This seven-storey mansion near Manila Bay has long been an object of curiosity amongst Roxas Boulevard passersby.
Situated in a three-hectare property in Bayview Avenue in Tambo, Paranaque City, this Spanish Colonial Revival mansion is a throwback to a more genteel era when prominent families such as the Zobels, Ynchaustis, and Llamas-Garcias, and expats such as Eugene Arthur Perkins, Charles Cotterman and James Rockwell, built beautiful, stately mansions with sprawling gardens which lined what was then known as Dewey Boulevard. One got access to these homes from roads parallel to Manila Bay with backyard gardens that face the side of the ocean. Close by was the Pre-War Manila Polo Club in Pasay, founded in 1909 by a group of prominent Americans headed by then Governor-General of the Philippines, William Cameron Forbes and the Los Tamaraos Polo Club, situated in Camp Claudio (formerfly Camp Dewey), a splinter polo club established by the Elizalde brothers in 1937 after their friend, Manuel Nieto, a top aide of President Manuel Luis Quezon, was refused membership in the exclusively white Manila Polo Club.
During World War II, Japanese military officers were said to have occupied Camp Claudio and possibly, the seven-storey mansion and the land it stands on. Perhaps an indication of its use by the Japanese military is a tunnel which runs from beneath the house’s gardens towards Manila Bay.
It is not for certain who first owned and built what was originally a two-storey mansion now known as Palacio de Memoria. Dr. Francisco Villaroman, Sr., a physician and surgeon, Assistant Professor at the U.S.T. College of Medicine & Surgery, and founder of the Francisco Villaroman Foundation School in Malate, Manila, was not its first owner and only acquired the property after the war. Cornejo’s Commonwealth Directory of the Philippines of 1939 lists Dr. Francisco Villaroman’s home address as 239 Requesens, Santa Cruz, Manila.
It is for certain, though, that the two-storey mansion already existed during the Battle of Manila as a photo taken during the bombing of Nichols Field and surrounding areas on February 6, 1945 shows the two-storey mansion with its original sloped tile roof looking relatively intact.
After the Villaroman family acquired the property post-war, renovations were done on the original two-storey structure. The ground floor lobby flooring was redone in terrazzo showing rural folk in a rustic setting dancing the tinikling, accompanied with images of a nipa hut, palm trees, haystack, and rice field in the backdrop. The second floor bedroom and anteroom flooring was similarly redone in patterned terrazzo. As the doctor’s family grew, five more floors were added, each floor provided with its own kitchen and accessed through staircases and an elevator. On its upper floors was a clinic, a morgue, and what appears to be a therapeutic pool. The walls were covered in dark wood panelling and large rooms were cut up into smaller quarters. There was no attempt to integrate the design of the additional floors with the original Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of the house as each floor was designed reflecting the current style at the time it was built.
When the Philippine Ambassador to Spain Philippe Lhuillier and his family acquired the property fifteen years ago, the house had not been lived in for decades. It had a dark and eerie atmosphere and was said to have been haunted by spirits and elementals. The house has since been blessed and cleansed.
According to Camille Lhuillier, daughter of the Ambassador and marketing manager of the family-owned auction house, Casa de Memoria, several attempts were made to renovate and restore the house but it was only when Miguel Rosales came on board as creative consultant that the house began its journey towards recapturing its Old World elegance.
The dark wood panellings were removed, walls were knocked down, and the rooms reconfigured. Termite-infested wood flooring and architectural elements were replaced, the original architectural mouldings cleaned up and highlighted, the wrought iron window and door grilles scrubbed of rust and repainted, and the terrazzo flooring rid of all dirt and repolished.
Stripping the mansion of decades-worth of renovations and add-ons unravelled the house’s former beauty. A recent article on Palacio de Memoria discussed the influence of the works of American society architect Addison Mizner on the renovation. However, upon visiting the Palacio de Memoria, the stripped Neoclassicism and Spanish Colonial Revival styles of Architect William Parsons’ works came to mind, too, most particularly his original design for the main lobby of the Manila Hotel.
Another architect whose work comes to mind is Juan Arellano, most particularly his own residence in San Juan and portions of Villa Victoneta, the Salvador and Victoria Lopez Araneta Residence in Mandaluyong.
