Ilocos Norte

Balay San Nicolas: An old house in Ilocos Norte transforms into a cultural gem

John Michael Mugas
Balay San Nicolas: An old house in Ilocos Norte transforms into a cultural gem

BALCONY. Visitors peer out the balcony overlooking the busy streets of San Nicolas' commercial area. Photo by John Michael Mugas/Alfonso de los Reyes.

Before it was restored from a state of 'severe deterioration,' the first floor of the building was rented out to local food entrepreneurs for years

LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte — Far from its previous wobbly, almost depleted state, the centuries-old ancestral house in San Nicolas town in Ilocos Norte got an extensive facelift, as it is now being eyed to become a hub for culture and the arts in the province.

The renovated two-floor heritage house, now known as Balay San Nicolas, had its marker unveiled to the public on Tuesday, December 28.

Renovation and restoration efforts for the cultural property began in 2015 when it was acquired by the San Nicolas local government after a cultural mapping project a year earlier, which was aimed to preserve and promote the town’s rich heritage.

BREEZY. The Balay was constructed in the traditional Spanish Colonial style. Photo by John Michael Mugas/Alfonso de los Reyes.

Declared as an “Important Cultural Property” in 2015, the structure, which was also called the Valdes-Lardizabal House, is a 19th century heritage house which, according to the National Museum, is the “oldest and most imposing heritage house in Ilocos Norte,” built in the traditional Spanish Colonial style.

“It is valued for its exceptional, cultural, artistic, and historical significance to the Philippines,” the museum said.

Locals believed that Balay San Nicolas was built in the early 1800s by Antonio Valdes, former gobernadorcillo. Locals recounted that it was also used during the American occupation and as headquarters of the Japanese Army in World War II.

In refurbishing the structure, the local government collaborated with Dr. Joven Cuanang, a renowned neurologist and art patron, and several cultural conservation groups in bringing back the Balay’s “old glory guided by the principle of adaptive reuse.”

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At least P10 million was requested by the San Nicolas local government from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority in 2020 for the rehabilitation and renovation of the cultural property.

Before it was restored from a state of “severe deterioration,” the first floor of the building was rented out to local food entrepreneurs for years, as they took advantage of its location fronting the town plaza.

Locals also fondly referred to the building as the “Old House,” which stood grandly in the commercial area of the town, said Rachel Ang, whose family used to run a food stall at the building, in an interview on Wednesday, December 29.

BALCONY. Visitors peer out the balcony overlooking the busy streets of San Nicolas’ commercial area. Photo by John Michael Mugas/Alfonso de los Reyes.

Aware of its cultural value, Ang said that her family, which is now based in Hawaii, was glad that the historical relic finally got the overhauling and preservation it deserved for the generations to come.

Balay San Nicolas is now being envisioned as a “cultural hub” where it would become a future site of local art exhibits, with restaurants and stores for all things Ilocano.

SPACIOUS. The second-floor of the Balay San Nicolas. Photo by John Michael Mugas/Alfonso de los Reyes.

As the refurbished cultural property was opened to the public last Tuesday, a fashion show was held highlighting the Ilocano handwoven textile “inabel,” also known to many as “Abel Iloko.” The show was in collaboration with Nina Inabel founder Niña Corpuz and veteran Ilocano designers Edgar Madamba and Vic Barba.

Corpuz, in a social media post during the launch, said that Nina Inabel would have a small shop at the Balay. Corpuz created the blazer worn by Rappler CEO Maria Ressa during the Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremony in Oslo, Norway earlier this December.

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She said that “20% of the sales [in the shop in Balay San Nicolas] will go to the foundation in charge of preserving [the] beautiful heritage house.”

As an emerging commercial hub in the province, San Nicolas has always been a champion of cultural preservation. In 2014, the town conducted a cultural mapping, banking on cultural heritage for its development.

Its best practices on cultural heritage was also recognized as one of the 10 most outstanding local governance programs in the country at the Galing Pook Awards in 2018.

With the renovation of Balay San Nicolas, the local government hopes that locals, aside from tourists, would have a deeper and enriched appreciation of the richness and diversity of their own town’s cultural heritage. – Rappler.com

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