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.
+ 1730 JESUIT HOUSE
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. >>
BASILICA MENOR DE SAN SEBASTIAN
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.
METROPOLITAN THEATER OF MANILA
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.