Statue that survived 1917 Great Escolta Fire up for auction 2
A Caryatid (From the Edificio Tuason on the Escolta, originally the Edificio Barretto de Ycaza, 1870). Image from Leon Gallery

This statue survived the Great Escolta Fire of 1917, now its coming up for auction

Designed by the country’s first architect, it has been in the custody of the affluent Tuason family for more than a century
Augusto Marcelino Reyes Gonzalez III | Feb 27 2022

One of the most iconic symbols of turn-of-the century Escolta was the row of caryatids—elegant columns in the shape of Greek goddesses—that graced the facade of the Edificio Tuason, or Tuason Building.

Designed by the Philippines’ very first architect Felix Arroyo Roxas and inspired by the ‘porch of maidens’ of the Acropolis, it was a stunning sight to behold. There were about a dozen of these beauties installed overlooking the historic avenue. The Escolta itself has a remarkable history, taking its name from the liveried ‘escolta’ or escorts that would accompany the Spanish governor-general.

A fire, however, would raze the Tuason building in the early 1900s and only a few of these exquisite carvings are known to have survived. One of the last to exist is from the personal collection of Doña Nene Tuason Quimson. It is one of the extraordinary artworks from her holdings and is a highlight of the León Gallery Asian Cultural Council Auction 2022 happening Saturday, March 5, starting at 2 pm.

Detail of the Caryatids that graced the third floor of the Edificio Tuason. Beside them the are the male equivalents, or ’Atlantes’. Photo from Scott Slaten, Manila Nostalgia

Caryatids, by definition, are female figures which function as columns that support entablatures in classical Greek architecture. The beautiful, detailed female figure from the collection of Doña Nene Quimson is wearing a “peplos,” a Doric belted tunic and, unlike the six caryatids at the Erechtheion in Athens, Greece, has well–articulated hands and feet. Rendered in molave hardwood, it is one of several caryatids and atlantes which once supported the uppermost entablature of the three–storey Edificio Tuason (originally Edificio Barretto de Ycaza) on #09 Escolta. 

These caryatids were most probably created by professional sculptors and not by carpenters. Since the architect Felix Roxas y Arroyo practiced frequent collaborations with artists in his projects, those fine architectural figures must have been the work of a talented sculptor/sculptors affiliated with the “Gremio de Escultores” (Guild of Sculptors), which at that time included Romualdo de Jesus, Isabelo Lacandola Tampinco, Felino Abdon, Bonifacio Arevalo,  Ciriaco Arevalo, Anselmo Espiritu,  Manuel Flores, Vicente Francisco, Jose Guzman, Crispulo Hocson, Ramon Martinez, Graciano Nepomuceno, Marcelino Nepomuceno,  et al.

The Edificio Barretto de Ycaza (Barretto de Ycaza building) on 9 Escolta was sold by Enrique Ma Barretto de Ycaza y Esteban to Demetrio Tuason y de la Paz in the 1890s. It was designed and built by Roxas y Arroyo in 1870 and renamed Edificio Tuason. The magnificent three–storey building was a casualty of the Great Escolta Fire of December 31, 1917 but somehow, a few of the hardwood Atlantes and Caryatids survived practically unscathed and were taken home by the Tuasons as souvenirs of the burnt building.

Enrique Ma Barretto de Ycaza y Esteban descended from an extremely affluent Indo–Portuguese business dynasty and was known to the Spanish authorities in Manila as “El Principe Negro” because of his immense wealth and great style. He lived like a European prince with pomp and ceremony in his palatial homes. His main life achievement was the establishment of “La Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel” which he built along with his partner Pedro Pablo Roxas on September 29, 1890, feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel. 

Unfortunately, Barretto the bon vivant was an inveterate gambler with several other vices to boot. There was a pressing financial reason for the sale of the Edificio Barretto de Ycaza on the Escolta to Demetrio Tuason, and Enrique gradually lost the immense Barretto de Ycaza family fortune he had inherited.  

Demetrio Tuason y de la Paz, the buyer of the building, was an important businessman of his time. He was a respected figure and his business circle included the great Spanish mestizo and Chinese mestizo entrepreneurs of Manila at the turn of the century—his uncle Gonzalo Tuason y Patino, Pedro Pablo Roxas y de Castro, Jacobo Zobel y Zangroniz,  Mauro Prieto y Gorricho, Ariston Bautista y Lintingco, Maximino Paterno Molo de San Agustin, Vicente Ruperto Sy–Quia y Romero, Mariano Velasco Chuachengco, Telesforo Antonio Chuidian y Chuaquico, Mariano Limjap y Barrera, Enrique Yuchengco, Guillermo Cu–Unjieng, et al.

A Caryatid (From the Edificio Tuason on the Escolta, originally the Edificio Barretto de Ycaza, 1870). Philippine hardwood (molave), the figure itself is 1.8288 meters tall/6’0” feet very heavy (requires 10 men to lift and transfer) 94" x 24" x 14" (239 cm x 61 cm x 36 cm)

As a son of an extremely affluent father (Jose Severo Tuason y Patino, fourth Lord of the Tuason “mayorazgo”) and an enterprising mother (the Marikina native Teresa de la Paz y de los Santos), Demetrio (“Queso”) inherited vast agricultural lands in Diliman (Quezon City), Marikina, and Santa Mesa and many commercial and residential real estate properties in Binondo, Tondo, Santa Cruz, Escolta, and Quiapo. An excellent businessman ahead of his time, Demetrio took the profits from those lands and invested them in new businesses and corporations. Because of this, he managed to enlarge his Tuason inheritance, and his recipe for success became a business model his children emulated.

