Inside Baguio's Most Intriguing Century-Old Mansions
Baguio City’s reputation as the Summer Capital of the Philippines is now being seriously challenged, what with other prime destinations in the country drawing in many tourists. But the city may yet attract a different kind of visitor in the near future—one who cherishes and appreciates the preservation of local landmarks that speak of the city’s rich historical past.
The past years saw the emergence of an interest in restoring Baguio’s former glory, largely due to the nostalgia for the “Old Baguio” that was oft heard during the city’s Centennial celebration in 2009. The population of Baguio has grown tremendously, and with this, much of its local character–open parks, forest reserves, gardens—has been compromised. It is fortunate that members of the private sector have taken interest in preserving Baguio’s old landmarks. The Casa Vallejo at the top of Session Road, the Laperal Mansion along Leonard Wood Road, and the Heritage Mansion situated a stone’s throw away from Burnham Park, all showcase these efforts of preservation.
Reliving the lifestyle of a colonial past is the best attraction of Casa Vallejo today. Built in 1909 as Dormitory 4, this structure has many other stories to tell as a detention center in 1917; a hotel operated by Spanish immigrant and entrepreneur Don Salvador Vallejo and his wife Justina in 1923; a British and Indian refugee center during World War II in the early 1940s; and again a hotel until 1997.
Casa Vallejo as seen from Session Road
Preserving the century-old structure, Roebling Corporation restored the pine panels and wooden floors to regain its rustic charm. A boutique hotel in the busy city
Inside one of Casa Vallejo's bedrooms
Mitos Yñiguez, the operator of the hotel’s restaurant Hill Station, said that when the Roebling Corporation proposed that she handle the food concession, it excited her to know that they were restoring the hotel. Although the menu of Hill Station is a departure from the Filipino dishes served from the 1950s until its closure in 1997, it has given the hotel the same busy energy from the Baguio clientele that it once served.
The original fireplace, now 108 years old, is lit during the cold months to comfort the guests not used to the nippy evenings in the city during this time.
The cream of
At the lobby where the original fireplace has been warming up guests since 1909; a
cozy nook at the reception area
BODY AND SOUL
Casa Vallejo also nourishes mind and body, and pampers the senses, spoiling one for choice. It’s always good to go to Baguio City when summer is over and all the images of festivals and parades already uploaded to online photo albums. Local and foreign tourists alike aren’t likely to brave dropping temperatures and
Mt. Cloud bookstore
Catching up with Mitos Benitez-Yñiguez easily guarantees a week’s worth of partying in the most intimate and heartiest sense of revelry. Less than a decade ago, Yñiguez opened Hill Station, a tapas bar and restaurant, in the historic Casa Vallejo on Upper Session Road.
In keeping with the historical ethos of a hill station—Baguio had been among the last of these colonial refugees in Asia—Yñiguez’s sprawling bar and restaurant, whose huge windows look out into the Busol pine reservation as yet unspoiled by real estate or city traffic, serves Yñiguez’s versions of slow, comfort food whose ingredients are all locally sourced and steeped in spices sent by friends from all over the world.
“In keeping with the history and memories of Casa Vallejo, we have created a space where the quiet, woody Baguio atmosphere of olden days sits comfortably with the work of contemporary artists, artisans, and writers.”
It’s a place one never gets enough of, it seems, because being there, alone or with
The dining area at Hill Station
The only reason Yñiguez says she’d agreed to open shop was because Casa Vallejo’s new owner said he would restore rather than rebuild what could yet have been a modern monstrosity. “This is the project of my dreams,” Yñiguez told a Baguio journalist in an interview shortly after Hill Station opened its doors.
Photographs by Baguio's lensmen at Casa Vallejo
It is and has been since. For tucked behind the pastry shelf is a short hallway that leads to Mt. Cloud, a dream of a bookstore. One of the charming tales about Casa Vallejo has to do with the so-called spirits haunting the place, even before its renovation. For at least one National Artist, the novelist Francisco Sionil Jose, Casa Vallejo, whether because it housed friendly otherworldly spirits or simply because it had such warm and basic wooden interiors, had been the spot of choice for writing. These unseen muses are said to have found a new home in Mt. Cloud, whose Asian and local titles are among the best in the bookstore market today. Run by anthropologist and filmmaker Padmapani Perez, Mt. Cloud sells new and previously owned hard-to-find books.
