The Nelly Gardens: Iloilo’s QUEEN of Heritage Houses
Undoubtedly Iloilo’s Queen of Heritage Houses, the Nelly Garden gained an iconic status representing the old grandeur of the city. Within its elegant halls, important personalities dined on sumptuous feasts and danced in grand balls. Its imposing architectural design has inspired the imagination of many Ilonggos and visitors alike for generations. A walk through its halls and gardens, and you’d certainly feel the luxury, the class and the pedigrees that were once present in this imposing Ilonggo mansion.
Built in 1928, the Beaux Art mansion was the conception of the Ilonggo philanthropist and statesman Don Vicente Lopez and his wife Doña Elena Hofileña. Before the construction of the stately mansion, the couple used to live near the Jaro Cathedral. Numerous religious activities, often requiring the use of small cannons resulting in constant noise, led to the couple’s decision to transfer to a much quieter location. The new home of the Lopezes is situated in a four-hectare property, a kilometer from Jaro’s center. It was spacious enough for Doña Elena to indulge her passion for flowers and gardening. The mansion was named after Don Vicente’s eldest daughter, Nelly.
The rooms of the house speak of “elegance, refinement, and the lifestyle of the Ilonggo aristocracy”. The dining room, sala and other venues for entertainment are all found at the ground floor, while the private rooms and the family sala are on the second level. Connecting the two floors is a spectacular winding stairway of rare tindalo wood.
The sala, in all its grandeur, speaks of Don Vicente’s love for people – the exchange of ideas and conversation. In this hall, ambassadors, politicians, the royalty, the elite and the beautiful waltzed, danced and dined. Important guests of the house include American Governor Generals from Frank Murphy to Teddy Roosevelt Jr., Prince Chupra of Thailand, and many Philippine presidents including Corazon Aquino, who happened to sleep at a room where Imelda Marcos also stayed.
The dining room is equally lavished with its centerpiece of a hexagonal table which can sit up to twenty-four guests. The room’s ceiling is almost fifteen feet high from which hangs the huge crystal chandelier immediately commanding everyone’s attention. The room is colorfully lit in during the day as the light strikes the colored glass panels.
In World War II, this iconic mansion was almost totally lost forever during the chaos and anarchy that occurred once the Japanese invaders landed. A platoon of Filipino guerillas came to the doorstep upon the orders of an Ilonggo general to burn Nelly Gardens to the ground. This is part of the “Scorched Earth” policy adopted by the guerillas to prevent the invaders from occupying the city.
The current occupants of the house at that time, Lilia Lopez Jison and her husband Frank Jison, begged the Filipino soldiers not to torch and loot the house. As when the kerosene was about to be poured, the invaders came and a gunfight ensued. Luckily the house survived the war.
Today, Nelly Garden is a venue for inspirations and dreams. The lovingly preserved-heritage mansion is now open for the general public for tours and events. For ordinary Ilonggos, Nelly Garden is now a historical and cultural landmark which embodies the vibrant culture of Iloilo in the past and into the future.
NELLY GARDEN INFORMATION
Location: Eugenio Lopez Street, Barangay Our Lady of Fatima, Jaro, Iloilo City
Mansion Tour Fee: P200/pax; minimum of 5 pax (parties less than 5 people may opt to pay the full amount of P1000 instead); inclusive of tour guide. All tours must be booked at least 3 days in advance to confirm availability.
Call (63-33) 320-3075or e-mail at nelly.garden@ yahoo.com for further inquiries.
Three Generations of Lopezes. Portraits of three generations of the Lopez Family by Fernando Amorsolo.
1. Don Vicente Lopez 2. Doña Elena Hofileña de Lopez 3. Don Francisco Jison 4. Doña Lilia Lopez y Hofileña de Jison 5. Elen Jison-Golez 6. Francisco Jison Jr. 7. Lourdes Jison-LedesmaTags: Heritage Houses, Iloilo City, nelly garden