The Grand Lady of Jaro

Among the many splendid mansions of Old Jaro, Iloilo, there is only one grand residence that enduringly captures the full essence, and the length and breadth of the wealth and splendor of the legendary Iloilo sugar fortunes at their height in the 1920s to the 30s:  the “Nelly Gardens.”

The imposing, Beaux-Arts style “Nelly Gardens” mansion was built in 1928 by Vicente Lopez y Villanueva [ 1879 – 1963 ] and his wife Elena Hofilena y Javelona.  It was named for their eldest daughter Nelly, who liked gardens.  Their first residence was along Calle Iznart, Jaro’s main thoroughfare, but Elena found the street noisy and bothersome, and since she liked flowers, plants, and gardening, Vicente decided to build their new residence on four hectares in [ what was then ] the outskirts of Old Jaro.  The residence began as a simple two-storey affair that was continually enlarged and embellished as the family grew, as their fortunes multiplied, and as their social obligations increased.

Vicente Lopez and Elena Hofilena had four children:  Nelly [ married Salvador Zamora ], Benito [ married Leonor de la Rama ], Lilia [ married Francisco Lopez Jison ], and Vicente [ married Maria Rita Molina Zamora ].  In the aristocratic fashion of those days, all four siblings could play a musical instrument proficiently:  Nelly played the piano; Benito, the cello; Lilia, the harp; and Vicente, the violin.  To this day, there is still a large prewar photograph of them on top of the black Steinway grand piano in the “sala” [ living / drawing room ] of the mansion.

Vicente Lopez y Villanueva was among the richest in the affluent Lopez Clan:  a sugar planter and industrialist with immense holdings.  When his elder brother Benito Lopez y Villanueva [ o 1877 ] was assassinated in 1908 by a rival political faction [ who happened to be their Jalandoni relatives ], he undertook the guardianship of the two sons, Eugenio “Ening” and Fernando “Nanding” [ who later on became THE tycoon Eugenio Lopez Sr. and the Vice-President Fernando Lopez ], and took them to live in his Calle Iznart house and later on at the “Nelly Gardens” [ Their mother, Presentacion Hofilena viuda de Lopez, retired to the old { turn of the century } house perched on an islet — the storied “Roca Encantada” —  on the 400 hectare ancestral Hofilena “hacienda” in Guimaras island ].  The brothers Eugenio and Fernando Lopez y Hofilena and the siblings Nelly, Benito, Lilia, and Vicente Lopez y Hofilena were first cousins twice over:  their fathers Benito and Vicente Lopez y Villanueva were brothers and their mothers Presentacion and Elena Hofilena y Javelona were sisters.  The younger Lopez-Hofilena first cousins always addressed their elder first cousins respectfully and affectionately as “Manong Ening” and “Manong Nanding.”  In fact, when Eugenio Lopez y Hofilena married Pacita Moreno y de Santos, they spent the first five years of their married life at the “Nelly Gardens.”  To this day, there are twin, late 1800s four-poster beds with the initials “BL” [ “Benito Lopez” ] and “PH” [ “Presentacion Hofilena” ]  in a second-floor bedroom facing the front garden.

According to oldtimers, The “Nelly Gardens” mansion was the very place where the legendary lifestyle of the Iloilo sugar barons was ultimately defined.  It became the definitive Iloilo residence as the most important receptions of the province during prewar and postwar were held there.  In prewar, the grandest occasion in the Lopez family was the annual birthday ball of Vicente held every 02 February, to which only the family and the elite of Iloilo and Manila were invited.  It was always a formal affair that required long dress and black tie, magnificent jewels and black limousines; full orchestras played dance music throughout the evening.  The invitation from Vicente Lopez was an indication of one’s rank in Iloilo [ and Manila ] society.

