How a family is preserving history through ancestral houses
There’s something about the sentimental charm of ancestral houses.
For this author, a home is one of the most accurate outpours of one’s culture, beliefs, and personality. That’s why we pour so much of our style and taste in decorating—or at least attempting to decorate—our lair.
One of the most prominent families in the quiet town of Taal, Batangas is doing more than decorating to showcase Taal’s colorful history. They’re restoring and maintaining ancestral houses for the next generations to see.
In 1870, Don Eulalio married Gliceria Marella and gave her a house as a wedding gift. Being part of two of the wealthiest families in Taal, this gift—to this day—is considered extravagant.
Together, the power couple owned and managed several businesses—land, rice fields, along with sugar and tobacco plantations. They also owned a steamship called Bulusan, which they donated to the cause of the Katipunan during the 1896 revolution. They did not just provide the Katipunan’s first warship, they also gave them financial support and even opened both of their homes to the Katipuneros when needed.
There were stories that when a certain General Jamarillo of the Spanish Brigade took over the wedding gift house in 1897, brave Gliceria would stealthily listen to the General and his men as they plot their tactics. She would then report her findings to the Filipino revolutionaries in Calaca.
The remarkable couple’s involvement in the Katipunan eventually sent Don Eulalio to prison. When he passed away in 1898, his widow Gliceria carried on with their patriotic duties. The same year, the Spanish forces surrendered and the wedding gift house was returned to its rightful owners. The Philippine flag, Marcela Agoncillo’s masterful creation, was admired—for the first time ever—from the wedding gift house. The house survived World War II and even served as a hospital for American soldiers during the American occupation in the Philippines.
Today, Don Eulalio’s childhood home is known as Casa Villavicencio, a heritage museum open to the public. The 1870 Villavicencio Wedding Gift House, built just a few meters away from his childhood home, is now a bed and breakfast and a museum all in one.
This writer has had the privilege of staying at the Villavicencio Wedding Gift House a couple of times and I must admit, I have plotted—several times—a feasible life plan that will enable me to work and live in Taal. But alas, the city calls.
Staying in this bed and breakfast was like staying in a page from a children’s storybook—colorful, whimsical, almost surreal. Everywhere you look, you’ll find vibrantly painted patterns, making the home look more inviting while keeping its antiquity untarnished. The colors actually made the house seem less creepy (a dramatic tendency in most ancestral houses) even in the dark of night.
Siblings Jorge Joven and Joyce Joven-Quiblat inherited the Villavicencio houses. They are the fourth generation of Villavicencios since Don Eulalio and Doña Gliceria. Their grandfather, Vicente Ilustre was the son in-law of Eulalio and Gliceria Villavicencio. He was the first commissioner to Mindanao under F.B. Harrison. And, oddly enough, “Vicente Ilustre was Jose Rizal’s inspiration for the character of Isagani in his famous novel ‘El Filibusterismo.’
With the help of Joyce’s husband, Benny, they took the responsibility of restoring the house to its former glory. In 2003, the 1870 Villavicencio Wedding Gift House was fully restored. At that time, Joyce decided that the wedding gift house—just like how it sheltered weary Katipuneros back in the day—could also shelter tourists.
“We were aware that there were no places for visitors to spend the night in Taal, thus the idea came to mind to open up the house for bed and breakfast,” Joyce told Expat. “In between, we started putting together some memorabilia from the family’s historical past and put it on display. We took this inspiration from my cousin Ernie Villavicencio, who, together with other stakeholders from Taal, started and organized the Taal Active Alliance Legion (TAAL). This group was conceived to help promote and preserve Taal Heritage.”
Through the initiative of concerned residents and the media, “Taal has gone a long way from the Spanish colonial town in the early 17th century to a vibrant small town rich in cultural heritage with an illustrious past preserved to its old glory.”
Despite the perils of opening the 146-year-old home to the public, Joyce shared the best part about owning and running a bed and breakfast. “What I love most about opening up the house to tourists [as a] bed and breakfast is meeting so many wonderful people, personally or through correspondence, that serve as my inspiration to share the Filipino heritage to everyone here and abroad, making us proud of being a Filipino.”
The bed and breakfast has a family room downstairs, and two bedrooms upstairs that can both accommodate two people. According to Joyce, she tries to limit the number of guests making reservations are necessary. “This way, the guests can enjoy the house and experience living in it as if it is their own ancestral home.”
The hearty breakfast is one of the reasons why I will surely go back to Taal. The unforgettable Taaleña breakfast is a collection of Taal’s greatest culinary hits: Tapang Taal (cured beef), Fried Daing (dried fish; crispy and perfect with garlic vinegar), eggs over easy, freshly steamed rice, Taal Suman (sticky rice cooked in banana leaves), and the famous Tsokolate Eh (thick hot chocolate) from authentic Tablea (cocoa balls) made in Batangas.
They say, “Home is where the heart is.” True enough, for the Villavicencios of Taal (and countless other families who are themselves purveyors of heritage in their own way), their grandparents’ home is a place where we can know about the legacies of their patriotism from the heart.
The 1870 Villavicencio Wedding Gift House is located along G. Marela Street (near Zone 14 arch), Taal, Batangas. For more information, contact Ms. Joyce Joven-Quiblat at (0917) 897-0363.
By CHING DEE