayong wood. The house displays the Ramon Hofileña art collection of more than 1,000 pieces with works by Filipino masters and National Artists. The man’s got Warhols too. Unfortunately, he has now disallowed taking pictures of the artworks.
WALL OF FAME. Ramon Hofileña on the cover story of Readers’ Digest 1980 issue titled “Where Filipino Artists Become Heroes” and other printed acclamations.
A collection of first pocketbooks.
The man is a riot. Just a thought, he is more fond of hyperactive pundits.
World’s tiniest doll.
These itty-bitty Ming Dynasty pots have a special purpose even the guys from the National Museum — as per Mr. Hofileña — have no idea about. I would love to hear some guesswork.
Every furniture are authentic period pieces. The Hofileña House is home to Silay Printmaking Workshop which was founded in 1970. The Philippines’ first printmaking workshop outside Manila.
A hundred years later, we craved for food. We met this priest at the Hofileña’s and he was nice to offer us a ride to wherever we would be having our lunch. To keep us from crooked tricycle drivers, says he. Anyone can be an angel. There will always be something to ruin tourism in a particular place. If it’s not the tourists, it’s the locals.
The people of Silay — specifically the Silay Heritage Foundation and Ramon Hofileña — have done an amazing job in developing the place as a cultural city. They have fought for it actually. Sadly before this cultural crusade, ancestral houses here were either torn down or remade. In 1977, a road-widening plan almost brought about a wholesale destruction of Silay’s vintage buildings. Ramon Hofileña lead a campaign against it and the buildings were saved.