The mansion eventually devolved to the second daughter, Lilia Lopez y Hofilena [ Mrs. Francisco Lopez Jison ].  She and her husband Francisco Jison y Lopez of Silay, Negros Occidental were second cousins through the Lopez line.  Lilia’s father Vicente Lopez y Villanueva was a first cousin twice over of Francisco’s mother Maria Juana Dolores Lopez y Villanueva [ married to Albino Jison y Golez ].  Vicente’s father Eugenio Lopez y Jalandoni was an elder brother of Dolores’ father Marcelo Lopez y Jalandoni.  Vicente’s mother Marcela Villanueva y Felipe was an elder sister of Dolores’ mother Julita Villanueva y Felipe.  To further underscore the close relations, Rosario Lopez de Santos [ Rosario Lopez y Villanueva, married to Francisco Santos; they had no children so she adopted several Lopez nieces and nephews as her heirs ], the formidable “Nanay Sayong” [ “Mother Sayong” ], adopted the young Francisco Jison y Lopez [ her first cousin Dolores’ son ] and made him one of the heirs of her vast fortune.  “Nanay Sayong” was an older sister of Vicente Lopez y Villanueva, a very capable and very willful lady who created her own immense fortune in sugarcane plantations and sugar mills.  She was among the richest of her generation of Lopezes.  So such are the interrelations of the Iloilo aristocracy…

*************

These days, The “Nelly Gardens” is actively managed by the daughters of Lilia Lopez y Hofilena and Francisco Jison y Lopez:  Lourdes Lopez Jison-Ledesma and Elena Lopez Jison-Golez.  Their brother, Francisco Lopez Jison Jr., resides at the estate year-round.  The mansion itself defies time as it is excellently maintained and remains as it was during the lifetime of Lilia Lopez de Jison; but the grounds are being redeveloped to best utilize the opportunities of the 21st century.  Constant reinvention is one of the secrets of the several, enduring Lopez fortunes.

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45 Comments

  1. Sheila Perfecto Francisco said,

    April 10, 2013 at 7:22 am

    Azucena Perfecto Lopez was my mother’s sister. My Mama was Eden Perfecto Francisco. I remember going to their house in Makati to swim 😉

  2. michael lopez said,

    December 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

    i just heard that my ancestors came from Negros Occidental particularly in Escalante City, my late great grandfather Francisco Lopez migrated in Bohol and started a family there. They were 17 in the family, 16 boys and 1 girl. Anybody can help me find the root of my ancestors.Thanks.!

  3. Victor U. Lopez said,

    September 30, 2012 at 5:53 am

    nice to have read the items here, and nothing written of me, the son of Vicente V. Lopez with his second marriage to my mother Rosario U. Lopez in the late 40’s.

    Victor a.k.a. Atomic

  4. Rogelio Lopez Madrigal said,

    October 25, 2011 at 6:03 am

    My great grandfather was Felix Lopez of Jaro. He migrated to what was Mangarin now Mangarin, San Jose Occ. Mindoro.. In Mangarin he had a ranch and was reputed to have so much cattle that if one were to line them up it would be as far as the eyes can see for one cow color only. Later he transferred to Calapan, Mindoro. He had a first wife with several children, one of them Luciano Lopez, married to Feliza A.Martinez from Taal Batangas. They had 13 children, but only two survived to live at their ripe ages. My mother Remedios Matinez Lopez (92) and her younger brother Angel. (70+). I am the only surviving great grandson of Felix. Felix became a widower and married their 16-year househelp who bore him five children. BTW, Eugenia a daughter of Felix by his first wife lived to an old age, married a younger man and had no children. Anacleta (lola “Titay” ) one daughter of Felix by his second marriage at the age of eighty, was sent to Iloilo to live with Donna Sayong.. Titay went back to Mindoro after the suicide of Francisco Santos. So every time toto Nanding, during hi political days, when he was in Calapan.would get in touch with the Lopez’s there, the children of Felix by his second marriage since all the children by his first marriage have passed away before the WWII except that Eugenia..I still have to visit the Lopez Museum to find out mor about lolo Felix. It is a known fact that no Lopez who claim to be one could just present himself/herself during reunions without previuos accreditation. My wife belongs to the Locsin/Gustilo clans of Molo Iloilo City.

  5. Alicia Perez said,

    October 4, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Sundance:

    That is true, as attested by several of her Lopez nieces and nephews, now all deceased. However, it is something glossed over in the official genealogies and histories commissioned by the Eugenio Lopez Sr. branch.

    Alicia Perez

  6. Sundance Apolinario said,

    October 4, 2011 at 9:47 am

    The late Presentacion Hofilena vda. de Lopez married my great grandfather, Dr. Daniel Evangelista.
    Years later, the Evangelista clan moved to the “Land of Promise”…Mindanao..specifically Zamboanga City.

