Oro, Plata, Mata: Stairs of Heritage


The Daku Balay is the window to one man’s daring, pioneering spirit. The sure strokes of the mansion’s solid curves are as bold as the ideas of Don Generoso Villanueva. The farmer and businessman had his home built as an expression of his personality. What better medium to reflect Generoso Villanueva the man than the refreshingly modern Art Deco movement that was then transitioning into the Streamline Moderne.

The tallest structure in Bacolod City until the construction of the seven-story Philippine National Bank.

Engr. Salvador Cinco of Cebu was commissioned in 1933 to concretize (pun intended) Don Generoso’s vision that was inspired by his trips to Manila, and from what he would read in magazines. An army of construction workers were housed at the back of the construction site with their families for it would take three years (1933-1936) for the building to be completed. The workmen were from Nueva Ecija (carpenters), Romblon and Sorsogon (stoneworkers), and from around Negros (metalworkers). Finally, in 1936, Daku Balay (or Big House) was ready for La Familia Villanueva. It was to be the tallest structure in Bacolod City until the construction of the seven-story Philippine National Bank. Daku Balay was declared an Important Cultural Property in 2019. Private tours of the house may be arranged by appointment.

Japanese fan motifs on the foyer’s floor.

Wartime did not spare Daku Balay. The Japanese Imperial Army under Lieutenant General Kono Takeshi turned the mansion into his abode. At the same time, the house was also the occupational command headquarters for the Central Visayas region up to 1945. Lt. Gen. Takeshi was delighted by the architectural details and interiors of Daku Balay. He was especially drawn to the fan motifs on the edge of the foyer’s floor, for these are reminiscent of Japanese fan designs popular during the Meiji period. His affinity to Daku Balay was what saved the house from major damage, as he gave orders to his men to spare the house.

Daku Balay’s grand staircase.

The grand staircase is apparently a masculine one. The thickness of the hardwood handrail, the sensuous coolness of the faux marble, the defined curves of the wall as it hugs a turn. It carries the spirit of Don Generoso as a protective patriarch who loves everyone and provides for them.

The futuristic mindset of Don Generoso is evident in his having installed an Inclinator elevator in the mansion.

A short staircase by the side of the house has “serpents” as handrails.

As a farmer, Don Generoso was inclined to be close to nature. He loved and collected animals, and paid homage to them by imbedding animal figures in relief, as decorative flooring, and as handrails as shown by this pair of concrete serpents.

Text by: Betsy Gazo

Photos by: Bem Cortez

What is the Art Deco Movement? The term is from the French “Art Decoratifs” which, in turn, is abbreviated from the “1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes” that was held in Paris. This style, distinguished by geometric patterns, curves and zigzags, inspirations from sunbursts, nautilus shells, flowers, female figures and the ubiquitous portholes saw extensive use in the Philippines from 1925 to 1950. Adaptations of this exciting new theme are evident in the local versions which can be termed as Philippine Art Deco.

Design and Architecture

Cultural Experience

Art and Craft