Wednesday, May 27, 2009

*151. THE HOUSE THAT PUYATS BUILT

DON GONZALO PUYAT OF GUAGUA. The Puyat Patriarch still reporting for work at his Escolta office in 1960. He started the "House of Puyat" that became well-known as a premiere maker of furniture, billiard tables, bowling alleys and steel mill products. His son, Gil J. Puyat, became a well-known industrialist and a Senator.

During the Pinatubo eruptions, the unattended ancestral house of my granduncle was damaged not just by ash falls but also by looters who took advantage of the catastrophe by spiriting away the contents of the mansion. It was for this reason that I asked our workers to secure what’s left of the furniture there.

The only thing that the thieves left behind because it was too big and heavy to be carted away was a glass-panelled narra bookcase that used to hold the thick, legal tomes of Atty. Rafael G. Morales. While cleaning the dust-caked case, I found a sticker still attached on its back: Made by the House of Puyat.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, the most sought after furniture pieces in the Philippines came from the House of Puyat, a premiere woodworking business established by Guagua-born entrepreneur, Gonzalo Puyat. His rags-to-riches story is the stuff that today’s telenovelas are made of, a tale of hard work, honesty, perseverance and thrift. Gonzalo was born on 20 September 1878 of impoverished parents. He reached the equivalent of 2nd year high school, and in 1906 came to Manila with his wife, Nicasia Juco, and two children to work in a billiard hall in Quiapo for 18 pesos a month. From 6 a.m to 12 midnight, he cleaned the hall, set up balls, fixed the cues and ran errands for the customers. After the day’s toil, his family slept in the lobby, which he rented for 5 pesos a month.

Jose Martin, the Spaniard who owned the billiard hall, realized Gonzalo’s good services and so he upped his salary to 25 pesos a month, from which he managed to save 1 peso a month. In 1907, his kind-hearted boss decided to lease the billiard hall to him—a modest start for the House of Puyat.

In 1909, Gonzalo engaged himself in the repair of billiard tables which he learned by trial and error. With his additional savings, he bought a hammer, a plane, a chisel and a file and set up his repair shop. Once, he bought a pool table discarded by an American from Fort McKinley and tried to repair it and re-sell it, but to no avail. He converted the pool table into a smaller utility table which got sold instead. This jumpstarted his furniture business. In 1912, he exhibited a billiard table at the Manila Carnival and his furniture product won a Gold Medal and Diploma.

In 1920, Gonzalo expanded his thriving business by constructing bowling alleys and classic and modern furniture. By 1924, he had incorporated, involving his sons Gil (a senator and industrialist), Eugenio and grandson Jose into his diversifying business. He also manufactured parquet floorings, doors, windows and decorative wood panels. Briefly, he also was into making galvanized iron sheets with material imported from Japan, until he set up his own steel mill industry.

But the House of Puyat found lasting fame on its well-crafted furniture that not graced Filipino homes—from modest residences, posh mansion to the MalacaƱang Palace. House of Puyat showrooms started sprouting all over Manila, displaying the latest art deco bedroom suites, Ambassador living room sets, sleek narra bookcases, rattan sofas, chairs and upholstered moderns. The furniture factory was set up in a sprawling one and a half-hectare property on Rodriguez Arias St. in San Miguel district. To ensure a constant supply of fine woods, Gonzalo had lumber concessions in Surigao and Mindoro. Gonzalo Puyat and sons oversaw their business empire from their spanking 7-storey Escolta building that used to be Heacock’s.

In 1960, the House of Puyat was the largest furniture shop in the East, employing 350 woodworkers who regularly churn out furniture and billiard tables of all styles, colors, shapes, sizes and prices. Today, the company is still in business after nearly 80 years. I am glad that I rescued my granduncle’s bookcase, which, though a little worn and weatherbeaten has become more than a piece of furniture but a legacy of an enterprising Kapampangan, the country’s furniture king, Gonzalo Puyat.

6 comments:

Cathi said...

My grandfather, the late Marcelino Layug, was a cousin of the Sen. Gil Puyat and Peck Pinon. I'm trying to trace my genes. I was wondering if you could help me, please?

alex r. castro said...

Hi Cathi,
Your best bet would be to go thru the canonical books of the town where Marcelino Layug was born. These recorded the dates of their birth, the day of their batism, names of parents and godparents--that is, if you know the approximate date of his birth. These church books, collected by member of the church of the Latter Day Saints are available in microfilm forms at the Family History Center. If you are in Manila, there is a branch in Q.C. If you are in Pampanga, Holy Angel University also has copies of the microfilms. Research is free. Hope this helps. (Peck Pinon I believe has a site somewhere, do search online).

Hawayano said...

Alex,
Thank you for the write-up on your renowned grand-uncle! I appreciate learning about his company's history, especially as we have a family heirloom that is a tindalo and kamagong dining set with the Gonzalo Puyat metal tag still affixed. It averted wartime destruction in that it was shipped to the US in the 1930s.
Sad to hear that the home was plundered during the chaos of Pinatubo's catastrophic eruption.

Jinn Puyat Hermano said...

Hi! My middle name is Puyat, and was wondering if you have any relatives in Iloilo? I was born and raised here. It would be nice meeting far relatives :)

Sarina Sambor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarina Sambor said...

Ano mas maganda sa dalawa cagayan or pampanga? nag try ako sa house and lot for sale in cagayan de oro city. Please Help naman hehe