Right in the center of Silay City in Negros Occidental in the Philippines is a very popular landmark; I think it's competing for the top spot alongside El Ideal's fresh lumpia ubod, a favorite local delicacy. Ha-ha-ha!
Balay Negrense, or Negrense House (Negrense is an adjective to describe any thing or any one from and of the Negros Island), is the ancestral home of Don Victor Fernandez Gaston that was built around 1897 and was completed in 1901.
His heirs donated it to the Philippine Tourism Authority and in March 1994, the National Historical Institute of the Philippines declared it a heritage house.
Situated along the historic Cinco de Noviembre Street in Silay City, Balay Negrense is actually just a few minutes from the airport. Any tourist arriving in the Negros Island should be able to squeeze in a few hours touring Silay City and its old, preserved ancestral houses that tell the story of what once the cultural and economic center of the island.
I visited The Ruins in the neighboring Talisay City a few years back. Just like Balay Negrense, it is also a popular tourist destination. But unlike The Ruins, Balay Negrense's interiors have been preserved and restored, and filled with antique furnitures donated by other Negrense families.
At the time of its completion, Balay Negrense was the largest house in the province, and must have been a sight to see during those years. With its big windows and high ceilings, this mansion is very airy and cool throughout the year. They didn't need air-conditioners then.
Don Victor Fernandez Gaston was the son of Yves Leopold Germain Gaston, a Frenchman from Lisieux, France, who is credited for bringing in sugar technology to the Negros Island in the 19th century. If you have seen the classic Philippine movie Oro, Plata, Mata, some of the scenes were filmed in another mansion owned by one of Yves Leopold Germain Gaston's heirs.
And as I walked around Balay Negrense that day, I stumbled upon portraits of Susan Magalona, who was said to have been the most beautiful woman on the island during her time. I remember seeing photos of Betty Magalona, Susan's sister, in my mom's photo album. Both women were mestisa and truly beautiful. Seeing photos of these ladies taken during those days, one can always declare that they were indeed beautiful, as there was no photoshopping then. Unlike today's digital photos and plastic surgery, you can never tell who's cheating! Ha-ha-ha!
(Portraits of the beautiful Susan Magalona
are displayed at Balay Negrense)
Visiting Balay Negrense gives any tourist an idea of the lifestyle of the rich sugar baron and his family in the early 20th century.
So, if you're visiting the island, do drop by Silay City and make a quick trip to Balay Negrense and other museums. And don't forget to stop by El Ideal for snacks! I always do!(Silay's cathedral as seen from Balay Negrense)
Here's Balay Negrense's homepage: