Now, here’s a happy ending.
Just before leaving Negros for Iloilo. I managed to squeeze in a short visit to Silay. A couple of months ago I regretted visiting the place late in the afternoon. I bowed that I would comeback again. There was so much to see in town. So even though my Silaynon relatives graciously toured me around, I know that I would enjoy the towns architecture and cultural scene more in daylight.
So this time I made sure that I would have ample of sunshine above my head.
Today, the Government and the families works hand in hand in keeping these houses as monuments. Some had been torn down but majority of the old houses of Sila was restored and opened for the public. Casa Gaston, for example, had been donated for the public to see. A noble act aimed to showcase Silay’s past culture and lifestyle.
Of all the houses here, the most impressive for me personally is Casa Gaston. The Frenchman’s father, Yves Leopold Germain Gaston, was a pioneer in the towns sugar farming – the source of Silay’s wealth. The house is popularly called Balay Negrense and was built by its French owner in 1897. It houses an excellent collection of antiques including a circular table where there’s a list of all Gaston descendants. This house alone can inspire a book’s worth of historical information.
The traveler dwarfed by the grand Balay Negrense.
I like what Juliet Gaston-Patosa, an architect and member of the Gaston clan said: “As tomorrow’s ancestors, we shall be judged by our descendants by what we in turn leave them. Or, forever deprive them of.”
We better start to look around. What would be our legacy if we would neglect these treasures that has been handed down to us from the generation of before.
Moving near the national road one can find the massive Bernardo Jalandoni house. It has been a museum for some time and like all the other old houses it gives its visitors a glimpse of the grandeur and bustle the historic town once had. What this house lacked in exterior style it made up in size and form. Interesting is that even when it was built in the early 1900’s, (when the American’s were already in power) the house was built in the classic Filipino-Spanish bahay na bato style. Inside, there’s an incredible collection of furniture including musical instruments and an old phonograph.
What makes Silay the “Paris of Negros” was its excellent tradition in the arts. From theater to its unique food – the old town once had a high appreciation of European culture that even the simplest appliance are often imported from that continent. They also once had a musically inclined community, testament to this are the pianos and other musical instrument that can be found in almost all homes.
The Montelibano house is a whitewashed bahay na bato situated in a corner lot. One of the biggest in terms of dimensions. Another house worth visiting is the Angel Araneta Ledesma house, painted green and is now used as the cultural office. Here I met some very accommodating locals.
Maria Ledesma Golez house is now a bank but was largely left as it was originally. It has one of the most interesting style features – perhaps one of the best example of architectural reuse in the country today. Hopefully, urbanized towns and their leaders can get inspired by what the RCBC owners did to this beautiful house.
Hofilena House. Now under the custody of Ramon, well known for his advocacy of conserving the old houses in town.
Another Silay house that is in great condition is the Manuel Severino Hofileña house. Ramon Hofileña, whom I heard to be very enthusiastic and informative, tours local and out of town tourist around by appointment. He’s a well known champion of heritage conservation in the area. There are paintings of national artist (Juan Luna, Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo and Fernando Amorsolo) among others inside the house. This alone is enough reason to drop by the house.
The Calle Rizal is lined with beautifully “reused” heritage houses and shops.
The Cesar Lacson Locsin house, now El Ideal Bakery is an institution in Silay. You can find on the shelves variety of cultural food and sweets unique to the town.
There are around 29 houses built during the Spanish and American era that can be viewed in the town – a substantial number compared to much older towns in the country.
What a lot of people does not know is that Silay residents fought for their ancestral houses – not only against the elements and the ravages of time but against greedy stupid politicians. In the 70’s when there was a proposed project to expand the main street, threatening many old houses, they stood up against their leaders and in the end won.
The Silaynon’s attitude towards their ancestral house has truly impressed and inspired me. There are only few extant towns (we could probably count them in one hand) that have this appreciation and respect towards ancestral homes.
This small city proves that commitment and awareness in preserving heritage structures is locally beneficial – that it can be a source of income and most importantly a well from which people, conscious of their past, draw inspiration and guidance.
read about Silay’s historical time line here .