INTRAMUROS: REVISIT THE PAST IN CASA MANILA

Manila, May 29, 2003 -- Casa Manila is the imposing stone-and-wood 
structure which is the venue of functions  meetings, dinners, etc  now that 
Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon has its hands full hands in its “Wow 
Philippines” project.

Casa Manila, circa 1850, one of the grand houses in Barrio San Luis (one of 
the four original villages) of Intramuros is located across historic San 
Agustin church and bounded by Calle Real, General Luna, Cabildo and 
Urdaneta streets. The other two are the Los Hidalgos, circa 1650 and 
Cuyugan Mansion, circa 1890.
Unlike in other countries, where after World War II, restoration work was 
done in earnest to preserve the national heritage, in the Philippines, 
various efforts followed different directions.

After intensive research, Intramuros Administration (IA) in 1980, began 
constructing Casa Manila complex following what it calls the Intramuros 
historic architecture. The architect and one of the urban planners of IA 
was Ramon Faustmann.

When in this place, one is transported back in time over a hundred years 
when Intramuros was a gracious place in a gracious era.

It helps how its visitors imagine what it was like to live in Intramuros in 
the years immediately before the Philippine Revolution of 1896  and to be 
rich then. It also triggers a feeling of nostalgia  a luxurious feeling in 
these harassed times  for an era they’ve only read in history books.

Casa Manila typifies the house of the Filipino “ilustrado,” an affluent 
class bred by the opening of Manila to world trade in the late 19th century.

Investing in the import-export boom, the “ilustrado” amassed wealth which 
in turn bought a lifestyle refined by European education and travel: good 
books, good music, good food and good company in a house that breathed 
luxury and grace.

Casa Manila, a museum of the era’s architecture and lifestyle, recreates 
this atmosphere. The three-story building is a replica of the house of 
Binondo merchant Don Severino Mendoza. Its main door on Calle Real leads to 
a patio, something a house in Intramuros was never without.

Built to full property line, the Intramuros house was crammed cheek-by-jowl 
on all sides by narrow streets and next-door neighbors.

The patio was its main source of air and light. It drew in the cool air by 
night and by day provided sunlight for household chores. It also served as 
a thruway for carriages.
Though Spartan in purpose, it was by no means Spartan in looks. That of 
Casa Manila is overhung with fragrant flora and decorated by a central and 
wall fountains.

Casa Manila’s massive door opens into a “zaguan” the passageway for the 
“caruaje” leading to the “patio.”

Close by, framed by brick arches, is the “caballariza” where the carriage 
is kept. In the old days, the carriage was a status symbol; so was the 
number of horses harnessed to each. The rich had two horses pulling his 
carriage; the Archbishop, four; and the Governor General, six.

Casa Manila is an odd mélange of varied cultural influences. Its facade, 
with its balconies and overhanging wooden gallery, is decidedly Spanish. 
But its coat of yellow and maroon paint derives from the unexpected color 
combinations of Victorian gingerbread houses in the era. Its interiors are 
even more eclectic.

The second floor, actually a mezzanine, contains an office-library complete 
with a “caja de hiero” (safe) and “baul” (treasure chest) for keeping gold 
and silver coins. There are bedrooms which were then used for “siesta” or 
to accommodate a maiden aunt or bachelor uncle.

Another flight of stairs leads to the family’s living quarters. 
Embellishing the stairs, is a mural of nipa huts, “cascos” (covered boats), 
a winding river and mountains. The antesala or “caida”  so-called because 
the ladies let fall their skirts upon reaching the top of the 
stairs  greets the visitor.

Prominently propped by the top of the stairs is a big hat-and-cane rack. 
Looking up, you see the intricate metalwork ceiling patterned after the 
plasterwork of Europe, is also found in the living rooms and all the bedrooms.

The ante-sala has colonial furniture of fine woodwork, where the family and 
its visitors relax, smoke and play mahjong. It has interior following that 
of the 1800s when, with the opening of the Suez Canal, rich Filipino 
families began traveling to Europe, sent their sons abroad for education, 
and came back boasting not only of home furnishings newly acquired from 
Europe but also of an opulent lifestyle.

The doors of the ante-sala open into the vast living room, typical of the 
19th century house, the living room is airy, wide, with space flowing from 
one room to another, its spaciousness emphasized all the more by wide 
wooden floors. Capiz windows, covered by wooden blinds, run from wall to wall.

In the living room are clusters of European furniture, wooden sofas and 
lounging chairs, high marble-topped tables, pedestals holding European 
sculptures, grandfathers clock.
The room is protected from the glare and heat by lace curtain hanging in 
the “volada,” a corridor separating the living room from the capiz windows 
and is used by servants as passageway.

The living room has a music area where an old organ, a grand piano made in 
Boston in the 1850s, and a harp are displayed. From the music area, one can 
peer out on the San Agustin Churchyard.

Apart from finely crafted local furniture. The typical 19th century home, 
had a rich mixture of European and Chinese furniture and decor  their 
ornateness complementing the meticulously carved wooden panels built 
overhead that serve as imaginary boundaries for the rooms.

Behind the oratorio, or prayer room  where all 15 mysteries of the rosary 
were recited at nightfall  are found the family bedrooms. These too, are 
filled with locally made Victorian furniture that dominated Manila’s 
domestic scene during the last decades of the 19th century.

At one end of the “caida” is the “comedor” (dining room), its entire space 
practically occupied by a rectangular table laden with glassware and fruit 
stands. All around it stand sideboards displaying the family’s fine china, 
silverware and ceramic canisters.

Above the dining table hangs the “punkah,” or the manually-operated ceiling 
fan, a device brought over from India during the British Occupation of 
Manila (1762-1763). It cooled the guests and shooed the flies away from the 
table. During special occasions, a servant stood behind every guest to 
attend to his every need like shelling his shrimps or wiping his brow which 
tended to get sweaty from tackling a gargantuan meal.

Adjoining the dining room is the kitchen whose most unique features are a 
“nevera” (ice box) and a “bangerra” (dishrack). The former was used to 
store ice. Ten pounds of ice were delivered daily to wealthy households at 
P5 a month, a sum equivalent to P2,000 today.

The “bangerra” on the other hand, was used for drying plates and glasses 
under the sun. Sunshine was believed to act as disinfectant.

Beyond the “bangerra” is the “azotea” and “aljibe” (cistern), where 
rainwater from the roof running down the gutter was collected in the 
cistern, thus providing the 19th century household with a year-round supply 
of water.

In the azotea, the messy household chores were done  the laundering, 
dressing of the chicken, for example. It has a big jar containing water 
left under the heat of the sun.
The builders of Casa Manila strived for authenticity. Doors have no hinges, 
as was done in the era. The street lamps were attached to the house. There 
was no place for lamp posts.

Casa Manila allows today’s young a rare glimpse of an era long gone. (By 
Lynda B. Valencia, PNA)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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