Sunday, April 21, 2019

Enter an Art Deco World

ALMOST 80 years after Don Generoso Villanueva Sr. built his Daku Balay, his granddaughter Lilia Villanueva opens its heavy, skillfully carved, solid hardwood doors to the public. The Bacolenos who pass through Burgos Street will often cast loving glances at the row of pre-war white houses that have graced that street for many decades. Little do many know that it was Don Oso’s dream in the 1930’s to turn the whole street into an art deco district. (In tourism circles, this is now known as Millionaire’s Row). The art deco style in architecture was popular during that era and examples of buildings still in existence are the Far Eastern University, Manila Metropolitan Theater, and the Cebu Provincial Capitol.

Mr. Villanueva pulled all the stops in order to build the biggest art deco house in the Philippines. From its completion in 1936, this house was the tallest building in the city until 1959 when the Philippine National Bank was built.

The construction of Daku Balay started in 1933 after Don Oso browsed through various magazines to search for the perfect architectural designs. He hired the contractor/builder Engr. Cinco. The result was the glorious marriage of American influence and Filipino craftsmanship.

The whole building is from poured concrete, so no hollow blocks were used. Solid molave and narra doors were carved into unique designs by artisans from Luzon. Stone aggregates were sourced from Romblon and other places in the Philippines to make up the distinctive patterns on walls and floors.

The floors have a timeless appeal. Abstract inlaid designs are separated by copper wires because only the latter has qualities that can make a clean separation or line in the patterns. Run your hands on the walls to feel the smooth finish. Also look up to appreciate the 12-foot-high ceilings that let in the cooling breeze. The house was designed to let in the breeze when all windows are open. “It has good feng shui,” said Ms. Lilia.

The master of the house was an animal and nature lover evident not only in the environmentally-sound plan but also in the bas relief walls with their curved corners – mythical creatures, flora and fauna including owls, bats, and spiders and graceful nymphs.

Organized tours booked through accredited tour operators [Filipiniana Tours (0917-3100857), El Sola (0920-9138144), T3 Travel and Tours (0920-9277563), and Viaje Negrense (0917-3000060)] will enable a visitor to explore the many interesting rooms and unusual details of Daku Balay.

I was shown the first elevator in Bacolod manufactured in Philadelphia, USA that the family stopped using in 1961 when an aunt of Ms. Lilia’s got stuck in it. It now is a storage area. I also learned that dinners at the house were always attended in suit and tie for the men and formal dresses for the ladies even on ordinary nights. The family even has a Japanese officer to thank for preventing major damage to the edifice.

During the war, a Japanese general who stayed there loved the house so much that he ordered his men not to thrash it. This order is quite weird considering weapons were stacked high in a room then converted into an arsenal.

Stories like the above will titillate any guest and fill his eyes with wonder over a mansion that knows no equal in the Philippine architectural scene. Despite it being converted into offices 18 years ago, it still is an architectural icon. Its ship size and form complete with portholes is an accessible and impressive landmark in Bacolod.
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