Silay City Unveiled: Exploring its Heritage Marvels

Bathing in the rhythmic dance of sunlight cascading down Silay City, I found myself once again captivated by the city’s enchanting narratives. Along with fellow Negrense Bloggers, we traversed once more the streets of this historic Philippine city, adding new layers to our knowledge.

Guided by fellow blogger Dr. Maritel Ledesma, a true daughter of Silay City, each step unraveled tales of old. Truly, these are stories whispered through the corridors of heritage mansions and embraced by the arms of timeless architecture.

My inaugural venture around Silay’s old houses was as a volunteer for the Cultural Heritage Mapping project of the Wikimedia Foundation. And then, I took another Silay walk, which was also in the company of the vibrant Negrense Bloggers and with Dr. Maritel. That nostalgic rendezvous left an insatiable appetite to explore the secrets of structures that had tantalizingly remained hidden. Determined, we embarked on another quest to unearth the concealed treasures that had previously eluded our eager exploration.

The Rich History of Silay City

Silay City paints an irresistible tale of a love affair with knowledge and art etched into its very foundations. No wonder it was once hailed as the “cultural and intellectual hub of Negros.” At its beating heart lies a gallery of heritage mansions, with Balay Negrense taking center stage. Born during the zenith of the Philippine sugar industry’s prosperity, these architectural jewels stand as proud witnesses to the opulence and grandeur of a bygone era.

In 1957, Silay ascended to city status under the stewardship of Mayor Romulo Golez. Consequently, it marked a momentous milestone in its vibrant history. Comprising fourteen barangays, each exuding its unique charm, Silay expanded to sixteen through a 1985 referendum. Also, a noteworthy feat occurred in 2003 when Silay City etched its name in history. To note, it was the first local government unit in the Philippines to conduct a referendum through a People’s Initiative. Thus, such milestone affirms its commitment to participatory governance.

Today, Silay City stands tall, acknowledged by the Department of Tourism as one of the top 25 tourist destinations in the Philippines. It continues to weave a spellbinding fusion of heritage and modern allure, embodying the very soul of arts, culture, and ecotourism in Western Visayas.

Silay City heritage
A display inside the Silay City Art Space and Showroom (Old Periculture Center).
This house next to the Manuel Hofileña Heritage House was consumed by plants and vines.

Silay City Periculture Center: A Journey Through Time

Our enchanting heritage stroll commenced at the Silay City Periculture Center, constructed in 1915. This visionary venture spearheaded by Dr. Jose Corteza Locsin, later a Senator and Secretary of Health, stands as a testament to shared dreams.

Collaborating with the spirited El Circulo Femenil de Silay, a group of women, their collective mission was to nurture the needs of mothers and infants. Staffed with a doctor, two nurses, and three midwives, the center played a pivotal role in providing medical services during an era shadowed by high infant mortality rates.

Today, this hallowed ground has transformed into the Silay City Art Space and Showroom, a vibrant hub where exhibits unfold, and art events and seminars come alive.

Silay City heritage
Silay City Periculture Center is now transformed into the Silay City Art Space and Showroom.
Silay City heritage
A mural at the back of the Silay City Art Space and Showroom.

Alejandro Amechazura House: A Neo-Gothic Symphony

Our meandering steps led us to the Alejandro Amechazura House. Though I had traversed its threshold before, the allure of the upper floor, adorned with a U-shaped veranda cascading on all sides, beckoned me anew.

Erected during the captivating epoch of the 1920s and 1930s, the Alejandro Amechazura Residence stands as a testament to architectural brilliance. The lower floor is adorned with repetitive pointed arches. Meanwhile, the entrance porch boasts of double columns on a robust concrete base, weaving a semi Neo-Gothic spell. Certainly, this concrete-wood masterpiece invites observers to a dance of history and design, a journey into its distinctive allure.

