It takes a community to save the Jesuit House

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Photos by Karl Patrick Daliposa

Diorama of the old Spanish district

While it has withstood time and the elements, human intervention is now crucial for its preservation and survival.

As one of the best and oldest examples of the traditional bahay na bato (house of stone) can be found in Barangay Parian in Cebu City, the Museo Parian sa Sugbo, or the 1730 Jesuit House, has a lot to reveal and teach about history, architecture, heritage conservation and the communal effort needed to preserve our cultural assets.

The district of Parian was first established in the 1590s by Chinese traders who participated in the galleon trade, according to UP Cebu Professor Madrilena dela Cerna’s article on the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) website. Back then, the Jesuits were in charge of the residents’ conversion to Catholicism and basic education.


By the 1780s, commercial activities decreased in the area with the expulsion of the Chinese community by Governor-General Simon de Anda, leaving the area to Chinese mestizos and indios.

Stone wall featuring the “Ano 1730” legend (upper right corner)

The 1730 Jesuit House is actually two houses filled with didactic displays, artefacts and furnishing from the Spanish colonial era. The ancestral structure was originally built and occupied by the Society of Jesus, as evidenced by the legend “1730” and the Jesuit seals carved on its walls.

Members of the Jesuit order met and rested here periodically, to recuperate from illnesses contracted following their mission of evangelizing the native population in the Philippines and overseas, particularly China.

In 1768, the Jesuits were expelled from the country by the Spanish authorities. Records fail to how, but, in 1910, the Alvarez family gained possession of the residentia after Don Luis Alvarez y Diaz bought it, presumably, since this piece of information is still pending verification, from a Spanish Tabacalera agent Don Cristobal Garcia.

During World War II, the house was occupied by Governor Sergio Osmena, Sr. and was later turned into USAFFE headquarters. The property was sold to the Sy family in 1960.

The 1730 Jesuit House is now under the stewardship of Jaime Sy, who inherited it from his father. He opened the house as a semi-public museum in 2008, after friends, particularly Fr. Rene Javellana, SJ, a Jesuit art historian based at the Ateneo de Manila, convinced him to make adaptive re-use of the property.


Inside the museum, there are galleries depicting the history of Parian, the Order of Jesuits, and the ecclesiastical history of the Parian Church. These are all very interesting, yet the main attraction remains the ancestral structures—especially the house itself.

Gallery of historical info and artifacts

Tucked inside a walled property measuring about 2,000 square meters, the Jesuit House is quite tricky to locate, since the structure lies hidden behind the warehouse of Ho Tong Hardware. The rugged entrance adds nothing to the aesthetics of the ancestral houses, though it serves as a protective barrier from direct sunlight, strong winds, and dust.

Connected by a bridge, the house on Zulueta Street (annex) has stone walls on the ground level and wood on its upper floor. The structure near the Binakayan Street, the main house, has two-storey coralline limestone walls setting it apart, since Spanish authorities, via a decree, banned that particular structural design to mitigate the loss of lives and property due to earthquakes.


In a bahay na bato, the first floor’s stone walls are not really designed to support the upper floor. Rather, the walls serve as partitions to protect interiors. It is the function of the wooden posts and beams to support the second floor and the azotea roof, a feature attributed to Chinese artisans, as seen in Jesuit House. While these ancestral houses have survived for centuries, the creeping deterioration have pushed the owner and stakeholders to take notice and action.

“We first noticed that most of the wooden posts [were] already been in bad condition after architect Anthony Abelgas looked over the house. It was in 2007 when we started repairing the house,” Sy said.

Since the 1730 Jesuit House is situated near an estuary, water seeps in, saturating the foundation and posts and making them susceptible to cracking due to sudden changes in temperature. This condition has weakened the integrity of the structural posts that have slowly cracked and corroded over time.

Consequently, the house began to sink, causing differential settlement throughout the structures—some posts had already detached and were hanging above ground. The floors tilted. The partitions were realigned. The roof tiles shifted from their original placement.


For its rehabilitation, as recommended by Abelgas, the posts had to be excavated and their weakened parts cut away. Some of the material was replaced with reinforced concrete and steel bars.

During his visit in 2012, professor Juan Ramon noticed the deterioration and encouraged Sy to solicit the services of institutions in the conservation efforts for the 1730 Jesuit House.

This time, the damage assessment was conducted by a technical team comprised of architects and architectural conservators. Prof. Toshikazu Hanazato from the Mie University inspected the foundation system and assessed the first interventions performed by Abelgas. Different teams worked together to identify and document the problem areas using photography.

After the data was compiled and analyzed, patterns were identified and recommendations were made for the repair work.

The tiled roof is up for repair

The priority recommendations for repair involve work on the posts and the roof. The graduates and trainees of Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc. are responsible for leading the project and they were tasked to work in pairs on the interventions of the interior and exterior walls, water dispersion system, and perimeter walls.

In partnership with the University of Shiga Prefecture in Japan, Ramon designed the scaffolding and post interventions. The University of San Carlos School of Architecture, Fine Arts and Design school will continue the condition assessment, and assist in the documentation process.

University of the Philippines College of Architecture Masters students documented and conducted a fabric survey. The University of the Philippines College of Architecture, Mie University of Japan, Fundación Santa Maria la Real del Patrimonio Histórico of Spain, and Casas Architects have also thrown their support behind the conservation efforts.

Conservation team check out the wooden ceiling

“The stabilization of both structures is crucial,” said Joselito Halasan Corpus, MSci architectural conservator and head of the Escuela Taller Bohol unit. “The current work concentrates on the mitigation of moisture in the posts and around the roof. So far, most of the posts have been rehabilitated with concrete and new bars, and four more posts are due for rehabilitation. After which, the roof, where the displaced terra cotta roof tiles (tisas) have shifted to allow water infiltration, will be dismantled in parts, then repaired and re-installed.

The water dispersion system, the leads and the gutters, is to be repaired and re-routed, since the water flows towards the exterior walls of the Jesuit House. The sealed windows and doorways of the bottom floors of the Jesuit House will be opened to help facilitate the movement of air and light which will lessen the amount of moisture.

The finishing (palletada) of the interior and exterior will be redone to remove unsympathetic materials such as concrete, on its surfaces and the insertion of lime-based coatings and lime-based paint. This will be followed by the reconfiguring of the perimeter coral stone fence.”

Scaffoldings are being installed, so that the interventions may commence. It is estimated that it will take two to three years to repair and rehabilitate the 1730 Jesuit House, the funding of which will be shouldered by grants from the General Appropriations Fund to be administered by various government agencies.

Before any intervention is made, Carmen Bettina Bulaong, Escuela Taller’s executive D\director said that the team of collaborators and partners need to understand what values the community has ascribed to the structure.

Bualong said “the work entailed will not affect just affect the conservation of the materiality of the structure. Following the recent movement for heritage conservation is providing the ‘enabling environment,’ thereby gaining community support for the project through heritage interpretation and presentation. With this framework, the extent of the conservation efforts will be opened to the community.”

To achieve this, various workshops, surveys, interviews, documentation were conducted to determine what makes the Jesuit House relevant to the community. In the case of the 1730 Jesuit House, Bulaong shared that “because of its former function as a mission residence, its spiritual significance carries much weight. So, for the technical team, the conservation approach would be to develop interventions that map that value and preserve all physical evidence of the Jesuits in the present structure.”

She also stressed that the entire conservation process of the 1730 Jesuit House can help generate more public awareness and support by forging community participation and cooperation in its protection. “After all, a community-based endeavor will ensure an environment that is more conditioned for its preservation.”



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