As with the pace of an afternoon snack, say, at Hill Station, book browsing in Mt. Cloud is a languid affair, best enjoyed with a cup of coffee or a mug of beer. As its website proclaims, “In keeping with the history and memories of Casa Vallejo, we have created a space where the quiet, woody Baguio atmosphere of olden days sits comfortably with the work of contemporary artists, artisans, and writers.” How do the muses work? Before I even knew about the story of these disembodied tipsters from other
A meal from Hill Station and freshly baked bread being prepared
The spa’s Casa Vallejo incarnation is not much different from its original on Ferguson Road, which is quite a long way from the city
Hungry? There’s Hill Station, where more and more Baguio regulars are having their Sunday
Tired? Climb up to North Haven, the closest you can get to a release from worldly woes. Waiting for Godot? Curl up in a chair in Mt. Cloud and let him find you.
A fixture of many photo-ops and ghost stories is the Laperal Mansion beside Teacher’s Camp. A fusion of American and Victorian architecture, the white house attests to the wealth of its original owner, Don Roberto Laperal in 1923. It was in the 1920s when a construction boom spoke of the success Baguio had in attracting affluent Filipinos to buy lots and build summer vacation homes in this rest and recreation city.
Built in the 1920s, the Laperal Mansion has figured in many spooky tales over the years.
The ornate façade with woodwork on the eaves and balusters reflects a Victorian inspiration executed by carpenters with only basic work implements. Borrowing from European trends at the turn of the 19th century, houses were built with bays, turrets, overhangs, odd corners, and irregular floor plans. Highly complex architectural details were copied from photos of European homes. A new coat of white paint over the former yellow and green trimmings has sprung gothic stories of the home that served as Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s residence during the occupation of Baguio City. Leo Pugal, the administrator of the property, says that the restoration of the old
The living room inside the Laperal Mansion
Many architectural details were recreated by craftsmen from European photographs; the dining room at the well-maintained
Skilled carpenters created the ornate carvings on the balusters, walls and ceiling panels. The narrow staircase leads to the upstairs bedrooms. A lonely grandfather clock stands silent.
The American architecture that predominated the period fused the Victorian touch on the Narra wood that was readily available in the early years of Baguio City. Staircases with intricate details on the balusters and the main posts, high ceilings, and large windows speak of the influence of the Americans in the construction boom.
THE HERITAGE MANSION
The Heritage Mansion (formerly the Muller Mansion) is a boutique hotel in Baguio. It was built in 1934 by John Muller, who came to the Philippines as a 16-year-old soldier in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War. He first settled in the Visayas but came up to the Cordilleras when he learned that the Americans were building Kennon Road. He eventually married
One of the best-restored structures in Baguio, the Heritage Mansion appears very much the same way it did as the day it was originally constructed.
Japanese carpenters and craftsmen (who were part of the
The Heritage Mansion is steeped in Baguio’s history. During the Japanese occupation, the Mullers were forced out and the mansion became the headquarters for Japanese officers.
San Jose says that the I-beams of the house are good for another 100 years. She took out the wrought iron fence and refashioned them into planters at the ledges and terraces. The one-meter Narra floorboards, she muses, must have been horsedrawn from Ilocos during that time because Narra only grows in the lowlands. She
The interiors of the Heritage Mansion emit a rich, warm glow thanks to its
The Heritage Mansion is steeped in Baguio’s history. During the Japanese occupation, the Mullers were forced out and the mansion became the headquarters for Japanese officers. (The original family vault, now showcased in the hotel’s lobby, bears the bullet scars from that period). It was subsequently taken over by the Americans during the Liberation. In the 1950s it was converted into the Muller Hotel and operated by Olga Brady and Helen Muller Makin, the two eldest of John Muller’s 10 children. Granddaughter Betsy Muller (daughter of John Muller Jr.) remembers playing in "The Big House (the term the third generation used to refer to their grandparents’ abode) and reminisces the chinoiserie furniture along with the Art Deco tables and cabinets that her grandparents took home with them from their numerous trips abroad. The alternating second generation siblings and their respective families occupied the house until 1997. After which, the descendants decided to rent out the place before finally opting to sell the house.
Al fresco dining at the Solibao restaurant
The present owners,
Although restoration may be a laborious task, it is important that we