‘Taj Mahal’ of Negros Occidental

“Ancient ruins,” said Mary Jo Arnoldi, chair of the anthropology department at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “give us a connection to the past that’s visceral. This was a real place, and you can walk through it.”

This could be why Raymund Javellana, the man who wanted The Ruins, which is listed by oddee.com as “one 12 most fascinating ruins of the world,” restored to its former glory. The Ruins was a mansion built in Talisay City, Negros Occidental.

“I am so glad that it was not destroyed completely. With the blessings of The Lord, we were able to restore the mansion itself. I challenge people who keep on destroying the old structures to please stop and make some good use of it,” Javellana said when he accepted the award for The Ruins as Best Destination (Heritage Sites category) at the first Choose Philippines Awards in 2016.

Javellana is the great-grandson of Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson, the Negrense sugar baron who built the mansion for love.

How the mansion came to be

Love, goes a famous song, comes from the most unexpected places. This is what happened to Mariano Ledesma Lacson, a sugar baron from Negros.

The most-sought after bachelor was visiting Hong Kong with a friend when he met Maria Braga, a Portuguese lady from Macau and daughter of a ship captain.

Smitten by her beauty, he courted her earnestly until she said yes. To make the long story short, they got married and he brought her to his ancestral house in Talisay, where they raised their family together.

Children came after one another: Victoria, Rafael (who later became the governor of Negros Occidental), Mercedes, Natividad, Sofia, Felipe (who became a mayor of Talisay), Consolacion, Angelina, Ramon and Eduardo.

Maria was pregnant with their 11th child when she slipped in the bathroom. She was bleeding; her condition was so precarious that traveling outside of the house was out of question. Mariano summoned some of his men to get a resident doctor from a nearby town. He told them to use a horse-drawn carriage, then the fastest mode of transportation.

It was the 1920s and it took two days to traverse the various sugar farms to Silay. By the time the doctor arrived, on the fourth day, Maria and her child were dead.

Mariano was so devastated, he went into a depression for a time m. Yet knowing he still had children needing his attention, he began to focus instead on building a house in memory of his beloved wife.

He consulted his father-in-law about the idea, who fully supported his plans. Being a ship captain, he brought in many items from Europe and China — ranging from machuca or handmade custom cement tiles, chandeliers and china wares. He even brought with him some construction workers from China just to help build the mansion.

A local builder was entrusted to make the design and building specifications. Mariano asked his son Felipe to supervise the project and ensure an A-grade mixture of concrete was precisely poured.

The marble-like effect of high-grade concrete can be felt by touching the posts and walls of what remains now of the mansion. The entire property has a floor area of 900 square meters: 450 sq.m. upstairs and the same on the lower ground. Ten rooms occupied the mansion: eight for children, a Master’s bedroom and a family room.

The house was of Italianate architecture as evidenced by its neo-Romanesque columns all around.

“Since the engineer was a Filipino, it is believed the design came from that of Maria’s ancestral mansion which was given by her father to Mariano as sample,” an inflight magazine said. “The imprimatur of Maria’s father, a ship captain, is now clear from the shell-inspired décor all around the top edges of the mansion – the same ones that identified the homes of ship captains in New England at that time.”

It took about three years to finish the Don Mariano Lacson Mansion. Because it was built out of a husband’s devotion to his wife, Javellana likens it to the Taj Mahal, a white marble mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife. The initials engraved on every post of the mansion — two Ms facing each other — stand for Mariano and Maria.

The two M’s facing each other stand for Mariano and Maria.

At that time, the mansion was the largest residential structure ever built in the area. It was constructed at the center of a 440-hectare farm. The Lacson family lived in the mansion happily, but it was not “ever after” as Japanese forces invaded the country in December 1941 after Japan’s declaration of war upon the United States, which controlled the Philippines at the time and possessed important military bases.

In anticipation of the war, the Lacson family fled their home. They left behind all their furniture, china wares, home décor and some personal belongings, locked up the place and left a caretaker to watch over the mansion.

The soldiers of the US Armed Forces in the Far East came to the place. Sensing that it might be used as headquarters of the Japanese troops, it was decided that it would be burned just like other big houses in the area. While it took three years to build the mansion, it took only three days to consume all of its roofs, ceilings, two-inch wooden floors, doors and windows, which were all made of hardwood of tindalo, narra and kamagong.

Still, the three-day inferno was not able to flatten the whole mansion. Thanks to its oversize steel bars and the meticulous way of pouring A-grade mixture of concrete, the skeletal frame remains.

The four-tiered fountain in front of what remains of the mansion makes it a perfect replica of the ancient homes with spacious gardens – like those you see in the old city of Savannah, Georgia in the United States.

Joy Gallera Malaga, an independent writer who visited the place, wrote: “And most likely you would appreciate the mansion even if it was already reduced to its skeletal frame, or maybe it is its present condition that adds to its character and beauty. That’s the charm of old structures; it invites you to engage in an experience just by being there, getting to know it better through the stories it continues to tell.”

Water fountain.

Love and legacy

Filipinos would have never seen The Ruins – which was abandoned for 67 years! – had it not been for Javellana. He is the son of Ramon, who was the son of Mercedes, the daughter of Mariano.

Raymund had a travel agency in Manila when his mother requested him to come back to Negros and help her manage their sugar plantations. He now settles in Silay but in one of his trips to Talisay, he saw the abandoned mansion, which is located in Hacienda Sta. Maria. He decided to make it one of the province’s tourist attractions.

Although people were not too keen about the idea, Javellana pursued his plans.

In January 2008, he opened The Ruins to the public. People flocked to the place.

Aside from being a tourist attraction, The Ruins is fast becoming a favorite venue for weddings and photo shoots.

It was a good Javellana, inspired by his father and their forebears, kept his dream alive, never giving up on it. That’s love.