By Gemma Cruz Araneta
“Mansyon” is a musical about heritage houses; as you know, heritage conservation is one of my passions, maybe because all the heritage homes I would have wanted to save were reduced to rubble in February, 1945, during the Battle for Manila. Secretly or perhaps not so secretly, I envy those who have inherited heritage houses and who have been able to save them in order to continue living in them for generations to come.
This is about “Mansyon,” a musical, the lyrics of which were written by Mr. Leon Mayo, I think he composed the music as well. Mrs. Mayo, beside whom I was sitting during the musical, confided that producing “Mansyon” had always been her husband’s bucket list. Who would have thought that Architect Leon Mayo could write songs and compose a heart-warming musical about heritage! I met him years ago through a mutual friend, Urban Planner Nathaniel von Einsiedel (truly Pinoy despite the German surname) who twice invited him to lecture on the economics of heritage conservation during the summits we convene yearly.
The plot of “Mansyon” is familiar to all: These heritage houses are our version of the plantation mansions of America’s South, vestiges of the land-owner-tenant relations of a somewhat feudal system. Because of modernization, these exquisite structures are considered obstacles to progress, thus diminishing their value. To make matters worse, local government officials and the younger generation heirs refuse to recognize their intrinsic cultural and historical worth. Moreover, many owners of such houses are no longer as wealthy as their forbears and the upkeep of their vintage houses, now in despair, is an almost impossible, if not an exorbitantly expensive task.
The setting of the musical is a town called Galvez, which is supposed to be located in a southern coast of Luzon, most probably Batangas. The play begins with Don Santos Lopez, owner of the mansion in question, who awaits the arrival of his granddaughter Aya. She had left for the USA five years ago and has never since returned to visit her grandfather. Aya’s late mother, a battered wife of a profligate lazy man, was the only daughter of Don Santos. The protagonist has a brother, Fr. Domingo, the parish priest whose role in life has been to temper the haughty and intolerant character of Don Santos towards his peers, servants, and even his beloved granddaughter Aya, an independent-minded, self-possessed yet respectful young lady.
She arrives with young Architect Mak de Luna, her fiancée, whom she met in New York during a heritage conservation lecture. His parents are from the same town, but Don Santos considers them socially unacceptable because they own the cockpits and other gaming businesses in the province.
To make a long story short, Don Santos is hard pressed to sell his other properties in order to finance the maintenance of the mansion, which is already in hock at the local bank. His attempt to interest Aya in supercilious Ricky, the son of Don Enrique, a wealthy developer and bank owner, fails simply because she is in love with Mak. One evening, after an argument with Aya, Don Santos suffers a stroke, falls on a lighted candle that sets the curtains aflame; a portion of the mansion burns. In the hospital, Arch Mak and Aya tell Don Santos of their plans to restore the mansion and give it adaptive re-use as a boutique hotel. The De Lunas had pledged support to their son’s restoration project; both he and Aya promise Don Santos that that they will stay in Galvez to restore the mansion and make it a self-liquidating project. The USA can wait. Don Santos dies happily.
The audience was teeming with heritage advocates. I bumped into my old friends Serge and Sally Naguit of Angeles, Pampanga. I have been a frequent guest of their home, a heritage house Sally inherited from her folks. During my first visit, while we were having merienda in the azotea, they told me that when both were living in England they noticed that many heritage homes were being preserved, with the owners enjoying life in their ancestral houses. They decided to restore and conserve their house. After all, that was where Emilio Aguinaldo had spent a night during those turbulent times. It is a stone’s throw away from the Pamintuan-Fabella mansion where Aguinaldo and members of the Revolutionary government celebrated the first anniversary of the 12 June Independence declaration. Dr. Jaime Laya restored it when he was governor of the Central Bank.
The Bautista-Nakpil house in Quiapo also came to mind and so did other heritage structures that have been given adaptive re-use instead of being sacrificed to the wrecker’s ball. To name a few, Manuel Padilla’s house on R. Hidalgo, the Juan Luna building along the Pasig, the Cobankiat building Hardware which restored the 100-year-old Shields building, Orchid Garden Suites, Casita Mercedes in Poblacion, Makati. There is a list of mansions in Iloilo and Bacolod, Batangas, and Laguna.
Congratulations to the cast, they were all superb actors and singers. “Mansyon” was so true to life, I cried when Don Santos died, but was consoled by the restoration project of Architect Mak and Aya.