Sunday, May 20, 2012

Adaptive Reuse of Silay's Ancestral Houses

Silay City is full of heritage houses but most of them are still residential homes, lived in by the descendants of the original owners or bought by others who continue to live in them. There are few however that have been converted to museums or offices.  This action is called adaptive reuse, referring to the process of reusing an old site or building for a purpose other than which it was built or designed for.

Among the first of those ancestral houses for adaptive reuse was that of Maria Ledesma Golez which was bought by Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation or RCBC in 1992. I remember attending birthday parties in this house, going up the stairs at the left anterior part of the building.  In fact, I have some memory of the living quarters upstairs and I still have a picture of myself at the age of 5 or 6 years at their balcony.  The first floor used to be a soda fountain where they sold really good siopao.  RCBC remodeled the interiors of the first floor into their Silay branch while the second floor is used as a storage area.  The exteriors have been preserved well.

The next two ancestral houses were bought by the Silay City government and converted into offices. These are the Angel Araneta Ledesma Ancestral House which is used as the Arts and Culture Office of the city and the Armin Jalandoni Ancestral House which is now the Sangguniang Panglungsod building. These are both found in Plaridel Street, where I and my cousins would stroll on weekend afternoons.  This street has been  renamed to Generoso Gamboa Street.  

Another heritage structure that has been converted is the Lope Severino Building which is now owned by two separate individuals. The left wing of the building was bought by an Indian businessman while the right wing was bought by the Baldevia family. Both owners converted their properties for commercial use.  The second floor of the Baldevia side is a pension house with function rooms available for rent while the other side is rented by a religious group.

A few old buildings that were dilapidated or structurally unsafe were completely rebuilt like the Cine Silay now known as the Jison Building and the North Elementary School Gabaldon building.  In the past Silay's main street was lined with beautiful buildings.  They were used as commercial areas in the first level and residential areas in the second.  Many of these buildings are still there, having withstood the test of time with new owners and a new life.  But there were a few which were burned to the ground in the late 60's or early 70's and nobody will remember the other Severino house fronting that of the Lope Severino building, the Hofileña building besides it (now with a new building rented by Mang Inasal), the house of the Lecaros family where Rising Drugstore used to be and one that I vaguely remember, the building besides The Bernardino Jalandoni house which their family also owned.  

I hope that when architects are hired to plan for new buildings in Silay, they will always consider the aesthetics of a heritage city in mind. They can create modern day structures without sacrificing the old world charm of Silay.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Silay Honors Mr. Ramon Hofileña And His Ancestral House

Who doesn't know Ramon Hofileña?  So many people have written about him that he is easily the most recognizable name when it comes to arts and cultural history in the Province of Negros Occidental. Although he lived abroad for a period of time, his love for Silay lured him back home.  He took it upon himself to bring to Silay art exhibits and workshops of artists like Manuel Rodriguez Sr., Lamberto Hechanova, Vicente Manansala and Hernando Ocampo. I remember participating in one of those printmaking workshops during my high school days.  Ramon also single-handingly conducts the Annual Cultural Tour of Negros which is now on it's 38th year.  His ancestral house where he continues to live in to this day is preserved with much love and you can see this in the way Ramon talks about his beloved home. He regales his guests with stories and the memories that goes with each and every furniture and fixture,  all precious antiques. The second floor is where you can find even more art treasures - paintings of Luna, Hidalgo, Amorsolo, Manansala and even a sketch done by the young Rizal as well as a painting by Goya and Picasso. There is however one painter whom Ramon to this day talks about with sadness and regret...Conrado Judith, an unknown but very talented Silaynon painter who due to illness and poverty passed away early. His few works which Ramon was able to acquire are displayed right along those famous ones.  

His love and passion for the arts, culture, history and heritage prompted him to open his family home, the Manuel S. Hofileña Ancestral House (c.1934) in 1962 to the public.  This was fifty years ago and last May 3, 2012, the city gave honor to this man who unselfishly gave his time and talent for the promotion of Silay as the seat of culture and arts of the the province of Negros Occidental. Today, Ramon is busier than ever.

While before people usually make an appointment to see his house, they now come at anytime of the day and almost every day.  He says he misses having his siesta but he cannot find it in his heart to refuse their request. Listening to him say that during the short program, I suddenly realized that there will never be another like this man, indefatigable in his mission to bring culture to the people.  In fact right after his speech, he went on to give his guests a tour of his house.

Although I have seen his house so many times before and heard his stories, there always seems to be something new to learn and discover about Ramon, his home and it's history. He is always enthusiastic and is a master story-teller. It is obvious that he loves doing this.  It is also because of this love and passion that he and a group of like-minded Silaynons fought for the preservation of the heritage houses in the main highway around the plaza. These houses was up for appropriation and then demolition because of a road widening project in the 70's. The group won the fight. Today, those houses have withstood the test of time and the shortsightedness of government.  Silay has been declared a heritage city since then because of the work of this group of individuals. Without them, the city would have lost it's old world charm.  And while he lives and breathes, Ramon Hofileña continues to be at the forefront in  the efforts  to preserve the history and heritage of his beloved Silay.