  7. March 21, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Adelma:

    I regret to inform you that Elen Lopez Jison-Golez passed away of cancer last 14 July 2010.

    https://remembranceofthingsawry.wordpress.com/?s=strawberry+fields+forever

    Elen’s brother Junior lives at the Nelly Gardens villa.

    Regards,

    Toto Gonzalez

  8. Adelma Zapanta Yap Daniel said,

    March 20, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    By the way, I now live in the United Kingdom.

  9. Adelma Zapanta Yap Daniel said,

    March 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    I am looking for my elementary grade classmates at Philippine Women’s College, Jaro, Iloilo City – Elena and Frank Jison Jr . My brother Danilo, who now lives in America, would like to get in touch with Frank and I, with Elena. We used to play in Nelly Gardens after school.

  10. Nereo Lujan said,

    November 7, 2010 at 6:44 am

    we tracing our ancestry and finding long lost relatives…
    if u hv time, pls visit http://javellana.wordpress.com/
    thanks!

  11. October 21, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Elvira:

    Perhaps you should start your quest with the extensive Lopez genealogy books by Oscar M. Lopez. There should be copies at the Lopez museum.

    Although many members of the Lopez de Iloilo lurk in this blog, this is not a Lopez family website, so you will most likely not receive official replies to your inquiries from the clan here.

    Thank you.

    Toto Gonzalez

  12. Elvira Fullon-Bustalino said,

    October 21, 2010 at 9:03 am

    my father felipe lopez fullon is the son of epifania lopez fullon…epifania lopez fullon according to my father is the first degree cousin of eugenio lopez of abs cbn…..

    pls, relatives of eugenio lopez , we want to know our relatives at my father ‘s relatives , the lopezes as we dont know them.

  13. Jorge Lopez Lontoc said,

    October 21, 2010 at 6:59 am

    Hi,
    just stumbled upon this site. I am the eldest son of Pacita “bebe” Lopez Lontoc, grandson of Benito Hofilena Lopez. I believe Ms. Mary E. Hall wanted to get in touch. Please do email me in my email jllontoc@yahoo.com , it would be a pleasure to touch base with a friend/relative of my late mother. Regards to all the Lopezes.

    Jorge “jojo” Lopez Lontoc

  14. August 26, 2010 at 3:38 am

    according to ms hall benito h. lopez has a daughter pacita lopez then pacita is my sister in law…

  15. August 26, 2010 at 3:33 am

    if benito h. lopez was my father, then my grandfather and grandmother were vicente lopez and elena hofilena… and nelly, lilia, and vicente were my aunts and uncle… if you could help me find their whereabouts… and if i can see my cousins and have a chat with them, then it will make my life happier… i am now 44 years old and have not seen my cousins on my father’s side… hope i can see them… thank you so much for making this website….

  16. August 26, 2010 at 3:12 am

    i want to know the where abouts of benito h. lopez former mayor of baguio city….i really want to know if he has a family left…and i want to see hes children if they are alive……because i am his son……

  17. Mary E Hall said,

    August 23, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Samito Jalbuena wrote that there was info about one of Pacita’s sons.
    Please forward the information on Pacita’s son. I would be interested in trying to make a contact.

  18. Elvira Fullon-Bustalino said,

    June 12, 2010 at 5:11 am

    my father is FELIPE LOPEZ FULLON of jaro iloilo, son of EPIFANIA LOPEZ WHO GOT MARRIED WITH PIO FULLON AND HAS BROTHER name ELEUDORO LOPEZ.According to my father Epifania Lopez was the daughgter of EULOGIO LOPEZ and that Fernando Lopez was my father’s 3rd degree cousin.

    May i know our roots as Lopez.do we belong to your clan?

  19. Camille Lopez said,

    January 9, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I am in contact with Bebe’s kids since they are my cousins. I could ask them for their contacts if you like?

    Camille

  20. Samito J. Jalbuena said,

    November 6, 2009 at 12:28 am

    Will do, Toto! =)

  21. October 22, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Samito:

    Please FWD the contact details of the Lontoc-Lopez sons to augustomrgonzaleziii@yahoo.com .

    Thank you very much.

