Old World Charm into the Holidays

This month’s design features the two old houses as one. Each house’s most defining features are displayed, such as the balcony of the Yulo Residency and the stairs of the Pitong Ledesma Residency. They sit atop a colorful bowl to symbolize the work of featured fashion designer, Greg Urra, whose designs make use of abstract shapes and vivid figures.

The magnetism of a bygone era is not primarily defined by a physical space, like an antebellum structure, or an object to be seen and felt. What draws Negrenses to a love affair with the past is the sense of style that the period reawakens in us. It’s not the tangible thing that tugs at our heartstrings, but the charm about it. And as we approach the holiday season, the Old World charm of Negros shimmers even more.

Old Culture, Pop Culture

Negrenses instinctively take that penchant for heritage wherever they go, beyond time and space. Greg Urra, born and raised in Bacolod City, embraces fashion from old cultures and turns them into pop. That’s Greg’s super power – to be able to reimagine a faded scarf and worn denim jacket into vogue. Or, an aged quilt into a trench coat that mirrors the colors of year-end holidays, from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Greg’s creations, under the brand name Vintage Black Label, is a regular feature at the Manhattan Vintage Show held in the Chelsea District of New York City. In our story, Old Culture, Pop Culture, Negros Season of Culture spotlights Greg Urra who fluently, effortlessly shows how Negrense high style remains rooted in the soul, only to find a larger stage in a larger global world.

Back home in Negros Occidental, two American colonial homes offer examples of adaptive reuse.

Among heritage destinations in the country, Silay City stands out with over 30 ancestral homes recognized by the National Historic Institute and the National Commission for Culture and Arts. One of them turns heads with its front entrance double staircase and, at this time of the year, the string of dainty white Christmas parols tracing its roof line. This is the house of Jose “Pitong” Ledesma and wife, Anita Locsin.

That the house sits on J. Pitong Ledesma Street speaks volumes of the man. His vast sugar land holdings cannot capture his persona completely. Pitong loved music, too. And he loved his faith. Pitong Ledesma provided the funds to bring Silay’s San Diego Pro-Cathedral to its present-day grandeur. All these contribute to the charm of the man and the house he built.

Faith, Family, Food

Beyond the historical evidences in its 1917 architecture and interior design, it is the Old World charm of the Pitong Ledesma house – described by granddaughter Maggie Jalandoni as one “filled with food, faith, love, music, and family” – that caught the eye of Negrense restaurateur Tony Boy Escalante (of Tagaytay’s Antonio’s and Balay Dako) to work out a long-term lease on the property. This set into play restoration work undertaken by Tony Boy Legaspi, an architect rooted to Silay, rooted to the storied charm this city evokes. In Faith, Family, Food, the Negros Season of Culture chats with Maggie as she takes us through the process of rediscovering this house, blessed by faith, warmed by family, and now adapted to serve delectable cuisine. Just in time for the holidays!

Driving down south, in the town of Binalbagan, we chance upon the ancestral house built in the 1930s by Carmen Yulo and husband Sabas Locsin. “Chance upon” is appropriate, for this colonial structure, properly standing on Carmen Street, is hidden from the main highway. Careful research led us to this address. It is surrounded by the campus of the Binalbagan Catholic College. Still stunning in its American Commonwealth glory, the house is the hidden jewel of the BCC.

Designed and built by the couple’s son, Angel, a civil engineer who also constructed the town’s San Isidro Labrador Church, the ancestral house’s form followed function, as it were. By day, a towering balcony allowed the hacendero a bird’s eye view of sugarcane fields. And at dusk, the bandstand in the main courtyard came alive. There lies the Old World charm of the place, going beyond the structural design and romancing a way of life that thrived at a particular period in history.

Over Fields of Dream

In Over Fields of Dream, the Negros Season of Culture shares how the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the congregation that runs BCC, has chosen to restore the old ancestral house and refit it to the school’s present needs. Instead of fields of sugarcane, now the tower looks over fields of students with dreams of a good education. Who would have thought that decades later, the humble Servants Quarters will become the influential Registrar’s Office? And computers in the IT room happily whirr under the gaze of neoclassical columns and art deco cornices?

As the holiday season approaches Negros, we readily allow ourselves to be caught in the nostalgia of family and home and tradition. To our kababayans in the United States, a Happy Thanksgiving, and to all, a Merry Christmas indeed.

Text By: Alan S. Gensoli
Photo Courtesy: Unit A Creatives and Isang Urra

Design and Architecture

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