We searched for the house that we usually see on the internet, but couldn’t locate it. We asked random folks we met on the streets of Silay City where to find the most visited ancestral house in the city. After making some left and right turns, I got a glimpse of the familiar structure a few blocks away, Balay Negrense.
I didn’t imagine myself admiring it that much which led to a minute of jaw-dropping stare from the gate. I’m not fond of visiting ancestral houses but Balay Negrense has this sight that really captivated me. It’s unexplainable. The house was built in 1898 by Don Victor Leopold Gaston Y Fernandez, a sugar baron married to Filomena Makiling.
After settling the Php 50 entrance fee, a large receiving hall having old-fashioned furniture greeted us. Despite its spaciousness, I found out that it wasn’t actually the living room and just a vestibule for guests. The lower ground of the house is made of stone, a typical element of houses being built in the past. The in-house guide who accommodated us shared that the lower ground then has six rooms. This is a proof of the “large family” concept of the Filipinos.
Interesting things to check out on the lower ground of the house are the 185-year Chickering Boston piano. You could also check the list of all descendants of the Gaston Y Fernandez family. From the “circle of descendants,” I found out that Jaime Fabregas is also a successor of the family.
Going to the second floor is the stairway having a “diskanso” or resting place that separates it in two which were used by boys and girls in the house, separately. A large portrait of Don Victor Gaston Fernandez overlooks every visitor ascending the stairs. The living room or sala is located on the second floor with more great fixtures.
In addition to the six bedrooms on the lower ground, the upper floor has another six rooms. These served as rooms for their visiting relatives and friends. Vast windows are obvious in all sides of the house making the air flow freely giving better ventilation inside.
The house is facing Cinco de Noviembre which was once the main street of Silay. In the past, a parade was being held every Friday in Cinco de Noviembre making the second floor of the house a great venue for the family to gather and view the festivities.
Other parts of the house located on the second floor include the pantaw, platera and cusina. Since servants were not allowed to use the main entrance and stairs, another stairs from the lower ground led to the pantaw. Servants used the stairs to access the living room and other work areas in the house. The longer table in the dining room was for family’s use only and the shorter ones for their guests.
For us to imagine Don Gaston’s wealth, the guide shared to us that the baron goes to the U.S. every month just to buy ice. Yes, it wasn’t a joke. Also, the family owned a 1920 motorbike, the first to run in Negros Occidental. He also said that there was a way of checking if you’re welcome in the house. It is to taste the chocolate drink served to you. If you are welcome, the chocolate is pure, and thaw if you’re not.
Spending an hour in Balay Negrense really introduced me to the refined lifestyle and impressive culture of the Negrenses in general. As what have stated in one of the information guides available, “Balay Negrense does speak to Silaynons about what they were, what they are, and what they can be.”