    Toto Gonzalez

  22. Samito J. Jalbuena said,

    October 22, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Mary Eastman Hall said,

    August 23, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Is there any way to contact any of Pacita’s sons?
    I have such fond memories of Pacita, it would be wonderful to make a contact
    Mary Hall

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    The sons of Pacita still congregate at their house in San Juan, Manila.

    I can give you the second son’s contact details if you give me an email address.

  23. Rene Molino Hofileña said,

    September 14, 2009 at 7:19 am

    Cynthia, if you would like to know more of the Hofilena’s e-mail me @ ilonggo@hotmail.com

  24. Rene Molino Hofileña said,

    September 14, 2009 at 7:17 am

    I’m from Jaro and remember Nelly’s garden in it’s original grandeur. My lolo Atty. Luis G. Hofileña was the one who designed the pool. As he was the nephew of Don Vicente.
    I myself spent my summers at Navalas at Roca Encantada with my grandaunt Pura Jaime y Hofilena who used to be the farm administrator at Navalas.

  25. Almira de la Paz Lopez said,

    August 30, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I want to know about the relatives of my father Benito Beatingo Lopez,from Jaro ilo-ilo city, born on November 18,1935 the son of Sulpicio Lopez and Isabel Beatingo Lopez…
    As a daugther of Benito Beatingo Lopez I don’t have any information about the relatives of him.
    I hope and pray that you could help me to know my family history…

  26. Marietta Ledesma Cuenco-Cuyegkeng said,

    July 29, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I remember it was at the Nelly Gardens where a lovely dinner was prepared by Elen’s staff ( she was abroad ) during the “Museo Iloilo” event… Ino Manalo, Zafito, and I posed for a photo in the beautiful living room because he, Zafito, said we relatives should have a souvenir shot… little did I know that was the last time I would see him.

  27. evangeline benedicto villanueva said,

    June 12, 2009 at 2:27 am

    hey toto,

    we’re from jaro, iloilo — the villanueva clan & the benedicto clan !!!
    nice blog…

    tc
    vangie benedicto villanueva

  28. Cynthia Hofileña Mercado said,

    December 18, 2008 at 2:34 am

    It amazes me to learn and hear things about the Hofileña’s. I was born a Hofileña, but never learned anything about my great grandparents or their relatives. We’re seven chilren of Adelaida Castro Linawagan and Pablo Dumediego Hofileña. All we know was that , our grandfather is Benjamin Hofileña. That’s it. Never did ne know who was my Grandfather’s parents. Neither my father or my grandfather talked or tell something about them. That’s why, as I grew older, I tried to learn mmore about my ancestors (the Hofileñas). Hope you could help me trail the family tree where we belong. It will be a great opputunity knowing my whole existence. Thanks and best regards… Hofileñas!

  29. October 31, 2008 at 6:28 am

    Thank you very much.

    Jake

  30. October 30, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Jake:

    My pleasure!!! However, as usual, it isn’t finished. I have yet to fully describe the house from the entrance to the backstairs.

    Cheers!!!

    Toto Gonzalez

  31. October 30, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    May I quote your blog entry entitled “The Grand Lady of Jaro,” properly authored, on my blog site? Or perhaps post a link on my blogsite?

    I thank you for writing such a beautiful article. My grandfather, Cristobal Puentevella Hofileña, was a writer too and he would have appreciated the posterity value of this article.

  32. Mary Eastman Hall said,

    August 23, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Is there any way to contact any of Pacita’s sons?
    I have such fond memories of Pacita, it would be wonderful to make a contact
    Mary Hall

  33. xxxxxxxxxxxx said,

    July 24, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Pacita “bebe” Lopez – Lontoc has already passed on ms. hall ,,,

  34. Jake Hofilena said,

    July 20, 2008 at 10:33 am

    thanx for the blogpost. 🙂

  35. Mary Eastman Hall said,

    April 22, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Wanting to know the whereabouts of Pacita Lopez, daughter of Benito H. Lopez. My uncle, Harold N. Eastman of Ashtabula, Ohio, USA, was a roommate of Benito at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and toured the US with Benito and Azucena in 1949. Following those years, I corresponded with Pacita. My parents, now deceased, heard from Benito in these later years and I believe that Benito was in California at that time. I still have pictures of our family with Azucena, taken by Benito, when they visited us in 1949. Hope to hear from them. Have wonderful memories of those visits.

