Today, one goes to Quiapo, “sa ilalim ng tulay” under the bridge, to avail of beautiful Filipino handicrafts at sometimes reasonable, sometimes still touristy, prices. One goes to the Chinese wholesalers of foodstuffs and kitchen equipment along Carlos Palanca Sr. Street [ formerly Calle Echague ]. When one is desperate and penurious, one goes to the Quiapo church, to pray before the miraculous image of the Black Nazarene, to Him who is the most burdened of the burdened [ when one is desperate and rich, one goes to the expected private chapel, to the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, to the chapel of the Asian Institute of Management, and to any chapel of the "Opus Dei" ].
Contemporary, bustling Quiapo still resonates with the names of the old Filipino families who continue to own commercial properties in the area. Despite congestion and disorganization, it is still the seat of several, highly-lucrative, family-owned real estate empires worth Php billions. One is actually surprised to see a veritable registry of old, prominent families — Paterno, Araneta-Zaragoza, Padilla-Bibby, de los Reyes, Ongsiako, Villonco, Cu-Unjieng, Escaler — alongside the new Chinese rich owning much of the commercial real estate of the Quiapo district.
But Old Quiapo, specially that aristocratic stretch of Calle San Sebastian [ later Calle R. Hidalgo ] from the 1850s until the prewar, was actually an elegant place…
In the Quiapo of the olden times, it was actually a convenience and even a pleasure to have a house beside an “estero,” for these then-pristine streams supplied water for the gardens as well as an efficient route of transportation.
Like an Empress Dowager, the Paterno mansion [ originally a Zamora residence; it devolved to the Paterno through the marriage of a Paterno scion to a Zamora heiress ] — one of the most classically beautiful of the old Manila mansions — reigned over Calle San Sebastian from the 1850s onwards. The immense Paterno fortune was founded by a series of industrious and fortunate Chinese forebears. It spawned a life of high learning, luxury, and leisure for the younger members of the family. The palatial Paterno residences were noted for their European-style opulence, filled as they were with splendid furniture and exquisite decorations. By the late 1800s, the Paterno siblings were among the most cultured and refined of Manilenos as personified by the “ilustrado” Pedro Alejandro Paterno and his artistic sisters Paz and Adelaida. A suitably grand continuation of the fabled Paterno fortune survives to this day through the family of Susana Paterno de Madrigal [ Mrs. Vicente Lopez Madrigal ], a descendant from a collateral branch [ Lucio Paterno ] who doubtless possessed the same incisive business acumen of her industrious pure Chinese and mestizo forebears.
The affluent Tuason-Legarda-Prieto-Valdes Clan had various grand residences along Calle San Sebastian and the nearby streets. When the famous arts and antiques collector Marie Theresa “Bebe” Lammoglia-Virata [ Mrs. Leonides Virata ] first saw the grand “sala” of the “Museo De La Salle” in 2001, She remembered that it was as big — albeit with a higher ceiling — as the “sala” of an old Prieto-Valdes residence of friends of hers along Calle R. Hidalgo that she had frequented as a young lady during the prewar.
The Zamora family of Quiapo also had several grand residences along the same street.
The celebrated, Neoclassical, Felix Roxas y Arroyo-designed mansion of the altruistic aesthete Rafael Enriquez was also located along Calle San Sebastian, a few houses to the left of the Paterno mansion.
On the same street was the very elegant mansion of Ramon Genato, renowned in its time from the 1880s-90s as a gathering place of “alta sociedad de Manila.” The raconteur Felix Roxas y Fernandez waxed nostalgic: “December 31 of every year, or the New Year’s Eve Ball, was traditionally held in the commodious and luxurious house of the Ramon Genatos whose children, out of love for their father, fondly took care of the lavish preparations for the festivity. By entering the portals of this unusual mansion on R. Hidalgo Street, the guests were brought face to face and impressed with the fine taste and artistic traits of the Genato children; and this impression was augmented when one passed through the artistically decorated and elegant rooms and halls of the mansion. The dining room appeared very splendid, not only because of the profusion of decorative plants and flowers and of fountains prepared with blocks of luminous ice, but also because of the regal appearance of the dining table decked with the latest in the decorative art.”
Near the bridge at # 1034 was the famous 1900s mansion of Gregorio Araneta y Soriano Ditching [ Dy Ching ] and Carmen Zaragoza y Roxas [ now the site of the Quiapo Parochial School ]. Gregorio Araneta was an immensely successful lawyer whose first big case was the legal representation of the heirs of the tragic Francisco L. Roxas y Reyes who was executed for sedition in January of 1897. Carmen Zaragoza was the daughter of the bon vivant publisher Jose Zaragoza y Aranquizna and Rosa Roxas y Arce, an astute businesswoman who greatly expanded her inherited holdings. The very Filipina-looking Rosa Roxas de Zaragoza* was a second cousin through the Roxas line of the aristocratic [ the de Ayala of Alava, Spain ] Spanish mestiza heiresses Carmen Ayala de Roxas [ married to Pedro Pablo Roxas y de Castro ] and Trinidad Ayala de Zobel [ married to Jacobo Zobel y Zangroniz ].
Also along Calle San Sebastian was the mansion of the Ilustre family.
