Along Vicente de la Cruz St., (formerly, Sampaguita St.) parallel to the busy Sta. Ines exit of the North Expressway, lies an imposing mansion that dominates the quiet, provincial air of this narrow barrio road. This is the 2 –storey Morales ancestral house, an 84 year-old stone and wood structure with an architectural style that harkens back to the days of bahay na bato, yet infused with geometric, floral and art deco elements considered “moderne” in those times.
The fleur-de-lis accented wrought iron grilles fencing the house bear the initials of the owner, Don Rafael Morales y Guzman, the youngest son of the town’s principalia, Don Quentin Morales and Dña Paula Guzman. Actually, it was Don Quentin who built the house, commissioning Betis carpenters and carvers under the supervision of Felix Guiao, who himself, was a self-taught woodworker. Upon finishing his advanced law studies at Georgetown University, Don Rafael married Belen Lansangan of Sta. Ana, and settled in this house fit for a king on a sprawling 2,000 square meter property.
From the outside, the pastel green and white Morales house has a linear, simple grandeur—from its straight, solid façade to the tin cutwork that lines the roof’s edge. The geometric feel is broken only by sparse classic elements like the pierced vents in the eaves done in floral patterns. The high windows are notable for their rare frosted white and cobalt blue glass panes, which were fully closed with persianas or louvres when sunlight becomes too harsh. During Mabalacat’s sizzling summers, the ventanillas underneath are slid open to let in more air.
The floor plan follows an inverted F-shape, long and linear, but full of open space. A concrete stairway lads you to the upper floor where the Moraleses took residence. The date of the house’s construction—1924—is part of the wooden cutwork above the double doors fitted with amethyst-colored glass knobs. The Morales fortune was built on agricultural lands and this important aspect of the family history is immortalized in the ornate arch in the ante-sala. The arch carries exquisite carvings of farming icons—a plow, bundles of rice stalks, harrow—arranged almost like parts of a family crest. To the right are the living room quarters including the high-ceiling bedrooms, topped with transomes or air vents to circulate air from room to room.
The expansive dining room features an old-fashioned banggera, where table ware and glasses are left to air-dry. This area of the house figured prominently in the 1972 shooting of the Vilma Santos-Dante Rivero-Charito Solis war-themed movie, “Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz”. A utility wing is conjoined with the dining area. A small veranda and the white-tiled bathroom are found here, complete with claw foot porcelain tubs and modern plumbing. Space flows from one room to another leading you to the kitchen and semi-enclosed azotea with stairs that you down almost down the Sapang Balen bank.
In its prime, the Morales mansion was furnished with the latest furniture from the House of Puyat: 6-footer book shelves to hold Don Rafael’s legal tomes, tryptich tocador, plateras and a hat and cane stand. In the ante-sala, the portraits of the family forebears, Apung Palu and Apung Quintin, cast their steady gaze on arriving visitors. A life-size wedding picture of Don Rafael and Dña Belen was the focal point of the living room. A large mirror with elaborate etched designs also was hung there.
The well-tended gardens were lush with rosals, palms, San Francisco, agave and other succulents. Kamias, mango and acacia trees provided fruits and shady canopies all year-round. As late as the 1970s, reunion parties, soirees and basketball games were held in the courtyard and the wide cemented grounds.
When the only two daughters of Don Rafael relocated in Manila, the house was left in the care of relatives and a succession of caretakers. The Castros, first cousins of the Moraleses, resided in the house at various times in the 1950ws, 1970s throught the 1980s.
Sadly today, the Morales mansion is in a state of disrepair, further aggravated by the Pinatubo eruption, the ravages of time and the occasional neighborhood thievery. Whatever was left of the heirloom pieces, the heirs have spirited away to Manila. Even the carved arches have also been dismantled for keeping as architectural relics.
The subdued opulence of the Morales ancestral house and its attendant history may now be a thing of the past, but for the many who still live in this quiet Sta. Ines neighborhood and walk its narrow street, it still exists, albeit dimly, a landmark symbol of wealth and refinement from a genteel era now long gone.
POSTSCRIPT: In late October 2008, the heirs allowed a number of missionaries from a religious order to use the old mansion as their residential headquarters. The house, heavily vandalized by former squatter tenants, is now undergoing restoration--to make it more liveable.
(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")