Quezon Heritage House: Getting to know QC’ s founding father
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - November 3, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Before he became the “Father of the Philippine Republic” and the “Father of the Philippine Language,” Manuel Luis M. Quezon – the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth – was first a father to his four children and a husband to a caring wife.

“He was very loving father,” recalls his only surviving daughter, Maria Zeneida “Nini” Quezon-Avanceña, during the recent inauguration of the Quezon Heritage House at the Quezon Memorial Circle.

“I remember that when we were children, he would get down on his hands and knees and we would ride on his back,” said the 92-year-old presidential daughter.

The memories of the former president as a family man are the things that the Quezon City local government would want to impart to the visitors of the newly-reconstructed house at the Quezon Memorial Circle, according to Mayor Herbert Bautista.

Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte, whose office took charge of the transfer of the property from its original location along Gilmore Street in New Manila, said the heritage house complements the nearby Quezon Museum, which features exhibits about the president’s political career.

“The theme of the heritage house is home and family. That’s why when you look at the exhibits, it’s about his life with his children and the activities of his wife Aurora,” she explains.

The Quezon Heritage House is believed to be the only existing house that is associated with President Quezon and his family.

It was offered to the president in 1927 just after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The family used it as a weekend house until they were forced to flee to Corregidor in 1941 and later to the United States in 1942 because of the war.

Quezon died in the US on Aug. 1, 1944, with the family returning to the Philippines the next year. Upon their return, the family purchased the Gilmore house on installment, and was later able to acquire three adjacent properties in the area.

 

Constructed in the 1920s, the two-story beige and white house was constructed at the northeast portion of the 166-hectare property now known as the New Manila.

The house is neoclassic in style, a theme common in the country during the American colonial period. It borrows and re-interprets elements from Roman and Greek architecture – for instance the use of Roman arches and the Greek post-and-lintel style edged with embellishments.

This is very evident in the design of the adjacent social hall, which was used as a venue of various important social events in the lives of both the former president and the first lady.

In describing the social hall, Billy Malacura – researcher and exhibition writer for the Quezon Heritage House – says that the “structure itself is neo-classical. But when you get inside, there are sculptures that are very classical.”

The single-story rectangular structure has round columns in its front and rear. It features Fu dog sculptures and a pair of Caryatids, which are sculpted females used during the classical period as a supporting column.

Between the social hall and the house is a rectangular pool which, in the reconstructed heritage house, was transformed into a fountain.

The house itself, however, was not strict in following the neo-classical theme. Over the years, changes were made by the Quezon family to the house that had been their home for more than five decades.

For instance, the main entrance of the house features glass doors etched with bamboo and designed with iron-wrought leaves. Malacura says this may have been a manifestation of Aurora’s interest in Japanese culture.

“We have to take into consideration that the former president lived here only for a short time,” says Malacura, noting that the house mainly gives visitors an idea on how the family lived after Quezon died.

The main attraction of the house is the second floor, which features the original narra beds used by the former president and his wife. These were in the two bedrooms connected by a comfort room.

Christian Echeche, project development assistant of the heritage house, says the couple had to sleep separately due to the president’s illness. A bed for his nurse, as well as the chests where he kept his personal items, is also displayed in the president’s room.

In the main room on the second floor was a plant box given to the first lady prior to their escape to Corregidor. It also features the original spiral staircase from the Gilmore house.

Other original muebles displayed in the house are cabinets and mirrors of the former presidential couple, including one given by his colleagues from the Senate. The doors, grills, and some of the stained glass panels were also from the original Gilmore property.

The ground floor speaks more of the Quezon family, particularly Aurora. The main room, which was used by the former first lady as her office when she was forming the Philippine Red Cross, features furniture custom-made to fit the period.

The ground floor also features the room used by Aurora when she was older, as well as a guest room and an extension dining room constructed during the time of the Avanceñas. The house also has two kitchens – one on each floor – which showcases the family’s food tradition, including a recipe for the president’s favorite dish, Cocido Español.