On Calle Barbosa [ now Bautista Street ] was the relatively modern, Vienna Secession-inspired mansion of Ariston Bautista y Lin and Petrona Nakpil designed by the architect Arcadio Arellano in 1914. The writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando, who grew up in the area, recalled that the Nakpil ladies had very good taste and that they had exceptionally beautiful things.
At the corner of Calle San Sebastian and Calle Barbosa was a large but rather plain 1850s mansion which served as the Manila residence of a very rich Pampanguena who pioneered the acquisition of valuable Manila real estate among her provincial peers in the 1870s [ the large house was one of three she owned in the area ]. The firebrand Matea Rodriguez de Sioco of Bacolor and Sulipan, Apalit buried two rich husbands [ Josef Sioco and Juan Arnedo Cruz ] and became the top financier of the revolutionary Katipunan in Pampanga in the late 1890s. She had two married daughters: Sabina Sioco de Escaler and Florencia Sioco de Gonzalez. When she died her large estate was divided into three equal parts between her two married daughters Sabina and Florencia along with her favorite grandson, Jose Escaler y Sioco. Sabina Sioco de Escaler continued acquiring Manila commercial and residential real estate. She owned several large commercial properties in the Binondo, Santa Cruz, and Quiapo districts. By the 1910s, Sabina owned several houses along Calle Arlegui and Calle General Solano in the fashionable San Miguel District aside from entire blocks in the Ermita and Malate districts.
In front of Plaza del Carmen, across San Sebastian Church, was the 1910s mansion of the Filipiniana ubercollector Felipe Hidalgo y Kleimpell. According to everyone who had visited it during Felipe’s lifetime, it was literally an “Ali Baba’s Cave” of treasures. For example, the “entresuelo” mezzanine of that house contained Filipino Old Master Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s exact replicas of his two prizewinning paintings in Madrid, Spain: “La Barca de Aqueronte” [ "The Boat of Charon" ] and “Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho” [ "Christian maidens exposed to the populace" ]!!! Another masterpiece in that house was the portrait of “Don Narciso Padilla and his grandson Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo” by Filipino old master Antonio Malantic**.
Very near Plaza del Carmen were several residences belonging to the Spanish mestizo Zaragoza family. The brothers Zaragoza y Aranquizna — among them Jose the publisher [ of the landmark "La Ilustracion Filipina" ] and Miguel the painter — were born in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, the sons of a Spanish auditor of the Tobacco Monopoly. The widower Jose Zaragoza y Aranquizna was matched with the young, entrepreneurial, and affluent Rosa Roxas y Arce [ daughter of Mariano Leon Roxas y Arroyo and Carmen Arce ] of Binondo. They built their house along Calle San Sebastian in Quiapo. Jose and Rosa had six children: Natividad [ married Demetrio Tuason ], Carmen [ married Gregorio Araneta y Soriano Ditching ], Elias [ married Rosario Velez y Rodriguez Infante ], Salvador [ married Carolina Tuason ], Ramon [ married Trinidad Matute; married Juanita Marin ], and Margarita [ married Carlos Preysler y Gonzales ]. Rosa Roxas de Zaragoza built splendid houses for all her children. All in all, there were seven Zaragoza residences along Calle San Sebastian.
Approaching San Sebastian Church, to the right, was the fabled mansion of the “Conde de Aviles” the Count of Aviles which was later occupied by Benito Legarda. The “Conde de Aviles” was assigned by the Governor General to host King Norodom I of Cambodia during his visit to Manila and the outlying provinces in 1872 [ during those times Malacanang palace was occasionally in disrepair and could not host visiting dignitaries in style ].
On a side street was the eccentric mansion of the Ocampo-de los Reyes family, which was remodeled in the 1920s into a Japanese pagoda.
Inside Callejon Limanzana was an old house owned by Felipe Hidalgo which was occupied by the scholarly Alfonso Ongpin which was a veritable museum with an extensive Filipiniana, and Rizaliana, collection.
Expansive Calle Azcarraga [ now Claro M. Recto Avenue ] was lined with splendid mansions. One of them was the 1860s residence of Maximino “Capitan Memo” Paterno. A few houses away was one of the inherited residences of Trinidad Hermenigildo Pardo de Tavera y Gorricho.
And of course, Old Quiapo was just a stone’s throw away from posh San Miguel district, which became the preferred address of the rich after the Governor General’s palace was moved from Intramuros to the Malacanang summer residence following the 1863 earthquake. During the 1880s, Calle General Solano teemed with the more sophisticated, European-inflected mansions — epitomized by the famous Eugster-Moreno Lacalle-Goldenberg — of the Spanish mestizo and Chinese mestizo elite beside the Pasig river.
*According to Regina Araneta-Teodoro, [ her great-grandmother ] Rosa Roxas de Zaragoza was very Filipina-looking, as proven by an old photograph among the private papers of her father, Salvador Araneta y Zaragoza [ Rosa's grandson ]. Rosa Roxas’ Spanish mestizo husband, Jose Zaragoza y Aranquizna, looked like Josef Stalin with his moustache.
**The portrait of “Don Narciso Padilla and his grandson Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo” was painted by the Filipino old master Antonio Malantic, famous in his time for his portraits of wealthy Manila, specifically Tondo, residents.