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A Glimmer of Europe in the Philippines: Andres Luna de San Pedro

By Lisa Ongpin Periquet, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 12, 2022 5:00 am

Some years ago, while on a visit to the municipality of Sariaya in Quezon Province, I came across a house that completely captured my imagination. Set along the main road was an elegant white villa, Art Deco-inspired, replete with vividly detailed arches, balconies, towers and roof spires.

Roaming around the interior space, with its elegantly assigned spaces filled with custom-made Art Deco narra furnishing, the feel was distinctly different from the usual adaptations of the Spanish-era bahay na bato that tend to constitute the representative image of the grand provincial Filipino house. It seemed like a little bit of Europe had landed in Sariaya, a three-hour drive away from metropolitan Manila.

Photo of Andres Luna de San Pedro, aged 33 years, dedicated to the author’s great grandfather Alfonso T. Ongpin in 1921

My curiosity was piqued when I found out the house was built in the 1930s by an architect named Andres Luna de San Pedro. The name was familiar to me, as I had seen it among the papers of my great-grandfather, Alfonso Ongpin, who was an art collector. They exchanged correspondence for many years until the 1930s.

Delving further, Andres, born in 1887 in Paris, was the only surviving child of the marriage of celebrated Filipino painter Juan Luna and his wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera, an ill-fated union between two illustrious families in Philippine revolutionary history.

The spectacular 1926 Yusay-Consing Mansion in Molo, Iloilo, combines neoclassical architectural features such as columns, archways and rounded porticos with the a tiled roof. Now owned by a real estate company, the house, known as the “Molo Mansion,” is open to the public.

 

His early childhood in Paris was indelibly marred by a fatal, violent confrontation during a marital spat in 1892 when his father shot and killed his mother and maternal grandmother in his presence. Young Andres was then only five years of age. Juan Luna was later acquitted in the French courts of what was considered a crime of passion, earning him forever the enmity of his in-laws. Father and son left Paris for other parts of Europe, eventually returning to the Philippines in 1894.

The 1931 Natalio Enriquez mansion in Sariaya, Quezon: This was author Lisa Periquet’s first encounter with the architecture of Andres Luna de San Pedro.

Under the care of his father until Juan’s untimely death in Hong Kong in 1899, Andres at some point adopted the patronymic of his Ilocano paternal grandfather, Joaquin Luna de San Pedro, which had not been used by his father Juan and his siblings. This explains the often-undetected relationship between illustrious father and his accomplished son.

Andres's early schooling was at the Ateneo de Manila in Intramuros. He also studied painting and ceramics in Japan for a short period, then returned to Manila and took a course in architecture at the International Correspondence School, which granted him a diploma in 1911. 

The elegant Alfonso Zobel home on Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard) corner Padre Faura in Ermita, Manila: The architecture is best described as Beaux-Arts eclectic —classical arches and columns, a tiled roof, and distinguished by Art Nouveau features such as the gently curved central portion of the roof beneath which is a concave band with intricate plaster detailing. The owners sold the house after the war. It later housed an embassy, and then a bank’s headquarters. It was demolished in the 1990s to give way to a building.

The following year, in 1912, probably funded by the Pardo de Tavera family, he returned to the Paris of his childhood, where he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts while working in the office of Edmond Paulin, a well-known architect who worked for the French government and was also associated with the Ecole des Beaux Arts.

A rare photo of the interior of the Alfonso Zobel home showing classical columns and the elegant curve of the stairs

The Ecole des Beaux-Arts architectural school in Paris trained its students in the conservative, classical tenets of art and architecture of Ancient Rome and Greece. It attracted students from all over the world and was particularly influential in America, where many of the major public buildings from the late 19th century to the 1930s were constructed in the Beaux-Arts style, among them New York's Grand Central Station, and the Boston Public Library.

The 1929 Ramon Fernandez home was located on Arlegui Street in the San Miguel district of Manila: Later known as the Laperal Mansion after its current owners, President Corazon C. Aquino used it as her official residence during her term from 1986 to 1992, during which time it was also known as the Arlegui Guest House.

Returning to Manila in 1920, Andres was appointed City Architect of Manila from 1920 to 1924, after which he entered private practice. All indications are that he became the architect of choice of the moneyed class in the Philippines. Most of his firm's works were located in the wealthier parts of pre-war Manila, such as Ermita, Santa Cruz, San Miguel and Escolta.

The façade of the fabled Crystal Arcade on Escolta, the ultimate visionary opus of Andres Luna built in the Art Deco Streamline Moderne style. Modern innovations included air-conditioning and continuous reinforced concrete walls: Considered the most modern building in the country when it was built in 1932, it was built at enormous cost due to the problematic construction of its foundation (it was close to the river), the expensive modern materials used, and the elaborate detailing. Badly bombed during the war, and only partially repaired, the Crystal Arcade was eventually demolished in the 1960s to make way for a bank building.

Apart from Manila, Andres Luna de San Pedro's works can be found in small concentrations in a few provincial cities and towns such as Iloilo and Sariaya, where some of the populace became extremely wealthy from the propagation of then high-margin local crops such as sugar and coconut.

Andres Luna de San Pedro's approach to architecture can best be described as eclectic. Much of his work reflected his Beaux-Arts training: a partiality to protruding and receding volumes, towers, a preponderance of balconies, archways and columns, arched doors and windows, and flat roofs or pitched roofs with spires.

Portico of the Legarda Elementary School main building built in 1922, with a Victorian-style turret and French mansard roof structure (partially seen). 

He was partial as well to Revivalist design, often incorporating Gothic or Renaissance elements, as seen in the Legarda Elementary School in Sampaloc built in 1923 in his capacity as City Architect of Manila, and the 1927 Chapel of St. Paul 's College in Herran. He also incorporated Mediterranean elements in his work, with stuccoed facades accented with ornate windows and low pitched tiled roofs. Andres Luna de San Pedro had perfected a form of urban villa that was very appealing to his wealthy clients in Manila, articulating an architecture of affluence hallmarked by a European sensibility.

The Regina Building in Escolta was originally named the Roxas Building when it was built in 1915: In 1926, the De Leon family purchased it, renaming it and adding a fourth floor.

His commercial buildings also expressed in monumental scale his Beaux-Arts-driven design aesthetic, with classical and Art Deco inspirations. Still existing today are three grand examples in the now faded Escolta, which expressed the business community's confidence in the then premier commercial district of pre-war Manila: the Perez-Samanillo (1928), the Regina (1934) and the Prudential Bank (1937) buildings. He was the architect and developer of the famed Crystal Arcade, considered the most modern building in Manila before the war. Built along Streamline Moderne lines, it was badly damaged by bombs during World War 2. 

The original, neo-Gothic architecture of the Chapel of the Crucified Christ of St. Paul University in Malate, Manila: Built in 1927, it was damaged during World War II and rebuilt in 1948. 

By all indications, despite his illustrious career, Andres Luna de San Pedro suffered financial reverses in his later life. After a disagreement with his colleagues in the Philippine Institute of Architects, he left to form his own group in 1951, the League of Philippine Architects. He passed away in 1952, at the age of 65. 

Andres Luna de San Pedro was a child of Europe and Asia: his European-influenced architectural vision, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco-inspired, was accepted by an aspiring and prosperous populace in an Asian city heavily influenced by western colonial culture and rapidly advancing into the modern age. Today, in the rapid, aggressive redefinition of the urban landscape of Manila, Andres Luna de San Pedro’s remaining works afford us a glimpse of an elegant age in Philippine architectural history of the early 20th century that was evocative of Europe yet firmly rooted in its time and place.