STANDING strong for almost nine decades now, an iconic boat-shaped ancestral mansion that was once the tallest building in Bacolod City is poised to become the center of Art Deco district in the Negros Occidental capital city.

Built by a sugar farmer, Don Generoso Villanueva, sometime between 1933 and 1936, the "Daku Balay" (Big House) is the first art deco-streamline moderne residential building in the city.

Located on a 5,000-square-meter property along No. 50 Burgos Street, the Don Generoso Villanueva Mansion had survived World War II. Until today, 95 percent of its interior and 100 percent of its exterior were preserved.

Ma. Lilia Villanueva, the granddaughter of Don Generoso, said the 41-foot structure is actually the largest remaining Art Deco residential building in the Philippines that's totally intact.

The Art Deco, short for Art Decoratifs, originated from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925.

Characterized especially by sleek geometric or stylized forms and by the use of man-made materials, Art Deco is an architectural and design movement that was first to gain popularity globally.

It became a global sensation as an applied style and adopted throughout major cities in the world between World War I and II.

Some of the world's most iconic Art Deco buildings are the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings in Manhattan.

Cities like Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris and London also host some of the most iconic Art Deco buildings in the world.

Art Deco also made its way to the Philippines, mostly in Manila, in the 1930s and 40s.

Unfortunately, much of the Art Deco masterpieces in the country were destroyed during World War II and the rest have been neglected, sold or demolished except from that in Bacolod City.

Villanueva said it is important for their family to continue to educate and have enough people to be excited about Art Deco.

"If we are put on the map, internationally, as a place where you can find this amazing style of architecture that's more than enough," she said, adding that "it's really all about education and what we are hoping is that people will be excited about discovering something that's been here all along."

The "Daku Balay" is a three-storey building with an interior area, including roof deck towers, of approximately 1,200 square meters.

The structure looks like a cruise liner with porthole windows just like of the old boats. Its exterior is dominantly white and green.

Also the first building in Bacolod City to have an elevator, expert craftsmen from all over the country were recruited to work on the mansion whose architect Salvador Cinco.

These included carpenters from Luzon, stone workers and marblers from Romblon and Sorsogon, and metal workers from Negros.

It features exteriors and interiors that exhibit some of the most cutting-edge construction of the time.

The floors and ceilings throughout the interiors are in complex and multicolored handmade marbling, taken after the Italian scagliola marble style.

Also, the intricate geometric designs in marble and in hardwood are reiterated throughout the interior of the house.

Paintings of landscapes and native animals, as well as deco motifs, are hand painted on glass dividers between bedrooms and elevator doors.

Plaster and cement relief designs in walls include the spider and fly, the owl and bat, and the wise and foolish monkeys, among others.

Other native animal designs like the snake, frog and "pawikan" are marbled in the floor particularly of the room that used to be a "bodega" or storage room.

Also, these depict favorite Negrense folk tales and characters from popular Hiligaynon comic strips like the "Aswang Hunter."

All bathrooms have water related scenes embedded on tiles or plaster relief. Also, these have original built-in bathtubs until renovations were made for shower stalls in the 1960s.

The mansion is also said to have the largest built-in wrap around balconies on every floor.

Ben Scharlin, great grandson of Don Generoso, said the "Daku Balay" was actually occupied by a Japanese general, Lieutenant General Takashi Kono, who was in-charge of the Japanese imperial military operations during World War II.

"The reason why we have this house completely intact to this day is because the Japanese general felt in love with the house," he said, adding that when the Japanese were burning all of the Dons and Doñas ancestral homes, he ordered his soldiers not to touch anything on it.

Ben Scharlin said his great grandfather loves local animals on the island "so this is the only Art Deco, in the world probably, that has Filipiniana elements like python heads built into the structure."

Aside from the "Daku Balay," there are two other adjacent family-owned Art Deco masterpieces such as the Belle Arte Residential Condominiums at the back and another ancestral house, the Golez Mansion, across the street which stands at a combined area of 3,000 square meters.

Having this cluster of authentic Art Deco structures, this makes the area as the city's Art Deco District, Scharlin said.

The great grandson of Don Generoso said they want to promote and continue to develop the mansion where "his creativity has exploded" so they can further share it to the public especially Bacolodnons.

Scharlin said they have plans on opening the "Balay Daku" to the public specifically for special events, conferences, private and public events, exclusive parties, wedding ceremonies, customized activities, among others.

"So we want the house to have a mix use including tours thus, there are also plans to landscape the gardens and be more open to the public," he said, adding that once the house has been opened to that kind of experience, then it will be an art deco destinations for locals as well as foreign tourists.

The "Daku Balay" is actually the inspiration for the Bell Arte Residential Condominiums, a building built in order to complement the Art Deco heritage of the family's and city's past.

Villanueva, who is also the president of MarosVill Development Corporation, said Belle Arte is a continuation of Don Generoso's vision 80 years ago to create a modern and sophisticated district for the city of Bacolod.

Villanueva said defining the neighborhood as the Art Deco District in the hopes of protecting the heritage houses in the area and potentially developing more Art Deco-inspired buildings, will greatly benefit the city in several ways.

"Similar to the success of Silay City and The Ruins in Talisay City, it will greatly influence the increase in heritage tourism and will put Bacolod City on the map as the first to have a district designated as Art Deco," she added.

The eight-story Belle Arte Residential Condominiums is a mid-rise, boutique vertical community for those who appreciate the heritage design, superior construction, high ceilings, spacious units, usable balconies, stunning views, central location, and a safe community.

The MarosVill Development Corporation, in a statement, said in light of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, the building was quick to implement strict health and safety protocols to ensure that residents are protected against the threats of the virus.

Currently, residents can enjoy Belle Arte's sunset roof deck featuring the best 360-degree views of the city, mountains, and ocean.

It also has a private gym and the acclaimed Cafe Oscar, Bacolod's premier farm-to-table restaurant and art gallery. In addition to its 24-hour shifting security, concierge, and CCTV network.

The plans for an expansion with Belle Arte Residential Condominiums Phase 2 have been delayed due to the pandemic. Planning and development will resume around 2023, it said.

For Villanueva, their goal is to improve the skyline of Bacolod City.

"We would like to develop buildings that have architectural statements. My grandfather started a trend, something that we would like to contribute to the Filipino culture," she said, adding that "we would like tell stories, my family's reference is to build buildings that tell stories."