My family spent most of the Holy Week holidays in Manila, but given the long break, we decided to take a day trip out of town on Black Saturday. I'd been wanting to visit Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan, so I suggested we make the drive out there. My parents wanted to see it, too, so off we went on a sunny Saturday morning.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is located in Bagac, Bataan, roughly a two-and-a-half hour drive from Manila. This complex, which is a project of Jose Acuzar's New San Jose Builders, brings back to life Filipino houses and other structures originally built in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the houses were purchased in pieces from junk yards, while others were carefully disassembled at their original locations, then transported and meticulously rebuilt in Bataan. As such, there are homes from all over the country, several of which have, at one point, either been home to prominent figures in Philippine history and society or the location of remarkable events.
Walking through the gates of Las Casas Filipinas is like taking a trip back in time. You walk on cobble stone streets that are lined with structures from a bygone era, and are greeted by staff dressed in period costumes (though the girl in the photo below seems to be making her way over to the front office to start her shift - the sunglasses add a modern twist to her costume that I have a feeling she wouldn't be allowed to wear if she were on duty).
On the day we visited, the entrance fee to Las Casas Filipinas came packaged with meals. As we arrived right in time for lunch, we opted for the package that came with the Heritage Tour, lunch buffet and afternoon snack, which cost P1,500 per person. They were also offering a Heritage Tour + snack package, which, if I recall correctly, cost P850 (but don't quote me on that, please). I'm not sure if, on other days, you can simply pay for the tour (around P650), then dine a la carte, though their website suggests such.
Lunch was being served at two locations - a Spanish & Filipino buffet was laid out at Cafe Marivent in Casa Unisan, while an Italian buffet featuring grilled items was being offered at La Parilla in Casa Jaen I. My dad and brother inspected the buffet at Cafe Marivent and were not wowed, so we walked across the street to check out the Italian spread at La Parilla. We saw the outdoor grill and were sold on the grilled pork belly, boneless chicken and squid. They were expertly grilled - nicely charred but still moist and tender. There was also a tray of grilled vegetables in the buffet - eggplant, peppers, carrots and potatoes - that went very well with the grilled meat and seafood. There was, of course, some minestrone soup and pasta with different sauces - this was, after all, an Italian buffet - but the soup was nothing great and the pasta didn't look exciting. I stuck with the grilled items.
We lunched al fresco, on the back yard of Casa Jaen I that sits right across the pool and overlooks the sea.
After lunch, we headed for Casa Mexico for the Heritage Tour. This guided walking tour of the houses located at Las Casas Filipinas runs hourly and begins at the half hour.
|Casa Mexico in the foreground, with Casa Bizantina in the back|
Here's a peek at some of the structures that had stories which I found particularly interesting.
Our first stop was right across Casa Mexico. Casa Bizantina used to be located in Binondo, Manila. It takes its name from the Byzantine influences evident in its design. This house is a three-storey structure, which apparently was typical of homes located in commercial areas like Binondo. It was built by a prominent contractor from the 1890s, and was home to Instituto de Manila (an elementary and high school), then the University of Manila. Through the years, the building became home to over 50 families of illegal settlers. Interestingly, the squatters that lived here did not spot the gold leaf (yes, real gold) embellishments on the third floor - all the gold was intact when this structure was purchased and moved to Bagac, where it now serves as Las Casas Filipinas' first-class hotel, where guests enjoy 24-hour butler service, though at a rather steep cost.
Casa Hidalgo was originally located at Hidalgo St in Quiapo, Manila. It was designed by the first Filipino to practice architecture in the country and, at one point, hosted the country's first school of architecture. Owned by a frustrated artist, the house was, for a time, used as the campus for the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts. After the school moved to a new campus, this house hosted a variety of tenants, becoming the location of a bowling alley, dormitories and even an abortion clinic, before ultimately going into disrepair. Today, rebuilt in Bataan, it has been returned to its former glory. It houses the Las Casas Filipinas chapel, and its spacious rooms serve as a venue for large functions.
|Casa Hidalgo (aka Casa Quiapo)|
Casa Baliuag I, originally located in Baliuag, Bulacan, once served as the town's Municipal Hall. In earlier times, this large house was home to a large blended family with over 20 children (that's actually what I remember most about this house). Today, its Las Casas Filipinas reincarnation includes a bar on the ground floor.
Casa Lubao, which used to be located in Lubao, Pampanga, was the home of the wealthy family that put the young Diosdado Macapagal through school. During the Second World War, the house was taken over by the Japanese. It was saved from destruction by a Japanese colonel who had worked for the owners as a driver in the years preceding the war - during this time, he was actually (according to the guide) not really a driver but a spy. The house had been torn down and sold to a junk shop, but it found its way to Bataan and has come back to life. It now houses Las Casas Filipinas' game and watersports center in its ground floor.
There are many interesting details on the facade of this white house, and the guide explained that the embellishments on the roof were, at the time this home was built, a symbol of the owner's prominence and stature.
|Casa Jaen I's rooftop embellishments|
|Casa Baliuag II|
What I personally found interesting about Casa Baliuag II is that it is elevated, such that a passage large enough for carriages to drive through is found underneath the house.
|A view of Paseo de Escolta|
Many of the houses also serve as accommodations, as part of Las Casas Filipinas' hotel operations.
At the end of the Heritage Tour, our guide handed out cold towels to help us cool down - the walk around Las Casas Filipinas in the early afternoon made for a sweltering workout. Should you come for a visit, bring an umbrella to shield yourself from the sun - it gets quite hot, and there isn't much shade. The tour guides offer straw hats for the use of visitors, but these are simply on loan - that means other people have probably worn the hats before. Also, carry a bottle of water and a fan, but not much else - it was hard walking under the sun with my big bag on my shoulder. As they require that shoes be taken off when you enter houses that are open for viewing, I suggest you bring (or wear) socks - the floors were a bit dusty, so I was rather uncomfortable walking with bare feet.
|My 3pm shadow|
After our tour, we headed back to Cafe Marivent to sit for a little while and have our afternoon snack. They were offering a choice of spaghetti, pancit and ginataang halo-halo. While the weather was a bit too warm for a hot snack, the noodle options seemed to meal-like for an afternoon snack, so I went with the ginataan. It was a satisfying bowl of sweet, thick ginataan - just what one would expect to have for merienda in a provincial town.
While a visit to Las Casas Filipinas means a long drive and a few hours walking under the scorching heat of the Bataan sun, the experience of being surrounded by the beauty of centuries-old structures makes the trip worthwhile. I admire Mr. Acuzar's commitment to the restoration and preservation of these architectural jewels. In a time when we see treasures such as the Jai Alai Building on Taft Avenue and the old Meralco Head Office in San Marcelino being torn down, it is refreshing to see that there are still individuals who recognize that maintaining the old enriches us by allowing us a glimpse into the past and giving us a tangible link to our history.