In the town of San Nicolas in Ilocos Norte, a structure that easily commands attention is a huge bahay na bato standing grandly west of the plaza. The centuries-old edifice used to be known as the Valdes-Lardizabal heritage house and was believed to have been built in the early 1800s by the gobernadorcillo Antonio Valdes.
The size of the house and its refined interiors are comparable to the typical old residences in Laoag and Vigan. It offers an “unparalleled view of the town from its volada windows on the second floor,” the Ilocos Norte Travel Guidebook (2005 Edition) writes. “The main entrance is marked with massive engaged pilasters surmounted by a low arch which gives it an extra capital, making the arrangement of its cornices more perplexing.”
Thru the years, the condition of the house deteriorated due to poor maintenance. Fixtures and furniture were likewise found in disrepair. Richie Cavinta, senior tourism operations officer of San Nicolas, tells ANCX that when the local government of San Nicolas acquired the property in 2015, it was in a very sorry state.
What the house needed was to be rescued. The cultural revival program spearheaded by the administration of Mayor Alfredo Valdez, Jr. took on the role of bringing the house back to life, to its old glory. For the restoration, which was guided by the principles of adaptive reuse, the LGU collaborated with the San Nicolas Express Bin- I Foundation, Inc., a San Nicolas-based group that promotes education, culture, and arts, and the renowned Ilocano neurologist and art patron Joven R. Cuanang, the man behind Pinto Art Museum.
In December of 2015, the National Museum declared the Valdes-Lardizabal house an Important Cultural Property. Four years later, a municipal ordinance renamed it Balay San Nicolas. With its restored state, the house is now ready to take on a new life as a living museum or gallery. Cavinta says the first floor spaces will be used as restaurant, souvenir shop, and office, with the patio serving as outdoor event place.
On December 28, 2021, a landmark event was held formally inaugurating Balay San Nicolas, as part of municipality’s 2021 Damili Festival. Two cultural markers were unveiled—Balay San Nicolas Marker and National Museum Marker.
A fashion show was also staged at the balay’s patio, presenting the inabel collections of Ilocano designers Niña Corpuz, Edgar Madamba and Vic Barba.
In a Facebook post, Dr. Cuanang says the venue will showcase the valued traditions of the industrious Ilocanos, its food, inabel, pottery, baskets, furniture and many more. He adds that Balay San Nicolas stands as a testament to a commitment for cultural preservation by Mayor Valdez and the Bin-iFoundation. “It is a showcase of the Ilocano aesthetic of elegant simplicity,” says the cultural advocate.
Photographs by Pop Manuel