Gen. Aniceto Lacson Ancestral Home – A National Treasure

Gen. Aniceto Lacson Ancestral Home – A National Treasure

Nestled within a grove of trees in Talisay City, Negros Occidental, stands the General Aniceto Lacson Ancestral Home, sometimes referred to as Casa Grande.  Although looking empty now, one is struck by the house’s evident style and grandeur.  Despite the loss of its roof in a typhoon in the 1970s and its woodwork showing signs of time’s relentless march, Casa Grande retains a remarkably stately perspective.

It is also a unique survivor of a pivotal moment in Philippine history.  Unknown to many, the General Aniceto Lacson Ancestral Home was the first Presidential house in the Philippines.

Two grand pillars flank the stately main entrance. Through these wooden doors passed distinguished Filipino leaders in the country’s quest for freedom and self-rule. A plaque by the doorway gives proof, this bahay-na-bato was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2002.

A Brief History

The house was built in 1880 by Gen. Aniceto Lacson, a katipunero who, together with Gen. Juan Araneta of Bago, successfully led a province-wide revolt against the Spanish on November 5, 1898.  When the Spanish surrendered, Gen. Lacson was elected President of the short-lived Rupublica Cantonal de Negros, or the Cantonal Republic of Negros.  While Malacañang Palace was still being used by the Philippines’ Spanish, and later American, colonizers, the General Aniceto Lacson Ancestral Home became the first Filipino Presidential residence.

This independence lasted just three months and four days before Gen. Lacson and his fellow revolutionaries were obliged to surrender to the presence of overwhelming American forces in Manila.  The Treaty of Paris had ceded the Spanish colonies of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the U.S. at the end of the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Glancing in from the front of the house, ornate ironworks on the entrance gate are reflected on the wrap-around veranda of the second floor, softening this massive structure, colossal both in size and history.

Born in 1857, Aniceto Ledesma Lacson studied at the Ateneo de Manila Municipal together with his cousin and future comrade-in-arm, Juan Araneta. It was also here where he met Jose Rizal. Later, Lacson took part in a blood compact with the revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio. The only Negrense to have done so, Lacson sealed his role as one of the prime movers in the establishment of a free and independent Philippines.

Gen. Aniceto Lacson was universally respected amongst the Negrense and Spanish alike.  He was an innovator in sugar cane production and showed considerable humanity during the 1898 revolution, reputedly saving the lives of Spanish friars.  With characteristic modesty, he declined to adopt the title of Marques, bestowed by the King of Spain in recognition of this act.

The famed grand staircase with its impressive woodwork caught the eyes of one distinguished guest. It is told, Manuel L. Quezon once confessed, this is even grander than Malacañang’s.

The Hacienda House

In architectural terms, the house has been described by Fernando Zialcita, head of the cultural heritage studies of the Ateneo de Manila University, as representative of the late 19th-century floral style. The ground floor is constructed mainly of brick and coral stone, building materials common in the Philippines. Heritage houses in Negros follow the bahay-na-bato (house made of stone) architecture style, a type of construction that is now prohibited on environmental grounds.

The upper floor is made entirely of wood, tindalo, balayong, and molave. Air also flows freely in the Casa Grande, with its high ceilings and open doors. The house still holds portraits of the General's wife Rosario Araneta and other former residents.

The second floor is constructed mostly of Philippine hardwood, such as tindalo, balayong, and molave, and it is said that specialist woodworkers were brought over from China to do the intricate carvings. Remarkably, despite turbulent times, the woodwork survived throughout much of the house, but especially in the imposing grand staircase, which is reportedly grander than that of the Malacañang Palace.

Also surviving is an impressive wrap-around veranda from where the residents of the house could gaze across the sweep of the plantation attended to by sugarcane workers.  “It’s the only... bahay-na-bato that has a veranda that goes all around the house”, says Carmen Rossello, one of the General’s great-grandchildren.  “That’s what makes this house very, very unique compared to all the other bahay-na-bato.”

Downstairs courtyard cries for attention. Today the house is in need of repair and restoration. Time is running out. Anna Balcells, great-granddaughter of the General, says, “I want to preserve this house so that the future generations of this country can enjoy it”.

Perhaps another important feature is the chapel on the ground floor.  According to his descendants, the altar was commissioned and made in Spain.  It is also said that during WWII the Filipino guerillas, not wanting the house to be occupied by the Japanese, planned to burn it, but changed their minds when they realized that there was a chapel inside.

A Place in History

It was thus entirely fitting that in 2002, the General Aniceto Lacson Ancestral Home was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Historic Institute, in the hope that future generations would cherish this unique part of the Negrense and Filipino heritage.

A station of the cross hanging from a darkened wall of this room reveals an important feature of the house, the chapel. WWII guerillas wanted to burn the house, not wanting the Japanese to take hold of it, but changed their minds when they saw this chapel.

Sadly, like so many historical houses in the Philippines, time is eroding this significant landmark.  Thus, the present owners and descendants established the General Aniceto Lacson Ancestral Home Foundation (GALAH) to ensure that the house won’t fall into ruin.

“This house is extremely important to preserve because it’s one-of-a-kind in the whole Philippines,” says Anna Balcells, a great-grandchild and President of GALAH.  “I want to preserve this house so that the future generations of this country can enjoy it.”

The great-grandchildren of General Aniceto Lacson recalls their childhood spent playing on this large balcony. Hopefully, the house will be restored to its glory and visitors will be able to enjoy this, too.

To this day, Gen. Aniceto Lacson is celebrated and remembered every 5th of November, Cinco de Noviembre, the day that he and Gen. Juan Araneta led the people of Negros to secure the surrender of Spanish colonizers.  It is his descendants’ hope that the General Aniceto Lacson Ancestral Home will be restored to its former glory and ensure that its history lives on.

The Casa Grande is the only bahay-na-bato with a wrap-around veranda from where residents could gaze across the sweep of the plantation. Great granddaughter Carmen Rossello points out, the feature makes the house a unique specimen of this period architecture.

Text by: Dean Bunker
Photos by: Aries Abdon Cortez
Video by: GrilledCheese Studios

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