Our fascination for ancestral houses inspired us to find the way to see what’s inside the art-deco mansion located at No. 44 Rizal Street, Sariaya, Quezon. Known as the Gala-Rodriguez Mansion, this intricately-designed house has a private museum that is seldom open to the public.
We met Diane Chua of Southeast Travel Corporation who organizes a Culinaria tour of Laguna and Quezon. Part of the Culinaria tour is to dine at the mansion’s restaurant by the pool. Diane made special arrangement for us to see the mansion’s interior.
The Gala-Rodriguez Mansion is a Sariaya landmark. It was the house that the people would refer to as the Malaking Bahay (big house). This house of Dr. Isidro Rodriguez was his gift to his ailing wife Doña Gregoria Gala. It was designed by architect Juan Nakpil and its French Provencial furniture was commissioned by Don Gonzalo Puyat in the 1940s.
The house was built in the early 1930’s. It was a time of depression when the coconut plantations were plagued by what was known as the leaf miner crisis. Doña Gregoria was very determined to build her dream house for her seven children.
The house was completed and the family has decided move to their new home on the occasion of Doña Gregoria’s birthday. However, the matriarch passed away two days before the celebration of her birthday.
Historical accounts claimed that during the outbreak of the Japanese Occupation in 1942, three Japanese officers occupied the house. They resided at the second floor while the family and members of the household were allowed to stay at the first floor.
It was during this time when a certain Japanese General Ashima courted the eldest of the Rodriguez sisters –Doña Carmen Rodriguez. The Japanese suitor would play the guitar and dedicate love songs for her, as well as provide the family with supplies of food and clothing. However, the family remains doubtful of the intentions of the Japanese suitor that they would hide Doña Carmen in the cellar. It was said every time the Japanese officers were away, the cellar served as meeting place which could accommodate a hundred people.
The guerillas learned that the house became the residence of Japanese officers. So during the time when the Americans were about to liberate the town, the guerrillas intentionally sent a map to direct the American forces to bomb the whole house.
Before the air raids and bombings took place, the people left the town purposely leaving the Rodriguez family uninformed since many feared that General Ashima may have a way of tracking down where Carmen would be hiding. However, there was one concerned family friend who went back to tip off the Rodriguezes about the plans. On that same day, the family vacated the mansion.
The first bomb exploded at the front gate, the second blasted a huge, twenty-foot-deep hole (from which the big swimming pool was built), and the third was a dud that went through the roof and got stuck in the stair banisters. Several houses were looted while the residents were away. But because of the bomb that did not explode, no one had dared to come near the house fearing that the bomb might detonate. With the bomb in place, not a single furniture was lost from the house. The bomb was later moved to the garage where it was thought to be safe.
A welcome party for Americans was held in the house a week after the liberation. An orchestra was brought in to enliven the affair. In the midst of the riotous dancing and merriment, the young sister of Carmen, Exal, mentioned to an American soldier about the bomb which that was kept in the garage. Immediately, the festivities stopped. A bomb disposal unit was called in to remove the live bomb to safety.
It was in the 1950’s when Doña Carmen was married to Batangas Judge Vicente Arguelles. Their marriage bore them a child which they named Gladiola. It was also during this time that the swimming pool was completed. Originally planned to be the biggest and deepest swimming pool, it was downsized to 15 feet-deep.
During the 1960’s a Great Fire has befallen the town. Houses went up in to smoke. While the fire continue to engulf neighboring houses, Doña Carmen gave an order that the furniture be thrown into the pool. However, the flames were about to leap into the house when the wind fanned it away.