An events place with a starry history

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star

On this sprawling lot where groomed many of today’s big stars, some of them have retired, some are gone, have settled down abroad and some still very ative

It’s Sunday afternoon.

As we enter the Sampaguita Gardens, we are transported back to the days when this now events place was Sampaguita Studios where the late, original starmaker Dr. Jose R. Perez (lovingly called Doc Perez) groomed greenhorns into big stars (to call a brief roll: Gloria Romero, Susan Roces, Amalia Fuentes, Paraluman, Marlene Dauden, Lolita Rodriguez, Rita Gomez, Daisy Romualdez and sister Blanca Gomez, Rosa Mia, Bella Flores, Eddie Garcia, Juancho Gutierrez, Ric Rodrigo, Dolphy, Oscar Moreno, Eddie Gutierrez, Liberty Ilagan, Jose Mari, Gina Pareño, Rosemarie Sonora, the Rodriguez brothers Ramil and Pepito, Dindo Fernando, Bert Leroy Jr., et al).

Built in 1937, the studio was razed to the ground in 1951, rebuilt from the huge box-office gross of the classic tearjerker Roberta that starred Tessie Agana (then touted as the country’s answer to Hollywood’s Child Wonder Shirley Temple). The rest, as they would say, is colorful and dramatic history.

The invitation for an exclusive pictorial comes from Marichu “Manay Ichu” Perez-Maceda and her sister Lilibeth “Betchay” Perez-Nakpil. Eager to take a trip down Memory Lane, we, of course, say yes! As movie fans, my friends and I would skip classes and wait at that iconic gate on Valencia Street in Quezon City for a quick glimpse of the Sampaguitans as they were driven home after a long day’s shoot. The studio was “very Hollywood,” complete with a dormitory, a forest, a chapel, nipa huts — well, everything needed as set. It was an all-around workplace. Seldom were Sampaguita movies shot on location. Those were the days, my friend!

Our quick tour-cum-pictorial start at the massive gate that bears the year (1940) it was built. We take a long shot of the two-storey Events Place constructed on the same spot where the bungalow-type office of Doc Perez was, surrounded by trees of all kinds. Manay Ichu has decorated both floors (purposely for the STAR pictorial) as if a party is set (actually, a debut was held the night before), lit up by floral arrangements courtesy of Manay Ichu’s Flowers, Crystals and Beads, her own business that caters to weddings, cultural and corporate events (contact persons are Terry and Micah, at telephone numbers 723-7242 and 721-4122). All real, huh, nothing plastic. (Architect-landscaper of the events place is Edgar Allan Pasion.)

The ground floor (439.3 square meters), named Azucena Vera Perez Main Hall (after the clan’s matriarch Mama Nene who died last May), can accommodate 300 persons; the AVP Hall A (second floor front, 242.4 square meters), 200 to 250 persons; and the AVP Hall (second floor, rear, 163 square meters), 100 to 150 persons. (For inquiries, call 475-7053, 475-7059 or 475-7207; or venue manager Carl David at 0918-6316726 or marketing officer JM P. Nakpil at 0915-2141468.)

The family’s ancestral home (interior designer is Santi Santos), built in 1940 (like the gate), has a cozy dining room downstairs, ideal for a business meeting, and two room upstairs that may be used by the bride or debutante. The winding staircase, still intact, has served as the setting of dramatic scenes. Imagine Etang Discher ordering a poor girl to disappear posthaste (“Lumayas ka!”) because she didn’t want her handsome son for the girl. From the balcony (imagine Gloria Romero lip-synching a lonely song…voiced by Sylvia La Torre or Carina Afable?...on a moonlit night while thinking of a long-lost lover), you get a sweeping view of the garden (now called The Vera Perez Gardens, can accommodate up to 250 persons) which when completed will serve as open-air venue for parties (ballroom dancing, anyone?).

A few steps away, we cross an old bridge (to be reinforced shortly) leading to the chapel which memorable wedding scenes were shot. Imagine Rosa Mia pleading before a huge Crucifix to heal her ailing child and, voila, a bright light instantly erased the sadness on her face. Her son is healed. Miracle. The movie ended on a happy note.

There are eight caterers to choose from, with La Favorita, owned by Betchay and sister Chona Ampil.

The Sampaguita Gardens will have a soft opening on Friday, July 25. Already lined up are several events, one of them a concert in August to be produced by STAR columnist/banker/art-lover/philanthropist Danny Dolor.

We leave the place misty-eyed, feeling light from the back-to-the-past experience, glad that even it has been converted into an events place, it has retained its starry, starry history.

From here on, I will let the pictures on this double spread speak for the Sampaguita Gardens.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. You may also send your questions to [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare. or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo. )

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