Bacolod City launched its Art Deco District in 2021. Popularized in the 1920s, art deco is a visual arts style characterized by sleek geometric designs. Man-made materials are mainly used in creating stylized forms. Art deco style is a stark contrast to avant-garde. Think of the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, which are two of the most iconic art deco structures in the world.
Art deco was transported in Manila from the 1930s to 1940s, particularly in Escolta and Malate. You will see them in the old designs of theaters, museums, and apartment buildings lining these famous streets before the war destroyed most of them. Today, one of the art deco buildings in the Philippines is located in Bacolod City: Daku Balay.
Daku Balay, which translates to ‘big house,’ is an ancestral mansion owned by the Villanueva clan. It was commissioned by Don Generoso Villanueva, the family patriarch, in 1936. It was considered the tallest building, albeit a private residence, until 1959. The iconic house was the first structure to have an elevator.
The three-story mansion boasts a grand marble spiral staircase and porthole windows. The reliefs on the walls and ceilings of the boat-shaped mansion depict the local Hiligaynon/Negrense folktales. In addition, there is an alcove, hand-painted deco motifs on glass doors, and plaster reliefs depicting water elements in each bathroom. Another great feature of the mansion is the multicolored marbling, reminiscent of the Italian scagliola marble style. However, the family matriarch, Paz Gonzaga, hired craftsmen from different parts of the country to design the walls.
Daku Balay housed Lt. Gen. Takeshi Kono, a Japanese general. As such, the house was spared from the destruction of the Second World War.
Today, Daku Balay is considered a national treasure. Perhaps the only remaining architectural legacy, according to Don Generoso’s granddaughter, Lilia Villanueva. About 95% of the interior and entire exteriors, which are predominantly white and green, are still authentic. Daku Balay was constructed from 1933 to 1936, spearheaded by acclaimed Cebuano architect Salvador Cinco.
There is another art deco residence beside Daku Balay. Don Generoso had it built for his sister. However, both houses are only open to the public if through appointment. There are plans to open Dau Balay for reservations for conferences, private parties, and other special events.
Developed by MarosVill Development Corporation, Belle Arte Residential Condominiums is built to complement the city’s historied past. The eight-story building is also a nod to the art deco heritage of Daku Balay since they are in the same lot.
Belle Arte draws inspiration from the heritage house but is a more modern depiction of the art deco style. It is the first and only art deco building in Bacolod City to date.
Art Deco District as a heritage tourist spot
According to the president of the real estate developer, Lilia Villanueva (yes, Don Generoso’s granddaughter), Belle Arte continues what Don Generoso envisioned 80 years ago. He envisions a sophisticated district in Bacolod City. These three structures, two residences and one building, collectively make up the Art Deco District of Bacolod City. If it is recognized, this will be the first of such kind in the Philippines.
Bacolod City is already benefiting from its heritage tourism with The Ruins in Talisay and Silay. As such, there are benefits to having an Art Deco District. First, the local government will be able to protect the structures that are already there. Second, it encourages other developers to construct more art deco houses and buildings.
Daku Balay is specifically located at No. 50 Burgos Street, whereas Belle Art is on Galo Street. Such streets are renowned as the Millionaires Row in Bacolod City since mansions of affluent families are found here.