(SPOT.ph) There is a street in Quiapo, Manila, that hides many treasures in plain sight. It is called A. Bautista street, named after a Filipino doctor who had studied in Madrid in the late 1880s and, during a stop in Paris, became part of a Masonic triangle with Antonio Luna and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera. It was then that the doctor began helping Filipino propagandists, risking his life to distribute the novels of fellow doctor Jose Rizal. Walk the length of this short and narrow street, formerly called Barbosa, and you'll find two adjacent houses that seem out of place, as if they’re from another time.
On the right is the dilapidated Boix House, a 19th century dormitory that once housed artists and students like Manuel Quezon. Right next to it is Bahay Nakpil-Bautista or “Tahanan ng mga Katipunero,” a well-preserved 18th century structure that now operates as a museum and events space, and more importantly, a gateway to years past.
Bahay Nakpil-Bautista as a heritage structure
It was in 1914 that Dr. Ariston Bautista Lin (more widely known as simply Dr. Ariston Bautista) and his wife, Petrona Nakpil, built the house. It stands on a 500-square meter lot along the street now named after him. The house was designed by Gota de Leche Building architect, Arcadio Arellano.
The design of the Nakpil house represents the traditional urban Filipino style popular at that time—brick walls around the ground floor and a second storey made of wood; sliding windows with ventanillas. These details were inspired by a 1900s art movement called Viennese Secession, which encouraged plurality and saw the rise of Art Nouveau. One particular set of furniture, including high-backed chairs and glass-walled cabinets given as a gift by the Prieto family to the Nakpils, helped inspire some of the house's decorative details.
At the entrance of house is the zaguan or garahe, where horse-drawn carriages and cars used to park. Its flooring is made of piedra china, stones that were used as weights in trade ships disembarking in Manila. A mirror was propped on the ceiling near the wooden guide to enable the house's occupants to see anyone standing outside the door, a traditional innovation similar to the modern-day CCTV. This was important because a lot of the house's residents were members of the Katipunan who inevitably made a few enemies.
On the farthest side of the first floor is a replica of the Nazareno, a reminder that the original image of the Black Nazarene was brought to Bahay Nakpil for safekeeping during World War II. Behind the statue are remnants of an old jewelry workshop, the Nakpils' family business.
The zaguan's floor is also partly made of Machuca tiles from Mexico, leading to a short flight of stairs that goes up to the mezzanine or entresuelo. The rooms here served as the residence of Gregoria de Jesus-Nakpil, widow of Andres Bonifacio and organizer of the women’s chapter of the Katipunan. She later married Julio Nakpil, President of the Northern Council of the Katipunan. They had six children, the eldest of whom was Juan Nakpil, a National Artist for Architecture. Now, these spaces showcase the family's memorabilia and photographs. The children’s rooms have been converted into an activity and reading area for local kids.
Memories from the 20th century
The mezzanine leads to another flight of stairs towards the main house where Dr. Bautista and Petrona lived. Ladies who ascended the stairs would carry the extended hems and frills of their saya over their arms. As they reached the top steps or caído (which means “fallen”), they would make a grand entrance by letting down the trains of their dresses. Then they waited in the antesala—now decorated with works of art by Nakpil descendants—before they could proceed to the public rooms or dining room.
Dr. Bautista was known for throwing many parties in the house's spacious public rooms, which could fit up to two orchestras for entertaining guests. The dining room houses an antique 24-seater table and display cabinet with fine china. It leads to an azotea where the children had their own table during formal dinners. (It also overlooked the estero, where merchant boats used to pass, and one could simply shout out to the peddlers when interested in buying their goods.) The house was unusual in the sense that the doors separating the dining rooms, the antesala, and the sala could slide in sills and be pushed to the sides. This created a wide room with a series of doorways leading to a wide exterior window that brought in plenty of light.
