Finding Heritage in a Box

4:07 am PHT

Yesterday, I found myself in heart of Quiapo.

I’m the type of person who would not normally go to the more chaotic parts of the Metro, prefering to stay in the more orderly areas like the Makati CBD and Bonifacio Global City. And I really do not like unplanned events and spur-of-the-moment decisions. So it was quite a surprise for me that I let myself get tagged along with Joel Aldor and Manolo Noche to the unveiling of the Boix House in Quiapo. ("Boix” is pronounced “bosh”—don’t ask me why. It’s supposedly a Catalan surname.) It was a decision that I did not regret.

Boix House is a heritage building located along A. Bautista Street surprisingly one block away from Quiapo Church and right beside the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, which was unfortunately closed that day. Boix House was built in 1895 and I’m actually amazed that it survived World War II and avoided getting burned down because the whole most of the structure was made of wood. One really interesting trivia that I learned was that Manuel L. Quezon used to board there during his days as a law student at the UST. Due to that bit of history, the place was renamed as the MLQ Dormitory in his honor (at least during the 50s).

The event yesterday wasn’t actually a real opening of the heritage house for tourism. The structure is still in dire need of restoration and the tenants occupying the ground floor still need to vacate the building. A group of young heritage volunteers just cleaned up the some areas on the second floor for the event with some sections still closed off for safety purposes.

Nevertheless, I saw the potential of the place. When fully restored, I think it would be a beautiful showcase of the turn-of-the-century Filipino architecture. The building has a nice central courtyard (not so nice now because the said tenants added an iron roof to cover it to provide additional living space) and I was told that there used to be a fountain there. The main staircase from the ground floor was quite unremarkable as it currently stands but I suspected that walls were added around it on the second floor so that additional boarding rooms could be built. If the walls could be taken down and the balustrade restored, the staircase would become a more welcoming entryway to the living room.

More than the house, remarkable as it is, I was also pretty amazed by the number of people who attended the event. Despite the heat, people of all ages visited the unveiling, including hotshot tour guide Carlos Celdran himself. The event had a simple photo exhibit containing pictures of the volunteers cleaning up the place. There was a message wall made up of manila paper where visitors can write words of encouragement and other walls had simple illustrations of other heritage structures in Manila. (Well, I was told that the walls were plastered with manila paper to cover the numerous graffiti left by boarding students. Hehehe.) There was even a modest “cocktail” snacks consisting of pancit bihon, puto, and kakanin as well as simple musical performances. The event is definitely not your formal affair but I feel that its significance is no less important than posh arts and culture openings located in galleries and museums.

It was actually quite inspiring to see all of these people congregate in a really modest place. Much like the feeling I get in Wikimania when I see people from all over the world be really passionate about Wikipedia, the enthusiasm people expressed for the potential of Boix House left me with a good feeling inside.

Would I become an ardent heritage advocate like all of those people? I would have to say no. But that is simply because I am already very passionate about Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, and free and open culture in general. Much as I would like to help out on all things that would make the world a better place, I simply do not have the time to fully embrace other worthy causes.

That said, my experience in Boix House seeing all of those people excited about heritage did leave me with a desire to help in any way I can. After all, what’s the use of free and open culture, if part of the culture that we are freeing is lost?

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