    Mary Eastman Hall

  36. April 1, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    FYI: Regina Lopez Araneta-Teodoro is also a Lopez lady who knows their family history very well [ granddaughter of Eusebio Lopez y Villanueva, daughter of Victoria Ledesma Lopez-Araneta ].

    Toto Gonzalez

  37. Regina Lopez Araneta-Teodoro said,

    April 1, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Ha ha ha… What century was this??? In any case, IMHO, totally made up story. NO LOPEZ that I know of dines in formal attire. True, not in “camiseta” either, which in this “day and age” constitutes normal attire for most folks, but not with this “Lopez.”

    But Sandra and Elen may have their own spin.

  38. April 1, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    FYI: Alexandra Laguda Sotto is a Lopez lady who knows their family history very well [ granddaughter of Paz Lopez de Laguda, daughter of Aida Lopez Laguda-Sotto ]. 🙂

    Toto Gonzalez

  39. April 1, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Sandra and LCIN:

    One of the most splendid Ilonggo households in prewar Jaro, Iloilo was that of Emiliano Lizares y Alunan and his wife Concepcion Gamboa y Ledesma. In 1937, the Paris-trained architect Andres Luna San Pedro built them a Mediterranean, Beaux-Arts style mansion to serve as their principal residence [ now the Angelicum School ]. They entertained the French banker Baron Maurice de Rothschild. According to Adrian Lizares, the Lizares-Gamboa lived so elegantly that even the rest of the Lizares-Alunan clan in Negros Occidental took to calling them “de guantes” [ “the gloved ones” ].

    LCIN, could it be that your story happened across the Guimaras strait somewhere in Negros, in one of the fancier Bacolodnon households???

  40. Alexandra Laguda Sotto said,

    April 1, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Never heard! Not even in a non-Lopez home. Visayans are simple – nothing formal.

  41. LCIN said,

    April 1, 2008 at 2:35 am

    A cousin from the south told me this story: a Lopez son / daughter ( or maybe even a grandchild ), who was studying abroad invited an American classmate to spend the spring break at their mansion in Iloilo. The American had to eat dinner with the maids the whole time he was there because he didn’t bring anything formal. Apparently, he was not briefed about the family custom of “formal dining.”

    Have you heard of anything similar to this?

    BTW, your blog has got me hooked! 🙂 I’m familiar with the names but since I didn’t grow up in the Philippines, I always go back to my parents and lolas and aunts for “confirmation.” 😉

  42. tyhyfg said,

    August 14, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    I’ve always wanted to ask, to whom did the infamous Lopez spread in Antipolo devolve to? It’s very space-ship-py. Very sixties.

    And I heard of a gigantic emerald cut suite of diamonds that one of the Lopez girls owned. If I remember correctly, one of my lolas ( tias of my mom ) mentioned they heard Mrs. Marcos inquiring about the suite of diamonds. We presume it was in the possession of Pr*sy Lopez and she took it to Athens because at that time Mrs. Marcos was such a good friend of Pr*sy’s and Pr*sy would call her family’s associates in San Francisco — the shopping mall owners — to help the First Lady and her Rom*aldez sisters when they would arrive there…

  43. XXXXXX said,

    August 13, 2007 at 6:32 am

    Don Benito Lopez was Baguio City Mayor in the 1950s.

    The Social Register ca. 1950s says he is “One of the few Baguio residents who possesses a strong faith in the bright future of this summer resort is Don Benito Lopez. He has selected Baguio as a “rare spot in the world which is good for growing children” and has decided to make this city his permanent residence.”

    On the other hand, his wife Azucena Perfecto de Lopez was described as “charming and one of the newest additions to the Baguio Social Elite”

    The programme and old pictures of a recital held in their house in South Drive, “Villa Azucena” says that Benito Lopez (violin solo) and Azucena P. Lopez (accompanist) gave a rendition of De Beriot’s Aire Varie No. 1 .

    🙂

  44. August 3, 2007 at 4:03 am

    loveofthingspast:

    Thank you!!!

    Toto Gonzalez

  45. loveofthingspast said,

    August 2, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Yes, “Nelly Gardens” really epitomizes a lost, golden era in Iloilo’s history. I went to school with one of the clan members who used to reside there and keep the house in order. Wonder if they’re still there. I love your blog…


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