Villa Epifania: The Grand Old House of Sta. Rita

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


LOOKING at the new cosmopolitan houses and villas sprouting along the roads and streets in rural towns, I get to be reminded of the time when houses were used as symbols of power and prestige.

None of the new houses sported by the rich and the new order of middle class families could fare with equal elegance and beauty with the houses during the era when the words “living in style” were taken quite literally.

The houses in this era would later pass on as reminders of a time long gone and would remain in a corner of a street, an urban oddity, waiting for a weary scholar or historian to recognize its value. Most old houses would fare well in the rural towns.

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Such is the case of Villa Epifania located in the backwater town of Sta. Rita.

The villa was named after Dona Epifania who came from an equally rich and powerful Floridablanca-based clan, the Alvendias.

The ancestral lot was owned by the Guanzon patriarch Don Agapito Guanzon (Captain Pitong) the then Captain Municipal (equivalent to today’s municipal mayor) of Sta. Rita.

Capitan Pitong’s son, Don Olympio Guanzon (former Pampanga Governor) would later inherit the lot and an earlier old house in the same lot by 1925. The old house would later be dismantled to give way for the villa and would later pass on to Don Felipe Guanzon.

The villa was designed and constructed by Architect Mariano Pineda, a native of Sta. Rita and relative of the Guanzons. Pineda would later join the Federal Architects of America.

Constructed between the years 1931-1932, the house was one-of-a-kind at that time; it was the only all-concrete house in Sta. Rita and the architectural design is incomparable with other historical landmarks in the town. The whole house is made of concrete with few exemptions, like the upper wall on the western side of the house facing the north.

This part showcases a gallery of windows as old as the house itself. The main walls of the house are concrete, about a foot thick on all the major sidings. The concrete materials were imported from Guiguinto in Bulacan. The villa’s wood portions are of the finest Philippine hardwood (narra, camagong and molave) and the furniture is of King Louis style. The furniture was acquired for the villa in 1931 and was bought from the Philippine Carnival in Manila and allegedly made by the prisoners of Bilibid prison. An azotea flanks the north side of the house which gives a perfect view of the western farm lands in Sta. Rita, a major portion of which were once owned by the Guanzons and other notable lords from the Pineda, Lansang and Gosioco clans.

The doors of the former house that stood in the lot found their way into the second floor of the house. The doors and windows are made of colored glass with hues of green and orange. Wrought iron bars and grills protect the glass frames of the windows and the doors. A "portico" with granite staircase, will greet the visitor upon approaching the house and above it is a grand veranda accented with baroque pillars. Another small porch is located at the second floor near the grand veranda.

This porch though smaller is equally grand; the truth is there is no point in comparing the architectural designs from one another. An architect friend once said that the designs of the villa are “asymmetrical”, each with its own beauty and dominance in the house. No two sides are actually the same. The irregular symmetry unfolds into a united design, “baroque yet classical”.

The inside of the house is much the same design. However, a lot is still in store for an inquisitive visitor. The villa also offers other verandas at the second floor and a minor rooftop and chimneys for the kitchen. Not bad for a house made in 1932 at a hefty value of (reportedly) P90,000.

It was used as headquarters by the Japanese officers, USAFE guerillas and alkaldes during World War II and would late pass on as a relic of the past. But such beauty would not go unnoticed and soon enough it caught the eyes of location directors. The house was first featured in the Lino Brocka film “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” in 1976. Later in the 90s it was used as the backdrop for the movie “Tanging Yaman.”

The villa is located along Ocampo Street in San Jose, north of the town church and west of the municipal hall facing the east. The villa had served as a house that would later shape the political and social life of the town. From this villa came illustrious names in business and politics. The grandeur of this residence has done well to lift the bearings of this clan.

At present, the villa is unoccupied except by a caretaker who would be happy to show you around. So if you happen to pass by Sta. Rita, try visiting Villa Epifania. It would surely give you a taste of what living in style really means. It would just be waiting for you at a corner of a lonely street.

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