These rooms now trace the life story of Dr. Bautista and his wife. In an encasement, you'll find his inkwell, as well as a jewelry case that belonged to Petrona. You'll also find a replica of Parisian Life by Juan Luna, which is said to have been given as a gift to the family. In another bedroom, an original bedframe used by the family has been preserved. A photo of Doña Petrona seated on a chair in the very same room now hangs on the wall.
But more than its remarkable architecture, Bahay Nakpil-Bautista is notable for having stood silent witness to the clandestine meetings of the revolutionary movement during the Spanish colonial period.
It now houses the Museo ng Katipunan and Dambana ni Oriang, where you'll find three paintings that feature Gregoria de Jesus-Nakpil: one highlights her role as keeper of the Katipunan’s documents, another as wife to Bonifacio and Nakpil, and, finally, one shows her as a doting mom who loved to cook and read to her children in the azotea of her house. It was said that Oriang could recreate a dish after she had tasted it just one time.
Another room, which has been converted into a library, displays paintings of Katipunero soldiers by the Comtempo Group, the Kartilya ng Katipunan, and other memorabilia about the revolutionary movement. There’s also a table which doubled as the Katipuneros’ ballot box. Five murals that pay tribute to the Katipunan can be found in the next room, which used to be the office for the Nakpils' jewelry business.
Reviving Bahay Nakpil-Bautista
It was in early 2010 that the house was turned into a museum and events space through the efforts of the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista Foundation, Inc. Bobbi Nakpil Santos-Viola, daughter of Caridad—the youngest among the Nakpil children—manages the house and serves as the president of the foundation.
In an interview with SPOT.ph, Santos-Viola recalls her childhood weekends spent at the house. She didn’t realize until much later that it was a significant part of history. She had simply known it as the house that belonged to her lola and lolo, the house where she and her cousins would play.
Santos-Viola worked at the United Nations headquarters in the U.S. but decided to return to the Philippines over 10 years ago, and has been managing the house since. The Foundation plans to take part in the 2019 celebrations to commemorate the life and works of Julio Nakpil through tours and exhibits, including the Ikot Quiapo Tours to be facilitated by the San Sebastian Conservation and Fundacion Santiago groups.
“The house is very much alive because we have events posted in Facebook. With social media, we are able to let the country know that we have events, we have music events, history discussions, social outreach, we have interfaith activities, we mentor reading of street children,” she tells us.
In fact, they have offered the children’s room as an activity area for children from Marawi, who were displaced in 2017. The kids, who are staying with relatives in the Muslim quarters in Quiapo, read books and listen to stories. “We have a small library for them and we have started a summer art class this year. We also intend to have an art exhibit in September (the birthday of Petrona) because she herself is a well-known, respected artist. So in her honor, we started off exhibiting our works, the descendants, after that, different types of art exhibits,” Santos-Viola shares.
Aside from exhibits, they also earn income for the maintenance of the house through photo shoots and events. Of course, the foundation carefully studies the type of event to be held, to ensure that it is respectful of the house's history.
This is why they encourage visitors to always take the guided tour of the house, which lasts for around 45 minutes. “If they want to visit, they should be prepared to listen and allocate time to really get to know the story of the house. I always ask them, how much time do you have? We can also customize the tours,” she explains. “It is only in studying history that we can learn. This is why history is important. So that you don’t go through the same experiences as a nation. It’s important most especially now. When the time comes, will we have the passion to fight for our country?”
“I hope people realize that this is not just a place to take selfies,” says Santos-Viola. “It’s a house whose story you should listen to. It’s not just the story of the Nakpils. It’s the story of the country.”
Bahay Nakpil-Bautista is at 432 Ariston Bautista Street, Quiapo, Manila. It is open every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (except holidays), from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Regular entrance fee is at P80; entrance fee for students and senior citizens is at P50. Venue rental rates start at P4,000 for two hours, inclusive of electricity and water, depending on the number of people expected to attend and the nature of the use. To schedule a tour or book the venue, you may contact Ms. Bobbi Nakpil Santos-Viola at (02) 731-9305 or at 0917-851-7455.