Uncovering Secrets Of Manila's Past Through Palacio De Memoria's Restoration

Hidden behind walls over a dozen feet tall of a sprawling three-hectare property and amidst towering skyscrapers along Roxas Boulevard in the Parañaque area, a once-forgotten, pre-war mansion has been restored and repurposed into a living witness of Manila's past and is garnering buzz as the talk of the town.

Hidden behind walls over a dozen feet tall of a sprawling three-hectare property and amidst towering skyscrapers along Roxas Boulevard in the Parañaque area, a once-forgotten, pre-war mansion has been restored and repurposed into a living witness of Manila's past and is garnering buzz as the talk of the town. An ideal example of adaptive reuse of heritage properties, the grand seven-story structure will serve as an auction house and events space beginning March 2019 called Palacio de Memoria, which is owned and managed by the Lhuillier Family of Cebuana Lhuillier fame.

Photo by Zhang Xi Shuo

Photo from San Diego Air & Space Museum, shared by John Tewell

Surviving the war
The real story behind the house, together with the identity of its first owners and architect, remains to be a mystery. A photograph of the mansion's original two-floor Spanish Colonial Revival design and sloped tile roof, taken during the tragic bombing of Nichols Field dated February 1945, however, proves its existence as early as World War II. A tunnel which runs from beneath the house's gardens towards Manila Bay may even indicate that the property has been occupied by the Japanese military officers, as they did with the other structures in the vicinity.

Photo by Andrew Chester Ong

Photo by Jilson Tiu

Addressing familial needs
Shortly after the war, surgeon Dr. Francisco Villaroman acquired the property, which would be his children and grandchildren's home for more than five decades, and had the interiors redone in the Filipino Art Deco style. As the years go by and as his family grew in number, Villaroman would add the several floors to the mansion to accommodate each new member of his household. The walls would later be covered in dark wood panelling, with the large rooms cut up into smaller quarters and kitchens built on every story. The Villaroman family soon emigrated to the United States.

Photo by Jilson Tiu

Preserving history
Philippine Ambassador to Spain Philippe Lhuillier then bought the property 15 years ago, and restoration of the neglected, dusty, dirty mansion began in 2015. As the only remaining heritage house in the former Dewey Boulevard, the Lhuilliers, with the help of creative director Miguel Rosales, decided to keep most of its original design, considering it "a home frozen in time." The renovated structure is now the perfect larger home of Casa de Memoria, an auction house which “specializes in antiquities and heirlooms that have been fondly owned and passed down from generation to generation" and is managed by Ambassador Lhuillier’s daughters, Camille and Angelique Lhuillier Miranda.

Photo by Zhang Xi Shuo

Photo by Jilson Tiu

“It's very interesting to notice the house’s correlations to our history as a Filipino people. You can try to see where history has gone. The first two structures are very clearly pre-war, colonial. There was probably a Spanish traveler or solider who built it, and then the war happened. And because this area was completely destroyed in the war, it was most likely occupied by the Japanese or the Americans, because it was right in front of the water. After the war, they made it a very Filipino home. We made sure that everything here was really preserved in that way,” Camille Lhuillier said.

Photo by Andrew Chester Ong

Welcoming Filipino-style
When auction season opens in a month, the mansion is expected to be filled to the brim with guests curious not only of the European art and antiques artfully arranged around the house, but also of the grandeur and elegance of such historical structure. Stepping foot on Palacio de Memoria's  ground floor lobby, one will be impressed by the terrazo floors depicting a man and a woman dancing the tinikling along with other countryside images: a nipa hut, palm trees, flowers in full bloom, and rice field--the design which had been uncovered and then restored since the Lhuilliers' initial cleaning. Conserving then highlighting this feature makes for a warm Filipino welcome for its visitors. Palacio de Memoria will be open to the public on March 9, 2019.*

*Cover photo by Jilson Tiu


Source citations:
Sumayao, Marco. “A Palace of Memories Frozen in Time: Camille and Angelique Lhuillier's Palacio De Memoria.” Town and Country, Town&Country Philippines, 6 Feb. 2019, http://bit.ly/2MZ3GjA.
Dela Cruz, Christa I. “Manila's New Art Destination Is a Restored Pre-War Mansion.” SPOT.PH, Summit Media, 3 Jan. 2019, http://bit.ly/2DvlHlu.
Enriquez, Marge C. “The Metro Manila Mansion People Are Talking About.” Inquirer Lifestyle , Inquirer , 12 Dec. 2018, http://bit.ly/2GlH3pg.
Reyes, Isidra. “This Beautifully Restored 7-Storey Mansion Has Airplanes Parked in Its Backyard.” ABS-CBN News Online, ABS-CBN , 20 Dec. 2018, http://bit.ly/2WXCGWv.