Her­itage He­roes

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia - - CONTENTS -

Some of the Philip­pines' old­est colo­nial struc­tures are in the midst of meta­mor­phoses thanks to the ef­forts of a few pas­sion­ate con­ser­va­tors.

Some of the Philip­pines' old­est colo­nial struc­tures are in the midst of meta­mor­phoses thanks to the ef­forts of a few pas­sion­ate con­ser­va­tors. From Manila to Cebu, Rachel Mala­guit dis­cov­ers three struc­tures be­ing res­cued from the wreck­ing ball of moder­nity.


Now con­verted into a mu­seum, this 18th­cen­tury, two-story ba­hay na bato (stone house) is get­ting a much-needed makeover that be­fits its rep­u­ta­tion as the old­est doc­u­mented res­i­dence in the Philip­pines.

Lo­cated in Par­ian, a his­tor­i­cal dis­trict in Cebu City, the Je­suit House will see its sink­ing foun­da­tions and ter­ra­cotta roof re­paired. Its ce­ment walls, which ab­sorb mois­ture, will also be stripped off. A tra­di­tional coat­ing called pal­i­tada (a com­bi­na­tion of sand, lime and wa­ter) will take its place, which will let the walls “breathe” and pre­vent de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. The house, which con­tains an­tiques, re­cov­ered ar­ti­facts and mem­o­ra­bilia, will re­main open to vis­i­tors dur­ing the con­struc­tion over the next two to three years.

Giv­ing the House its much-needed facelift is Es­cuela Taller, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion based in In­tra­muros and Bo­hol that trains un­em­ployed youths in the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of her­itage build­ings. Funded by the Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Cul­ture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Span­ish Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Co­op­er­a­tion, Es­cuela Taller has as­signed at least 30 grad­u­ates and trainees to the project, the Bo­hol out­post’s big­gest to date.

Ac­cord­ing to Je­suit his­to­rian Wil­liam C. Repetti, the House served as the So­ci­ety of Je­sus’ res­i­den­cia from 1730 un­til 1768, the year the Je­suits were ex­pelled from the Philip­pines. As well as pre­serv­ing this tan­gi­ble his­tory for Cebu’s fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, the restora­tion also gives Es­cuela Taller’s stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to be­come a stew­ard of Cebu’s her­itage. One grad­u­ate work­ing on the Je­suit House, Rachel Du­mana­cel, says, “I now re­al­ize how valu­able these old build­ings are.” fb.com/1730je­suit­house; 26 Zu­lueta St., Par­ian, Cebu City. >>


Nes­tled on a quiet street in Manila’s Quiapo dis­trict, the Basílica Menor de San Se­bastián, the coun­try’s only steel church, is get­ting an over­haul. Un­der­neath its mag­nif­i­cent beauty, rot has spread within the 127-year-old NeoGothic struc­ture: mis­guided and heavy­handed im­prove­ments left columns par­tially sub­merged in wa­ter, re­sult­ing in cor­ro­sion; over time, paint­ings of re­li­gious icons on its walls and dome have faded or been de­stroyed by stains; and even a few holes dot the stained-glass win­dows.

Yet in spite of its de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, the build­ing has proven to be the strong­est among all of the churches that were built in the neigh­bor­hood: four places of wor­ship were built here prior to San Se­bastián, and earth­quakes de­stroyed them all.

To try a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, the parish, man­aged by the Or­der of Au­gus­tinian Recol­lects, chose steel as the fifth church’s foun­da­tion. The parish hired Span­ish ar­chi­tect Ge­naro Pala­cios, who roped in Bel­gian con­trac­tor So­ciété Anonyme de Travaux Publics, known for con­struct­ing the cars of the Ori­ent Ex­press, and the church was com­pleted in 1891.

The sad state of the basílica prompted U.S.-ed­u­cated con­ser­va­tor Tina Paterno in 2010 to launch the San Se­bastián Basil­ica Con­ser­va­tion and De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion to se­cure fund­ing for its re­fur­bish­ment. Al­most 80 vol­un­teers have been in­volved in the project so far, in­clud­ing the late Dr. Robert Baboian, a cor­ro­sion sci­en­tist who worked on the restora­tion of the Statue of Lib­erty and was a for­mer NASA con­sul­tant.

While San Se­bastián is still func­tion­ing as a church, lack of fund­ing has slowed its re­furb. Paterno es­ti­mates the project will need an­other P400 mil­lion to fin­ish, and the foun­da­tion is rais­ing money by or­ga­niz­ing tours and sell­ing sou­venirs and art pieces made from the rust scraped from the columns. Pasaje del Car­men Street, Quiapo, Manila; visit fb.com/savess­basil­ica for tour in­for­ma­tion.


Spend­ing the past few decades in a state of de­cay, the 87-year-old Met­ro­pol­i­tan Theater of Manila was granted a P700 mil­lion restora­tion by the NCCA last year. De­signed by Filipino ar­chi­tect Juan M. Arel­lano and inau­gu­rated back in 1931, the 1,670-seat grand Art Deco venue hosted col­or­ful Span­ish zarzuela dances and Filipino ver­sions of clas­sic for­eign op­eras.

Af­ter World War II bomb­ings stripped the Met of its glory, for­mer first lady and Manila gov­er­nor Imelda Mar­cos pushed for a restora­tion, and by 1978 the Met was once again wel­comed by the city’s cul­turati. Mar­cos, how­ever, had scan­dalously used the theater as col­lat­eral for a loan from the Govern­ment Ser­vice In­sur­ance Sys­tem; in 1986 she fled to Hawaii, leav­ing her debt un­paid and the Met fore­closed.

The prop­erty was even­tu­ally sold to the NCCA in 2015, and of­fi­cial restora­tions be­gan last year to both mod­ern­ize the theater and re­con­struct orig­i­nal el­e­ments from Arel­lano’s de­sign—such as his orig­i­nal in­ner court­yard and the carved ba­nana and mango re­liefs— us­ing old pho­to­graphs and a copy of the ini­tial plan as ref­er­ences. An el­e­va­tor will be added to com­ply with mod­ern build­ing codes, and the wings will be con­verted into art gal­leries.

Ex­pected to re­open in 2022, the Met marks the be­gin­ning of a larger re­ju­ve­na­tion of Manila. The arts venue will con­nect via an un­der­ground tun­nel to other land­marks such as In­tra­muros and the Cen­tral Post Of­fice, an­other Arel­lano-de­signed struc­ture re­port­edly be­ing tar­geted for adap­tive re­use. Padre Bur­gos Street, Er­mita, Manila.

CLOCK­WISE FROM FAR LEFT: The Basílica Menor de San Se­bastián, the only steel church in the Philip­pines; the vaulted ceil­ing in the church has suf­fered from rust; a pre­served room in the 1730 Je­suit House.

FROM LEFT: Though cur­rently laced in scaf­fold­ing, the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Theater of Manila is set to re­open by 2022; an old photo of the Met's orig­i­nal stage.

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