(SPOT.ph) When people think of Quiapo, there are a few things that automatically come to mind: It is home to the majestic Quiapo Church (built in 1933, expanded in 1984), its annual fiesta a ritual for tens of thousands who profess devotion to the Black Nazarene. Paradoxically, right outside the Catholic church are vendors telling fortunes alongside all sorts of questionable herbal remedies. It is also often associated with pickpockets and petty crime, and a seemingly indelible grime that often makes people wary of visiting—save for sporadic trips to buy camera parts on Hidalgo Street or bicycles in Raon.
But Quiapo, which used to be known as the “Old Downtown of Manila,” was once upon a time ground zero for society events. Along with Avenida Rizal, Santa Cruz, and Escolta, it was the center of trade and commerce, and the place to be for significant social gatherings. Nowadays, it’s a place to relive the past and appreciate Philippine history—if you know where to look.
And among those places to look: A. Bautista Street, formerly called Barbosa Street, where Kasa Boix stands, bearing distinctive architecture that manifests its role in a bygone era. Kasa Boix is one of Quiapo's hidden gems, its ornate ironwork and weary windows laden with plenty of stories to tell.
The Rise and Fall of Kasa Boix
Kasa Boix, originally called Teotico House, was built by Don Marciano Teotico and Juan Hervas in 1895. It was designed in the Neo-Renaissance style that features Bulaklak sa Trellis (Flowers in the Trellis) on its façade, popular among Manila residents during the Spanish period. It was the abode of poet and journalist Jose Teotico, before the house was passed down from one generation to another, and from one side of the family to another, including the Crespo and Boix-Terradellas families. As the ownership of the house changed, so did its function.
It was once a dormitory for students and artists. In fact, Manuel Quezon stayed at Kasa Boix when he was studying law at the University of Santo Tomas from 1896 to 1900. It was reported that the former president would attend social gatherings at neighboring houses while he was there.
After World War II and the Battle of Manila, the house was converted into the office of the publication The Star Reporter. Then, it became the base of operations for several printing presses.
As the years dragged on, the house fell into despair. It was donated to the Jesuits, but legal issues prevented them from completely claiming the house until the whole second floor was left to decay. The ground floor is currently occupied by around 30 to 40 families who have turned the abandoned house into their own residence and place of business.
Award-winning writer Butch Dalisay, who visited the house in 2017, exquisitely yet somberly described the “decrepit” state of the Boix House. “Just getting across the threshold to the stairs takes—almost literally—a leap of faith: Two old doors now serve as creaky planks over which you cross a puddle of water. The wooden stairs and floor are thickly coated with dust and grime; a rat’s carcass molders away in a corner like a forgotten lab specimen...Framed panels provide a history of the house, and tattered flags and ribbons offer proof of some earlier appeals to patriotic fervor. Overall, one’s impression is a commingling of beauty and sadness, the passage not only of time but of care,” he narrated.
Rebuilding from the Ruins
Though steeped in neglect, heritage volunteer groups such as the Kapitbahayan sa Kalye Bautista have initiated efforts to rehabilitate the house.
Aside from spreading awareness about the heritage site through walking tours around Quiapo, the group spearheaded crowdfunding initiatives in 2015. The following year, Kasa Boix made it to the World Monuments Watch, which means that the non-profit organization World Monument Fund is taking active steps to safeguard and preserve the house as part of our cultural heritage. In April 2017 during Watch Day, Kasa Boix served as venue for exhibitions, an art installation, street fair, performances, and interviews. There was also an interesting dialogue between residents, visitors, and preservationists that highlighted personal experiences and stories about this historic area in Manila.
Kapitbahayan sa Kalye Bautista organizes clean-up drives, community programs, and mini-concerts to engage the local community in its advocacy to preserve the house.
“This is also a way to establish networks with people and groups who can help find support in its eventual restoration. We want to ensure that the process of conservation is rooted in the values of the Filipino, that we are not just dealing with old structures, but with people, marrying the concepts of tangible and intangible such as the spirit of kapitbahayan, bayanihan, pakikipagkapwa-tao,” Stephen John Pamorada of Kapitbahayan tells SPOT.ph.
It is often said that Filipinos are quick to forget. But more and more, we see the value of keeping our cultural treasures intact. And with that in mind, maybe one day soon, Kasa Boix can return to its former glory.