With a plethora of influences from Spanish colonisers, the Philippines is home to a hodgepodge of cultures which manifest themselves maybe most visibly in traditional architecture, such as wooden homes on stilts and Antillean buildings made of stone. Unfortunately, many of these majestic homes have fallen into disrepair, and without proper funding from the local government to preserve these structures as heritage sites, many crumble with the wear and tear of time.
Enter Jerry Acuzar, owner of real estate developer company New San Jose Builders, and his fascination with heritage architecture. On his vast 400-hectare land in the province of Bataan, he’s rebuilt numerous Filipino colonial homes, often rescuing them from near destruction and reassembling them brick by brick to their former glory.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar was made open to the public in 2010 as a resort along the coast of Bagac, Bataan and only last year joined Historic Hotels Worldwide under the USA’s National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Among its growing roster of historic buildings are structures that are central to Filipino history. One such house is Casa Lubao which housed a Japanese spy during World War Two and later became the home of the ninth president of the Philippines, Diosdado Macapagal. Another, the Bellas Artes, was home to painter Rafael Enriquez Y Villanueva whose mezzanine became a training studio for acclaimed local artists Fernando Amorsolo, Botong Francisco and Fabian dela Rosa, to name a few.
The Bellas Artes had been considered the most beautiful in Quiapo, Manila, during Villanueva’s day (late 1800s to early 1900s) but it was in utter disrepair when Acuzar acquired it. Like the rest of his 27 historic homes, he tore it down, took it to his estate, and rebuilt it piece by piece, often recreating and replacing missing pieces to restore it to its original glory.
The building is now home to resident artists and their projects, under his daughter’s non-profit initiative. The building also holds a special place in Acuzar’s heart: as a young student, he constantly aspired to dine at the lobby of Bellas Artes which at the time was a restaurant.
Born with humble beginnings in a family of 12 children, Acuzar had already been working at the young age of seven, selling ice cream mostly and hustling as needed.
His aspirations were not dampened by his situation which is common to many Filipinos and his resourcefulness brought him to where he is now – a real estate mogul and a jack of all trades.
He had worked in construction and even as a landscape designer, which explains his attention to detail, from every building’s edifice to the neatly manicured gardens of the Las Casas grounds.
Acuzar’s mantra has always revolved around hard work in reaching your aspirations. And with the expansion of his estate, one could assume that his collection of heritage homes has turned into an obsession.
While he has been lauded for his efforts of preserving the country’s heritage, one ancient house at a time, Acuzar has also faced critique from the country’s historians and heritage aficionados for uprooting the homes from their natural environments.
Homes in provinces like Pampanga and Cagayan Valley, where they play a part in the town’s ecosystem were bought by Acuzar, dismantled,and rebuilt in his private estate.
However, despite these criticisms, Acuzar’s answer is a practical one: the need to save these deteriorating structures before it’s too late. In an interview with Rogue magazine, he cites Quiapo as an example.
It had once been home to affluent families who started leaving because of the congestion, renting out the homes to residents and small business owners who couldn’t afford their upkeep.
His philosophy, he says, is to take action and save the structure before it’s gone. Issues can be talked about later – which he is open to, by the way – but priority is always to take the most practical route—and to him it’s acquiring it and saving it in his own way while the structure still exists.