The renovated Palacio de Memoria is the perfect showcase of the European arts and antique pieces being sold and auctioned by the Casa de Memoria auction house managed by Ambassador Lhuillier’s daughters, Camille and Angelique Lhuillier Miranda. The very gracious Camille welcomed and toured us around the house starting with the grand foyer highlighted by a unique 18-light, six foot tall Murano chandelier adorned with red rosettes, arched doorways, exquisitely marbled posts and the terrazzo flooring patterned with Tinikling dancers amidst rustic Philippine scenery.
Also on the ground floor are two rooms with contrasting styles: the more feminine Gray Room highlighted by a Napoleon III style table inlaid with brass and mother of pearl, a settee, and open-backed wooden chairs, and the more masculine Red Room furnished with an ornately carved wooden cabinet, red and gold silk damask-upholstered chairs, period paintings, and a spectacular Boulle style table ornately inlaid with tortoiseshell, pewter, and gilded brass.
The Grand Foyer opens out into a tiled portico leading to the spacious, well-manicured lawn. Leading to the second floor is a gracefully curved grand staircase bathed in natural light provided by a pair of tall arched grilled windows. Greeting the visitors on the staircase landing is a genial stuffed tiger while on the staircase’s walls hung a tapestry and European religious paintings.
The spacious second floor which was originally the Master Bedroom with ante-room, is now a multi-purpose space intended for use as venue for auctions and receptions. Also on the second floor is a sitting area, a dining area, and a prep room. Similar to the ground floor lobby, the abundance of natural light suffuses the second floor. French doors open to spacious balconies, allowing in the cool sea breeze from Manila Bay. During our visit, the upper floors were still under construction and off-limits. Camille allowed us a peek into the third floor which shall be used as gallery space. Restoration workshops, offices, and research facilities shall likewise occupy the upper floors. A reflecting pool shall replace the former swimming pool.
Click on the image below for slideshow
The original two-storey mansion seen in a photo of the bombing of Nichoks Field, 6 February 1945. San Diego Air & Space Museum shared by John Tewell
Plan of Proposed Sea Boulevard from Ermita to Malate then proceeding to Pasay and Parañaque, Burnham Plan of Manila 1905
Aerial view of Dewey Blvd. and Pre-War residences by the bay. John Tewell colorized by Bilog Bilugan
Bygone Pre-War Mansions by the Bay. From the top clockwise: Jacobo Zobel Residence, El Nido, the Eugene Arthur Perkins Residence, the Ynchausti Residence, Enrique Zobel Residence, and the Alfonso Zobel Residence.
Juan Arellano Residence, San Juan. Architect Juan Arellano. Zoilo M. Galang's Encyclopedia of the Philippines, Vol. IV-Art
Pre-War Manila Hotel designed by Architect William Parsons.
Main Lobby, Manila Hotel. Cherry Diolazo, Manila Nostalgia
Aerial view of Los Tamaraos Polo Club, Tambo, Parañaque. Lou Gopal, Manila Nostalgia
The Clubhouse, Los Tamaraos Polo Club. Lou Gopal, Manila Nostalgia
President Manuel Luis Quezon with the Elizalde brothers and Chick Parsons at Los Tamaraos Polo Club, 18 February 1940. Lou Gopal, Manila Nostalgia
New Year's Eve at Los Tamaraos Polo Club. Lou Gopal, Manila Nostalgia
Vintage Map of Parañaque showing Tambo, Parañaque where Palacio de Memoria is located.
The beautiful pre-war grillework was kept. Jilson Tiu
A view of the garden from the gate. Jilson Tiu
Elvis was here. Jilson Tiu
Detail. Jilson Tiu
A view of Palacio de Memoria from the garden. Jilson Tiu
Main Lobby, Palacio de Memoria Jilson Tiu
The Gray Room, Palacio de Memoria Jilson Tiu
The six-foot high Murano chandelier adorned with red roses at the Main Lobby, Palacio de Memoria. Jilson Tiu
Second Floor Sitting Area Jilson Tiu
View of the porch from a ground floor window. Jilson Tiu
Entrance gate to Palacio de Memoria. Jilson Tiu
There are further plans to use the spacious house and grounds as an events and performance venue with a restaurant bar on the parked vintage planes on the mansion’s grounds. Those—the two planes—an old Cebu Pacific one and a smaller plane, are acquisitions of the patriarch and inveterate collector Philippe. Elvis Presley is said to have been once a passenger of the smaller plane. The mansion itself, Palacio de Memoria, stands as a beautiful reminder of our past, but more importantly an inspiration to encourage owners of other heritage properties to reconsider selling out to developers—and consider adaptive reuse as a viable option.
Photographs by Jilson Tiu
Special thanks to Miguel Rosales
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