Roxas Boulevard, then called Dewey Boulevard, was Manila’s Pre-War Millionaire’s Row. Here, classical revival houses and Mediterranean-style mansions owned by prominent families like the Zobels lined a Manila Bay without land reclamation.
The Battle of Manila levelled most of these homes; the rest were victims of progress, and the only one left was a grand, old house.
Welcome to Palacio de Memoria.
The mansion was finally revealed in March when its current owners, the Lhuillier family, unveiled it as a fully restored home for their unrivalled collection of antiques, and as a showroom for Casa de Memoria auctions.
“The plan was to always restore it, but we never really had a plan until we started Casa de Memoria,” shares Camille Lhuillier, daughter of Ambassador Lhuillier and marketing manager of the auction house. “It was always a plan to have the Palacio as a showroom and venue.”
The unknown architect
Mysteries about the mansion still abound: Who were the original, Pre-War owners? There are no available documents. Who is the house’s original architect?
Before the Lhuilliers, the post-war owner was Dr. Francisco Villaroman. Then the house was abandoned for more than 20 years, and eventually fell into disrepair until its present owners started to restore it.
“Some challenges were that for a few years we didn't find the right people until we found our current architect, and with a lot of help from Miguel Rosales and his team we were able to restore the house as best we could,” Camille says. “We encountered many mysteries, period work, and we are still restoring it at the moment.”
Meanwhile, its architecture has been attributed to the maestros of the Pre-War era, such as Juan Arellano. Five other floors had been added to the original two-storey house (the structure has seven storeys, plus an observation deck), but the Art Deco curves of the grand staircase (inhabited by a taxidermied tiger), the symmetrical interior spaces, and the terrazzo floor are hints that its designer might be National Artist Juan Nakpil.
“The most interesting elements were the beautiful Art Deco terrazzo floors that were made from granulated stone, a feature we were hard pressed to find anyone doing these days. There is a beautiful story of the Filipino culture there that juxtaposes the Commonwealth and the colonial history of the home…We can confirm that the floor is a Juan Nakpil masterpiece,” Camille reveals.
This original terrazzo floor is the focal point in the grand foyer. Tinikling dancers, bahay kubo, and coconut trees in the Art Deco style lined with brass and filled in with granolithic terrazzo in tropical colors serve as a whimsical counterpoint to the classic dolphin table and the 18-arm Murano glass chandelier in the area.
A collector’s dream
The ground floor of the Palacio serves as a space for the Lhuilliers’ mostly European collections in themed rooms. There is the Parisian Room, with its dove gray walls and a selection of gilded 19th century French and Italian furniture. Looking over the entire vignette is a photogravure portrait of Queen Amelie D’Orleans, the last queen of Portugal. “She was the ‘It Girl’ of the 19th and early 20th centuries,” says Casa de Memoria’s research specialist Gregorio Caliguia.
Right across the foyer is the Venetian Room, painted a vibrant tomato red and decked in equally bold furnishings worthy of Venice Doge. There are secretaries with ivory inlays, an immense Dutch cabinet with tortoiseshell panels, and a pair of 17th century chairs flanking it.
The last room on the ground floor is the formal dining room, which is used for the Palacio’s dinners. Caliguia points to the 10-seater dining table, which seems diminutive, but regal. “The era of the dining table is Restoration de Louis Philippe from the early 1800s. The monarchy of France returned to power, but since this was after the war, there was less ornamentation.”
You may think that all this finery is only for the family, but the truth is you could actually use it for your own functions, to fulfill your Age of Innocence fantasies. “Casa de Memoria will be using this space as a showroom, gallery, museum, and event space,” Camille says. “We will be opening the Palacio to the public with future plans like a bar, restaurants, or a café.” The bar would be situated inside one of the aircraft, and there are also plans of building a smaller museum in the backyard.
Treasures on the third floor
One of the main functions of Palacio de Memoria is, of course, housing the pieces set for Casa de Memoria auctions. The house’s staff admit that the grandness of the mansion highlights the beauty of the items, and makes each vignette stand out.
The theme of their September 7 auction is “Age of Exploration: East Meets West II,” composed of 170 lots of antiquities, furniture, and decorative objects.
“This month’s auction is more of Orientalia leaning towards the Western versions of Japanese pieces, Chinoiserie, and Asian-style antiquities,” says Caliguia. “It’s Western art, made for Western clientele, but with oriental aesthetics.”
There are numerous exotic pieces such as Chinese ginger jars, Syrian hall chairs, and a precious Queen Anne cabinet with Japanese cranes. But other highlights of the auction include a signed lithograph by Picasso from his famous “29 Portraits Imaginaires” series from the 1960s, and a small but dramatic portrait by Juan Luna titled “Indios Igorotes.”
These pieces sit comfortably on the third floor of the Palacio, looking very much at home in each gilded, expansive room. It doesn’t matter if a chair comes from the 1930s and a table hails from the 1700s, they all gel together in a colorful marriage of eclectic styles, just like the tiger on the Art Deco staircase gazing down at the Tinikling floor. — LA, GMA News
The auction pieces will be available for viewing at Palacio de Memoria, 95 Roxas Boulevard, Brgy. Tambo, Paranaque City, until September 6, 2019. Auction proper is on September 7. Website. Instagram , +632 2533994.