By: Paolo M. Bustamante
A week ago, a student majoring in Architecture from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, asked me for help on her thesis. She asked me for suggested areas in Manila that features an array of ancestral houses and pre-war structures. I advised her to visit the R. Hidalgo, Bautista and Bilibid Viejo Streets, in Manila. In my experience in documenting, advocating for the preservation of heritage houses, and studying these structures in my own pace, I am certain that my suggestions will surely help her in accomplishing her thesis.
Not long after I suggested her these places, I received a message from her about an ancestral house in R. Hidalgo that was about to be demolished. I thought, this is really a bad month for heritage houses! This month, a lot of heritage places were torn down - the thought of which, by the way, reminds me of that scene in "Fight Club" where the buildings comprising the cityscape slowly crumble down, as Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter passionately kiss.
Anyway, I immediately messaged my good friend Stephen Pamorada who is currently the president of The Heritage Conservation Society-Youth, about the said house. He was very upset about the news because his group called, "Kapitbahayan sa Kalye Bautista" will be hosting a tour around Quiapo on September 28, 2014, which planned to include the Genato House in their tour itinerary. Sadly, plans must change.
According to "Memorable Manila Houses", the very elegant mansion of Ramon Genato was renowned during the 1880's to the 1890's as a gathering place of the "alta sociedad de Manila" or "Manila's high society". During special occasions (which were often, I assume), it served as a party place and ballroom area for the rich and the famous, during it's heyday.
Along with the message, the student told me that while they were walking around Quiapo, the vendors around them recommended the old house because of its antiquity and old charm. According to her,when they asked if about the house to the guards, they halted them and said that they are not entertaining anyone regarding the house because it is in the process of demolition. It has been in the process of demolition last September 11, 12, 13, 2014. Afterwards, the engineer stated that no one should be allowed inside the house, for it will be demolished and turned into the school's new annex.
Stephen told me that he was able to talk to the owners about the house. The superior said that "The durability of the house is poor" and that, "They were fortunate enough to be able to see the interiors of the house", as well.
Thinking about it just makes me a bit sad, especially as a heritage conservationist. Manila is 400 years old. However, it does not look like it is 400 years old! We keep blaming other people and parties for the city's lost charm, but we never even tried to take steps and measures to save what was left for us from the past.