Mr. Alejandro Amechazura, an illustrious Spaniard and former manager of the Tabacalera company, presided over the initial chapters of this architectural tale. Later, the residence found new custodians in Celia Gamboa Jison and her husband Soy Jison. Celia is one of the daughters of Jose Gamboa, the owner of the famed “Oro Plata Mata” House.

At present, their children proudly hold the keys to this property, now a bustling office space for Celsoy Agro-Industrial Corporation.

Silay City heritage
The Alejandro Amechazura House.

Angel Araneta Ledesma Ancestral House: Where Nostalgia Resides

Known as Balay Verde or the Green House, the Angel Araneta Ledesma Ancestral House is Dr. Maritel’s childhood haven. As she recalled those years, her stories tug at heartstrings with fond memories shared at its doorstep. It stands next to the Alejandro Amechazura House.

In 1933, this architectural marvel emerged, fashioned from logs sourced from the bustling lumber yard business of Angel Ledesma. A two-story ode to a days of yore, it seamlessly merges the grace of Colonial Plantation architecture with the chic American clapboard style. In fact, such design once graced the Revivalist era of the American period.

The house presently serves as the Office of Culture, Arts, and Tourism of Silay City, breathing life into its storied walls.

Silay City heritage
The Angel Araneta Ledesma Ancestral House is often called Balay Verde or the Green House.

Generoso Yuson Gamboa House: A Tale of Twin Heritage

Crafted by Generoso “Osó” Yuson Gamboa, Sr. (1876-1952), Silay’s municipal mayor from 1937 to 1939, the twin heritage houses were conceived for his sons and their burgeoning families. However, the NHCP marker inaccurately identified the house as the Generoso Reyes Gamboa Ancestral House, incorrectly stating the middle name.

Silay City heritage.
The twin structures of the Generoso Yuson Gamboa House mirror each other.

1898 Casa & Restaurante

The left-side house was designed for Ernesto Severino Gamboa, Generoso Sr.’s son from his first marriage to Maria Pajes Severino. Subject to wear and tear, the dilapidated building found a savior in Rosalie Livera in 2019. Entrusting Bacolod architect Glenn de Guzman with its restoration, the house underwent a miraculous transformation. Yet, it still preserved its original wood carvings, capiz shell windows, and hardwood floors.

The result is a tranquil ambiance reminiscent of a more genteel era, giving birth to what is now the 1898 Casa & Restauranté. Life-size statues of katipuneros — Filipino revolutionaries — stand guard at the corner, adding a historical crescendo to the ambiance. Our luncheon unfolded at this historic venue, serving a tantalizing fusion of Filipino and Italian cuisines.

Silay City heritage
The house on the left is now the 1898 Casa & Restaurante.

Paula Bistro

Post-lunch, our journey continued to the adjacent twin house, now the charming Paula Bistro, where we had coffee and desserts. It was crafted for Generoso’s son, Generoso Severino Gamboa Jr., from his second marriage to Olimpia Yorac Severino. As such, this unique twin-house design reflects Generoso Sr.’s matrimonial exploits with two Severino women. A subsequent union with Concepcion Abrigo, yielding a total of 17 offspring.

A street in Silay City, Don Generoso Gamboa Street, bears his name. Despite being named “1898 Casa & Restaurante,” the construction dates back to around 1936, with the name commemorating the final years of the Philippine Revolution. The street’s significance extends to the rebels’ march on Cinco de Noviembre Street, resulting in the surrender of nearby Spanish garrisons and eventual Filipino independence.

Silay City heritage
At the right side is Paula Bistro.

Beyond the Bricks: Silay City’s Historical Tapestry

Amidst these grand encounters, we breezed past other storied homes, including the Jose Benedicto Gamboa Ancestral House, a famed location in the cinematic masterpiece “Oro, Plata, Mata”. We also lingered in front of the Manuel Hofileña Heritage House, a familiar stop for many.

Yet, the allure of Silay City extends beyond these known landmarks. Delve into my past blog posts for more tales.

Embark on this vibrant journey through Silay, where every street corner and hidden mansion holds a unique story, waiting to be unfolded.

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