A couple of weeks ago I featured Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Urban Zone. I mentioned it in this entry. In case you missed the show, I can't help you with that as we have no reruns and we're not officially online. But here are some of the many photos I took that day.
It was an incredible experience. This place is definitely a must-see. Something worth writing home about -- which I did on the spot, thanks to Globe's 3G signal. I've made no secret of my love and appreciation for old buildings. I was a student of Fine Art History where I focused on architecture and the Antiquities. In my first years in media, I was trying to get involved in heritage preservation/saving old buildings (when I realized, there was a better and more effective way of making a difference than joining cultural-slash-lobby groups, so that was the end of that. You can ask my friend Carlos Celdran about our early efforts). Seeing this opened my eyes to new possibilities.
The heritage resort
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is in Bagac, Bataan. It took us more than 4 hours to get there from the south - more than one hour was spent just getting through Metro Manila. Though the drive was long, it was pleasant and picturesque. The kids had an educational experience driving through places where the old volcano errupted and buried towns (Mt Pinatubo). Then we went through and around mountains. It was lovely. The compound itself is by the sea and in between two mountains.
In a nutshell, this place has over twenty old houses transported and rebuilt in this private property. I don't know how long the owner's been doing this, but he now has recreated a lovely 19th century town. The hotel manager told me that the owner, a known real estate developer and builder, didn't initially plan to make this a resort. It was Mr. Acuzar's passion and interest in saving old buildings that led him to do this. I would assume it was also driven by frustration. Drive around any part of old Manila and you'll see hundreds of beautiful yet decaying old buildings - most privately owned. There aren't any incentives or good enough reasons for private homeowners to invest in preserving these structures. It's just too expensive and too many parts of the city have fallen into urban decay. Whether or not its still reversible remains to be seen. It would take a strong government's commitment and people have to want it too. So Mr. Acuzar did what he could do... he bought whatever old house he could, tore them down piece by piece and meticulously labelled each piece in order to be reconstructed again in this beautiful site. Sort of like playing Lego in a massive scale.
The walk to the hotel
I felt physically transported to 100 years ago. It was a complete town, minus a church. I'm pretty sure that's coming next.
Las Casas Filipinas has been written and talked about many times. Some historians were aghast that a private citizen could actually do this. On site were several historically significant buildings. The first University of the Philippines structure is here. History buffs and restoration experts may argue that this isn't really preservation per se, as the buildings are taken out of context. I understand. But in reality, if a person with this level of commitment didn't step in and take the initiative, a lot of these structures would have just crumbled and decayed... or worse, bought up and chopped up for parts. What we have here is the closest thing to an accurate restoration of homes dating back to the late 1800s.
Because this is such a gem of a place, the owner has decided to open it up to the public. There is a P650 fee for day-trippers. And a fully functioning hotel. The resort amenities include a batis-style swimming pool - soon to come are water sports facilities, a tavern/bar, a spa and more. A beautiful rock bridge was being constructed while I was there. And I hear a church will be built. Imagine the kind of wedding you can have here?? Breathtaking.
I will stop writing now and just let you enjoy the photos.
Imagine more than twenty old houses transported from all over the country to Bagac, Bataan... piece by piece! Who does that? Wow!
This is the original University of the Philippines' School of Fine Arts. It then became the first school of Architecture in the Philippines. It was located in Quiapo.
Through these doors passed great artists like Juan Luna, Felix Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino. My camera's battery died when I got inside. The structure was massive!!
The history of the building
Here's Manny, our executive producer. It was sweltering hot that day and the management was so kind to lend us a golf cart. You don't really need it because the place is so pleasant to walk around in. But I had to remain "fresh" during the shoot. So I was a bit spoiled.
Like I said, they spoil me during my shoots. This is Cristal, my ever dependable hair and makeup artist.
Some of the houses are available for rent but most are just for show/tours. This house was fully airconditioned inside. And all the bathrooms were new!
Even the decorative details inside were preserved and restored. Whatever couldn't be saved was recreated.
The only thing new in the compound is this building - the hotel. It was design to replicate an old hotel in Escolta.
The hotel rooms are lovely. Very high ceiling and fine furniture.
These doors lead to the bathroom. Everything is new. We were very comfortable.
From the hotel we walked to the dining hall. Kids never complain about the sun whenever they're out. I wanted to faint in this heat. But they were perfectly fine like energizer bunnies.
Incredible dining space
Black paella? OMG.
Chicken Binakol. I'm getting hungry while writing this. Dad, remind me to ask the cook to make this on your next visit. It's like a sweet tinola with yummy coconut meat.
Leche flan, wow!
The dishes were made by Lanell Abueva-Fernando, a known pottery artist.
Sorry to torture you. Here's another shot. OMG.
Someone was having too much fun pretending to be a lion.
But she made up for it by being a gentle lion and giving me these flowers.
Stunning 360 degree view.
We'll definitely be back.
For more info on Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, go to their website.