The edificio’s architect Felix Roxas y Arroyo was a son of the Spanish and Chinese mestizos Antonio Roxas y de Ureta and Lucina Arroyo of Binondo (his father was a brother of Domingo Roxas y de Ureta, ancestor of the Roxas–de Ayala–Zobel–Soriano clan). At a time when it was not yet easy and fashionable for rich young men to study in European universities (before 1869 and the opening of the Suez Canal), Roxas bravely went to the United Kingdom and studied architecture. He studied the great buildings of London—Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, (newly–constructed) The Houses of Parliament /Westminster Palace—and, through well–connected British friends, visited the great English city and country houses, among them the Chiswick House, the Devonshire House, the Spencer House, and the Apsley House in London. He traveled all over the United Kingdom and all over the Continent, studying the great public buildings, palaces, and houses, making sketches and accurate plans which served him in good stead once back in Las Islas Filipinas. He worked for a few years as an architect in the United Kingdom and in India. 

Back in Manila in 1858, and already famous as an “arquitecto” who had studied and worked in Europe, not to mention armed with impressive social connections by virtue of his Roxas family, he designed and built government buildings, churches and convents, and private residences in the span of a long career. He was appointed by the Spanish government as Municipal Architect of Manila from 1877–80. 

Apart from the Spanish friars and government officials who were the builders before him, Roxas was the first Filipino architect to introduce a variety of European architectural styles and, more importantly, scientific, precise scale and proportions, to Filipino buildings. It would be a full 30 years after his return before the colonial government would establish the “Escuela Practica y Professional de Artes Oficios de Manila” in 1890 which was a school for the training of “maestros de obras” or builders, not architects.

A Caryatid
Details of the Caryatid

Felix Roxas Sr set the professional stage for his Roxas nephews who were sent to Europe for tertiary studies and became “ilustrado” lawyers, doctors, architects, and engineers from the 1870s onwards.

Roxas Sr designed and built several buildings, churches, and residences in Manila and its environs but extensive documentation, including his personal archive, were all destroyed in February 1945 during World War II. He was known to have rebuilt the Ayuntamiento de Manila after the 1863 earthquake. He was also known to have rebuilt the Santo Domingo church in Intramuros in the Neo–Gothic style after the same earthquake. He also built the San Ignacio church in Intramuros, although he did not live to see its completion in 1899. 

The San Ignacio church in Intramuros, during its existence (1899 – 1945), was the most elegant church of its time, as well as the most fashionable. It was not a very large church but its Neoclassical architecture by Felix Roxas and supremely elegant carved Neo–Renaissance decorations of native hardwoods by Isabelo Tampinco and Agustin Saez were wonders to behold and equal to the most beautiful churches in Rome, Paris, London, and Madrid. As it was the Jesuit church with a mostly American clergy, and as the Ateneo Municipal was the school of choice for the sons of rich Filipinos, its Sunday congregation was the most select in the city.  

The families of leading Spanish mestizo and Chinese mestizo industrialists, the rich families of Taft Avenue, Vito Cruz, Malate, Dewey Boulevard, Ermita, San Miguel de Tanduay, R Hidalgo Street, Pampanga, Iloilo, and Negros sugar barons, all came to attend Sunday holy mass at the Iglesia de San Ignacio not only to fulfill their Sunday obligations but also to see and be seen by their social peers. On Sunday mornings, Arzobispo Street and adjoining streets in Intramuros were crammed with the big American and European cars of San Ignacio’s fashionable churchgoers.

Among Felix Roxas’ prestigious residential projects are the houses of his Roxas first cousins Pedro Pablo Roxas and Carmen de Ayala and of Jacobo Zobel and Trinidad de Ayala on Calle General Solano in San Miguel. In the early 1900s, the American Thomasite teacher Maria Morilla Norton visited the Pedro Pablo Roxas–Carmen de Ayala residence on Calle General Solano and the Rafael Enriquez residence along Calle San Sebastian and waxed rhapsodic about their splendid architecture and refined interior decoration in her monograph “Studies in Philippine Architecture.”  

The Roxas—de Ayala residence was distinguished by a pair of inwardly curving stone stairs at its semicircular façade. The large home with its manicured gardens was reminiscent of a French country villa during the Second Empire of Napoleon III (1852–70). It was consistently described by several accounts as “a very elegant home.” Given the cosmopolitan sensibilities of the extremely affluent Roxas and de Ayala families, the house with its enfilade of salons was most probably furnished in the Spanish taste, as well as the French. It even had a private chapel which was used for the wedding of their daughter Margarita Roxas y de Ayala to the Spanish engineer Eduardo Soriano y Sanz in the 1890s.    

Norton described the Rafael Enriquez residence as stately with its many Classical Greek Ionic columns of 8 diameters high in its various halls.  

The Enriquez residence was originally distinguished by a deep balcony that spanned the length of its façade, in a style best described as “Island Spanish Colonial.” 

One could only imagine how pleasant it was to sit in that balcony and enjoy the breeze and the passing sights on the street below. However, by the early 1900s, that balcony had been walled over;  probably a concession to the need for more interior space. Sadly, the distinct open character of the house had been irretrievably altered.    

Norton declared that the Pedro Pablo Roxas-Carmen de Ayala and Rafael Enriquez residences were the most elegant she had seen in the country.

[To view the statue, come to the ongoing preview week of the Asian Cultural Council Auction 2022 at the G/F Eurovilla I, Legazpi Street corner V.A. Rufino Street, Legazpi Village, Makati. For more information on the auction, visit the Leon Gallery website. The ACC Auction 2022 is co-presented by Leon Gallery and ANCX.] 

Images from Leon Gallery​