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Bacolod’s boat-shaped mansion to become center of art deco district

An iconic boat-shaped mansion, that survived World War II and the rigors of time unscathed, is set to become the center of an Art Deco District in Bacolod City.

Art Deco is a popular design style of the 1920s and ’30s characterized by sleek geometric or stylized forms that is seen throughout the mansion built by Don Generoso Villanueva, between 1933 to 36.

The mansion located at No. 50, Burgos Street, which looks like a cruise liner with porthole windows, was the first Art Deco residential building in Bacolod City, Villanueva’s granddaughter Maria Lilia Villanueva said.

Also known as “Daku Balay (Big House),” it was the first to have an elevator and was the tallest building in Bacolod City until 1959.

Daku Balay is perhaps the largest remaining architectural legacy in the true art deco style in the Philippines, Lilia said.

Her grandfather, who was a sugar planter married to Paz Gonzaga, hired expert craftsmen from all over the country to work on the intricate details of his art deco home, Lilia said.

She said 95 percent of the interior and 100 percent of the mansion’s exterior are authentic from the 1930s.

During WWII a Japanese general, Lt. Gen. Takeshi Kono, who occupied the house spared it from destruction because he loved it so much, Ben Scharlin, great grandson of Don Generoso, said.

“My great grandfather who was a sugar farmer loved local animals on the island so this is the only art deco house in the world probably that has Filipiniana elements to it,” he said.

The plaster and cement relief designs on its walls and ceilings include the wise and foolish monkeys, the owl and bat, spider and fly and other creatures from famous Negrense folk tales and comics strips of the day, Lilia said.

There is also an alcove dedicated to the “aswang” hunter.

All of its bathrooms also have water-related scenes that include sea creatures embedded on tiles or plaster reliefs.

There are also paintings of landscapes and native animals, as well as deco motifs, hand-painted on glass dividers between bedrooms and the elevator doors.

The three-story building is about 41-feet high and the interior area, including the roof deck towers, covers about 1,200 square meters.

The mansion, whose architect was Salvador Cinco, also has built-in wrap-around balconies on every floor.

The floors and ceilings of the mansion are made of complex and multicolored handmade marbling, taken after the Italian scagliola marble style, Lilia said.

The detailed work put into the house is seen in the intricate geometric designs in marble and hardwood seen throughout its interior.

The mansion, which currently houses the offices of the Villanueva family businesses, is not open to the public except by appointment.

Built behind the mansion is the art deco-inspired Belle Arte residential condominiums at Galo Street, that is now 50 percent occupied.

Lilia, who is president and chief operating officer of Marosvill Development Corp., developer of Belle Arte, said it was inspired by the Daku Balay and was designed to render a modern version of Art Deco.

It’s the first Art Deco-inspired building in Bacolod since the 1930s.

Phase two of the development that will start in 2022 or 2023 depending on normalization from the COVID-19 pandemic will include studio units, a swimming pool, and commercial spaces, Lilia said.

Ben said they envision a cluster of Art Deco structures in the area.

They also plan to open Daku Balay to the public in the future for special events, conferences, and parties, he said.

Development of the area has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic but as the situation improves and interest in the Art Deco District grows they expect the pace to pick up.*

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