Casa Gorordo of Cebu, heritage icon
Category: Villalon, Augusto F. (Pride of Place)
By Augusto Villalon

Published on page C1 of the September 25, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

CASA GORORDO IN CEBU reopened recently after being closed for a year for extensive conservation work.

Casa Gorordo Museum is one of Cebu’s premier attractions, visited by an unending stream of tourists and students. But its popularity was double-edged.

The numerous tour groups stressed out the structure. Parts of the structure, not designed to accommodate the weight of too many people walking about, had begun to sag.

Water had also begun to seep into the ground-floor coral stone walls, the dampness seriously weakening the stones.

The sag has been corrected, the water seepage diffused with exterior drainage. Other structural interventions corrected problems caused by wear and tear.

Casa Gorordo’s existing collection of heritage furniture and furnishings have been radically expanded. All the existing pieces have been refurbished.

The museum is ready to receive visitors once again, but, this time, to protect the structural system of the house, controls have been imposed on the number of visitors allowed to be inside the house at one time.

The 1982 restoration of Casa Gorordo by the Ramón Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) pioneered the concept of conservation in Cebu, establishing the first lifestyle museum outside of Manila.

The house originally belonged to the Gorordo family whose most illustrious member, Juan Gorordo, became the first Filipino archbishop of Cebu, in 1910-1932. Family memorabilia still remain in the historic house.

Casa Gorordo is one of three remaining Spanish colonial-era balay na tisa (so called in Cebuano because of its terra-cotta roof tiles) in the Parian district of Cebu City, where the city’s first families once lived.

Today, the only other remaining Parian house is undergoing conservation and has become the center for reviving old Parian traditions, such as the yearly Parian fiesta and the processions that wend from the district to the Cathedral for Misa de Gallo and back to Plaza Parian, where neighbors serve breakfast at dawn of each of the nine days preceding Christmas.

The last Spanish colonial house in the district, formerly the Jesuit residence for the Cebu province, is now a hardware warehouse. However, enough of its original grand structure remains.

After the Second World War generation moved out, the district changed into a middle-class residential enclave strategically situated in the city center, a walking distance from the Cathedral, City Hall, docks, universities, and the central business and shopping center.

Although the restoration of Casa Gorordo has caused a mild ripple of gentrification in the area, commercialism has also steadily crept in.

Casa Gorordo is the highlight of the Parian today. The low two-story structure is a typical late 19th-century construction.

Capped by a steep tile-covered roof ending in slightly upturned eaves recalling Chinese architecture (and the Chinese ancestry of most Parian residents), blocks of coral mined from the sea enclose its ground floor beneath an upper floor of the finest hardwood once available from the forests.

The furniture reflects the eclectic taste of the 19th century. Pieces acquired from the former owners include Chinese furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl, Chinese porcelain pedestals and caché pots, Spanish chandeliers, bedroom furniture hand-carved in Cebu, and family portraits, all reflecting the fusion of cultures that existed during the era.

Other furniture pieces in the Casa Gorordo collection are appropriately from the Cebu-Bohol area. Owing to the location of Cebu as a major shipping and trade center with contacts throughout the country, furniture from Luzon is also represented. Woodcarving, woven ceiling covering, and most of the decorative art are typically Cebuano in design and craftsmanship.

Casa Gorordo is the residence of a Cebuano ilustrado family. There’s a misconception that ilustrado is synonymous to aristocratic wealth and power. But the Gorordo house is humble compared to other ilustrado houses of the era.

It may be large if judged by today’s residential standards, but during its time the Gorordo house was modest in size if measured by Manila or Vigan standards. Nor is it luxurious and ornate. It is a simple house that illustrates the typical Cebuano values of frugality, restraint and humility.

After Rafi removed its offices from the ground floor of Casa Gorordo, the entire lower area was given additional exhibition space of a size and flexibility that finally allows the museum to plan a series of exhibitions to show the works of local and national artists.

Casa Gorordo serves as the focus for much of the conservation activity in Cebu. Since 1980, the foundation has been deeply involved in conserving built heritage all over the province.

Rafi has stepped beyond the built heritage framework, documenting and mapping the vanishing intangible heritage precariously existing today within the envelope of heritage architecture and historic towns.
Programs document and study different aspects of local lifestyle in an effort to preserve what are uniquely Cebuano.

The foundation’s programs also try to empower Cebuanos to take charge of and manage their environment. A successful livelihood program managed by the foundation offers entrepreneurship training and microfinancing assistance.

The foundation has emerged as a leading supporter of the “Garbo sa Sugbo” (Cebuano Pride), a cultural-tourism program led by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia that aims to document, restore and revive Cebuano heritage to re-establish pride in the Cebuano people for their culture, so that with training, local residents will be equipped to receive tourists in their towns.

Sadly, Rafi programs are largely unknown outside Cebu. They are models for others in the country to emulate.

Heritage watch
A letter from Dr. Fernando N. Zialcita points out a noteworthy feature of the new Instituto Cervantes building: “…another continuity between traditional Filipino urban houses and the new Instituto Cervantes is the volada or cantilevered gallery around the exterior of the second floor, which gives 19th century Filipino houses a sense of upliftment, here reinterpreted as a second-story projection with large windows overlooking the street. This projection, however, is made of steel rather than wood. And as it ages, it will oxidize, resulting in an interesting texture.”

Apology: Jeffrey Yap took the photograph of the Citibank Savings Binondo Branch published in “Pride of Place” on Aug. 28. I apologize for the omission of his name in the credits.

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