According to Echeche, sixty percent of the materials from the original house were used in the recreated one at the Quezon Memorial Circle.

 

The Quezon family was said to have spent their weekends at the Quezon Heritage House to seek respite from the fast-paced life in the city. Later on, it was used by the family of Quezon-Avanceña until she decided to move to Alabang for health considerations.

The place was conducive to the president’s condition as it offered a fresh and clean environment, which also reminded him of the forested surroundings in his hometown in Tayabas.

It was the house of an ailing person, says Malacura, “but it was also where the family bonded and spent time together.”

Avanceña, who was teary-eyed during the inauguration, says she has a lot of memories in the house – not all of them good ones.

“We were living in this house when my mother, my older sister Baby, and my (first husband Felipe Buencamino III) were killed in that ambush in Nueva Ecija,” she said, referring to the April 28, 1949 incident allegedly perpetrated by Hukbalahap members. Aurora left the house that day to inaugurate the Quezon Memorial Hospital in her home town of Baler, now a part of the province named after her.

But there were also good memories.

Avanceña says the house reminded her of her days with her father. She tells of how her father rented a banca and brought her to Manila Bay and taught her how to swim.

“He used to get off from the ` and bring me down and try to teach me how to swim,” she says. “My father was never too busy for us. We had more private life than the families of present day presidents.”

Her son Ricky says the family has forgotten that the house is now in the middle of the Quezon Memorial Circle.

“I wanted to take my shirt off and go around the house,” he chuckles.

Benjamin, another grandson, says the goal of transferring the house was to put a face to the family life and the personal side of the former president.

Avanceña was teary-eyed as she expressed her gratitude to the local government for funding the transfer. “I would like to thank everyone who has anything to do with putting up the Gilmore House.”

According to Belmonte, they want to show the public that Quezon and his family lived a life similar to the rest of us.

“I think this house, when we see it, we can say that it’s a home that every person can relate to,” she says. “It was where he recuperated when he was ailing, similar to what we do when we are sick.”

Belmonte – who has a background in archaeology and anthropology – says there is a need build some kind of unifying identity that will bring Quezon City residents together.

“Sometimes we really need these tangible manifestations and not base our knowledge on concepts or on books. We have to see things to be able to identify with the place, with the person,” says the vice mayor.

“(The Quezon Heritage House) shows us that this couple had a good family life and this is their home. This is where their children lived. It makes us closer to him as the president (who founded the city),” she adds.

The local government spent almost P10 million for the transfer of the Gilmore property. Belmonte says the plan to preserve the house started during the administration of her father, incumbent Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.

Earlier, Mayor Bautista also instructed the city planning and development office to request information from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) on how the local government could acquire the old house and have it registered as a heritage site.

However, the NHCP said the house falls short of the requirements that could merit its declaration as a heritage site.

But according to the vice mayor, the local government felt the need to preserve the legacy and heritage of the Quezon family. Tours will be scheduled to disseminate information about the heritage house. She says their office will be happy to accept museum exhibits or recollections and stories about the former president and his life with his family.

Belmonte says the local government may introduce fees in the future, or even rent the space at the social hall for events and functions to generate revenue. For the meantime, admission to the heritage house is free.

Bautista says the transfer of the house is part of the local government’s efforts to development the Quezon Memorial Circle.

“If you want to know about Quezon as a politician, visit the Quezon Museum. If you want to know about his personal life, visit the heritage house,” he says, adding that the city will also open its social history museum and transfer the public library to the circle next year to provide the public with information about the city, its people, and the country.

 

The Quezon Heritage House is open to the public Tuesdays to Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For inquiries, please contact 988-4242 local 8206.

BELMONTE FAMILY GILMORE HERITAGE HOUSE PRESIDENT QUEZON QUEZON HERITAGE HOUSE QUEZON MEMORIAL CIRCLE
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