The stately 1930's Jose Gaston Mansion.

The very mention of “Negros” always brings to mind images of vast sugarcane plantations with languid green-tipped violet stalks waving in the clear air.  One can take in fields and fields of the green gold as far as one’s eyes can see.  The vastness seems endless, the canes extending in the direction of the mountains, and like towards the sea.

Land.  They do not make them anymore, so, each parcel of the rich volcanic soil is planted to this sugarcane that gave birth to the distinct characteristics of the Negrense people and culture that were shaped by migrants from neighboring islands, and even from foreign lands.

One of the notable personalities who made Negros his home was the sugar expert from Lisieux, Normandy, France – Yves Leopold Germain Gaston.  He and his Batanguena wife Prudencia Fernandez whom he met in Balayan, Batangas, moved to Iloilo and, eventually, Negros Occidental. The Gastons settled in Buen Retiro in Silay, and had three children together: Victor, Fernando, and Felicia.   Victor went on to have 12 children of his own by Filomena Maquiling.  One them was Jose who married Consuelo Azcona and chose to establish his residence in Manapla, which is farther north of Silay.

Don Jose Gaston was blessed with eight offspring.

Jose’s family home is nestled in his farm which a property is called Hacienda Santa Rosalia. As one turns westward from the highway, the unpaved farm road rimmed by coconut trees is a journey into both the unfamiliar and the familiar. 

To dyed-in-the-wool city dwellers, the unpretentious come-as-you-are atmosphere needs some adjusting to.  They will find that time has slowed down in this part of the world, and the word “idyllic” truly is what it means.  The air is fresher, the sky is bluer, the bucolic sounds are punctuated by rumblings of trucks at the highway, and the two-story colonial style hacienda house is a graceful jewel gleaming white against its backdrop of green fields.

“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe..." comes alive in the garden.

For other guests, the scene is a familiar one.  Even some first-timers may feel a certain deja vu.  That curve in the driveway. The sculptures of two young girls frolicking in the fountain.  Those balconies by the front running the width of the house. The balustrated tower one can have a glimpse of as one nears the gate.  That, too.  And then, it clicks.  The mansion of Jose and Consuelo Gaston is the star of many a documentary, newspaper and magazine coverage, and movies, the most famous one of which is the Peque Gallaga classic Oro, Plata, Mata.  The latest feature on this elegant abode is a substantial spread on the wonderfully written coffee table book Houses that Sugar Built by Gina Consing McAdam and Siobhan Doran.  Probably unknown to many is the fact that Jose Gaston took inspiration from his father’s famous Silay house the Don Victor Gaston Mansion otherwise known as the Balay Negrense.  That’s double déja-vu for you!

One can’t deny that the Jose Gaston Ancestral House is a star, but not the kind of star that will strut down the red carpet in a sleek tuxedo.  Instead, this star glides across an expansive green carpet dotted by tropical trees, shrubs, and flowerbeds.  Even garbed in his country clothes, this dazzler is every inch the fine gentleman.  His good bones are evident as one steps into the dark coolness of the ground floor foyer.

The balustraded roof, and balconies create lacework patterns to the mansion façade.

Only the best wood for Don Jose Gaston.  From the even floorboards, to the dark panels of the downstairs bedrooms, to the sensuous curves of the staircase handrails, and more wood upstairs.  The wealth of the forests of Negros reflected in the abodes of the island’s sugar barons.  This house is an apt canvas for native timber, and for the local artisans who coaxed flower and fruits and curlicues literally out of the woodwork.

Bedroom, living room and dining area.

Each bedroom is outfitted with furniture that carry a design distinctive to a certain room.  This element also applies to the living room, the dining room (that 24-seater dining table!!!), and the lanai, and this creates a subtle grouping to invisibly separate areas according to function. The fine-ness of bespoke wooden furniture is enhanced by the delicate crocheted items such as bedcovers and tablecloths created by Manggoy, the lady of the house.

A notable feature is the tower that one can access by climbing a narrow staircase to the topmost level of the house.  This is where, as one emerges from the roof and into open air, one is reminded that the mansion is really a farmer’s home.  The tower affords a full view of the farmlands surrounding it including, of course, the celebrated Chapel of the Cartwheels.

Breathtaking view from the tower where you can see the Chapel of the Cartwheels from above.

The tower holds special and secret memories for the younger males of the family who would spend hours talking and having fun in each other’s company.  At times, mattresses would be spread on the floor of the tower’s lower level so that the boys can spend the night there.  Or spend the night under the stars at the top of the tower. 

Life at the hacienda is a life of abundance.  The farm has provided food from its orchards, poultry, and pigpens, and even profuse blooms to beautify the house interiors. Even the Second World War was not able to deprive the Gastons of numerous nutritious provisions.  Hacienda Santa Rosalia is a cornucopia that never runs out of plenty.  It is this prosperity even in trying times that enabled the clan to develop its fine taste for good heart food.   The kitchen was always abuzz with activity.   As the clan grew bigger and bigger, Manggoy ensured that there was always enough to feed the family-eight children and their children – and the constant stream of guests.  From the land and from the stove came chocolate eh with carabao’s milk, freshly baked goods, ice cream, fresh butter, the ever-flowing Rosalia punch, and noted signature dishes, such as Adobong Milyonaryo (how apt!) and puchero.



From the kitchen to table, your food is served.

The house was not only filled with food for the body, but it also provided food for the soul. Precious memories are embedded in the grandchildren’s minds of gathering at the ancestral home during summer vacations and long weekends.  The fun times at their very own wonderland could never be rivaled by tales of their classmates’ vacations outside Negros and abroad.

This country gentleman really has it all – prestige, good looks, and the affection of generations of Gastons that it had sheltered lovingly since its construction in 1932. May the years be kind to his memory and may succeeding generations continue to lavish him with love and affection.

Article by: Betsy “Lola Bilay” Gazo
Photos by: Unit A Creatives
Video by: Unit A Creatives
Videoscript by: Mayee Fabregas

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