The oldest dated house in the Philippines was hidden in plain sight inside a warehouse in Cebu’s Parian district for many years.
Jaime Sy, who owns the house and Ho Tong Hardware within the compound, stumbled upon its significance quite by accident. At the Ateneo, when he was in college, Sy was flipping through a book of old Jesuit houses in the Philippines by Fr. Repetti when he made out a structure that looked familiar. It turned out to be the family bodega in Cebu.
Sy’s father bought it from the Alvarez family who had it since the late 19th century. Don Jose Alvarez, the family patriarch, at one time leased the house to Cebu Governor Sergio Osmeña who used it as a meeting place for Cebu’s elite. Sy’s father used it as a warehouse, because it already came with a roof and a stone wall.
This two-storey house of cut coral stone walls, tugas hardwoood floors and posts and terracotta roof was once called the “Jesuit House” as it was where the former Jesuit superior of Cebu lived. Historians say the Jesuits were indeed in possession of the house until 1768 when they were expelled from the Philippines following their suppression in Europe.
A relief plaque bearing the date “Año 1730” can be found on the inside wall above the main house’s entrance door.
The original entrance to the property is through a narrow road called Binakayan near Colon but it has been closed off to protect the monograms of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on the gate’s lintel, which is now appropriated as the symbol of the house. Ask an insider about the macabre story of a cross that is carved directly into the coral stone wall, it is quite a tale.
Architect Anthony Abelgas, who oversaw the restoration of the house points out why the story of this house is different: “This is a family-operated museum. It is different from others because we don’t have strict rules. Anyone can see what’s inside this house.”