Welcome to Hacienda Escudero, a plantation resort town

Welcome to Hacienda Escudero 
By Walter Ang
May 26, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In 1890, Don Placido Escudero and his wife Dona Claudia Marasigan acquired 415 hectares of land in southern Luzon spread across Laguna and Quezon.

Originally planted in sugar cane, production shifted to coconut in the early 1900s under the management of their only son Arsenio Escudero.

Generations later, the family has opened up their land and is converting it into a "plantation resort town" which they call, what else, Hacienda Escudero.

At the launch of the Hacienda, Arsenio's grandson Placido "Don" Escudero Jr. (know to film aficionados as the production designer of "Oro, Plata, Mata," a movie that had scenes shot at the hacienda) recounts how plans for the development of their land actually started years ago.

"My uncle, Don Conrado "Ado" Escudero, took up agriculture in Cornell [University] and came back to the county to set up the plantation," he says. "At the time when coconuts were under attack from foreign lobbyists for having, as we all now know is not true, bad cholesterol, Ado did not find the support he needed from government."

It served as a catalyst for Ado to return to New York to learn about the hospitality industry. "He realized he wanted to be a hotel man," Don says. "He came back and opened up the plantation to the public with Villa Escudero Resort in 1980." This became an inkling of the how the family would eventually use their land for real estate.

"Back then, people wondered why he wanted to do a Filipino-themed resort. But he really wanted to provide a Filipino destination for Filipinos, it was as simple as that," he says. This strong sense of identity runs in the blood and remains the cornerstone of the Escudero's thrust even with their current undertaking.

Hacienda living
"We have very strong feelings about preserving our heritage and we spoke to a lot of different developers until we finally found our partner in Landco Pacific Corporation," he says. "They share our vision. In an industry where the primary selling proposition is to emulate foreign architecture, we want Hacienda Escudero to celebrate and honor all that is distinctively and genuinely Filipino."

"Villa Escudero serves as the jumping off point from which the rest of Hacienda Escudero will take form," he says. The resort has become known to provide Filipinos and foreigners alike with a taste of the idyllic Filipino way of life. No vehicles are allowed past the parking lot and a carabao-drawn carriage brings visitors to the front desk to check into bamboo cottages thatched with anahaw.

With the rivers Bulakin and Labasin as well as Mounts Banahaw, Malarayat, and San Cristobal surrounding the hacienda, a genteel, unhurried atmosphere is what the Escuderos wish to create. Taking the cue, Aldea del Palmeral, the hacienda's first residential development phase will provide pastoral amenities like an orchard, an herb garden and a fishing lake. "We'll have an agri-tainment center which includes an aviary, butterfly farm, botanical garden and demo farms," he says.

To maintain the bucolic charm of the hacidena, its future residents will have to follow certain guidelines when constructing their homes. "We want to evoke a neo-Commonwealth theme for our residential development," he says. "We want to capture the essence of a period of affluence in the country's history."

It was during this time when the country was being primed for independence and sovereignty that the coconut industry boomed and plantation owners constructed homes that reflected their stature. The Escuderos had their own home designed by architect Antonio Toledo. Don takes pride that theirs is "the second of only two houses that Toledo ever designed because he was really more of a public architect, having designed projects like the Agrifina Circle and the City Hall."

Similar to Toledo's design as well as most other plantation houses in nearby San Pablo City in Laguna that were built in the 1930s, "The houses to be built here must have finials or spires on pitched or sloping roofs with generous overhangs. The floor must be raised at least three to four steps from the ground. There should be front porches or verandas leading to a grand entrance," says Don.

Beyond these parameters, future homeowners and their architects are free to interpret the 'Commonwealth look' as they please. "We are not building a theme park!" he laughs. "We expect completely different looks. We envision stylized versions or modern interpretations of ancestral homes. We're going for the charm of a provincial town with the frills of modern living."

But even as he talks of modern conveniences (which will include an 18-hole golf course designed by golfing legend Frankie Minoza, a water park with wakeboarding facilities, and resorts and convention hotels aside from the usual shopping and dining facilities), he points out family and tradition are still the guiding priorities.

"One of the reasons why we've been gradually shifting our resources to developing the land is because we wanted to find a way to provide for all the people who depend on our family for their livelihood. We treat everyone as an extension of our family," he says. With the ongoing development, the Escuderos now employ twice the number of people they had at the height of their coconut production days. "We're proud to keep two or three barangays alive."

One of their personal commitments to preserving the heritage will be the creation of a new "family house" museum. This will be an addition to the family's already existing museum (designed to look like a 16th century Spanish era church) which enjoys a reputation of housing a trove of religious artifacts, silver altars, gilded carrozas, ivory santos, galleon trade era oriental ceramics, costumes, dioramas of Philippine wildlife and ethnography, rare coins, antique furniture and other important pieces from the Spanish era.

"This new museum will contain items that my grandparents collected. They were interested in all sorts of things. My grandmother used to collect insects when she was a teenager so we'll include those. My grandfather, on the other hand, used to drive his truck around buying ornaments and artifacts nobody wanted. People laughed at him, but you'll never find those things anywhere else now," he says.

He points out that the museum will not be a scholarly attempt at cataloging items that would be found in a house at a specific point in time. Instead, "We're recreating a `real' house with things that would have been accumulated by three generations of people living in it," he says. "You'll see a mix of furniture and appliances from the early 1900s to up until before the second world war. You'll have an old player piano right beside a gramophone, things like that. We want to have fun!"

For details on Hacienda Escudero, call 836-5000.

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