From Past To Present: These Heritage Houses in Iloilo City are Modern Marvels

Cris Antonio |

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Iloilo City’s heritage houses are proof of its affluent past. The prosperous economy helped raise its status to Royal City during the late 19th century. This led to the construction of schools, churches, banks, commercial establishments - and of course, the gorgeous ancestral homes we are familiar with today.

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You may have passed by a couple of them on your way to school or work. These stately, decorated dwellings were built by some of the city’s most distinguished names. Back then, they welcomed dignitaries and witnessed regal parties. Now, they are home to modern businesses that pay tribute to their splendid past.

Want to rediscover Iloilo? Let’s begin with these modern heritage houses!

Balay Sueño: Restoring a Dream through a Modern Vision

From Jaro Plaza, passing the old Jaro Municipal Hall is a two-story ancestral house built around the 1940s by haciendero Don Modesto Ledesma. Lovingly referred to as Papa Kú by his family members, he was the father of Demetrio Ledesma, who served as Jaro’s mayor from 1920 to 1931.

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It’s difficult to imagine that there was a time when this beautiful abode once stood unused. But it did. That was until former Iloilo City Mayor Jose Espinosa III acquired it in 2018. The Espinosas, with their natural love for history, decided to restore the property to its glory. Christened as ‘Balay Sueño’ (meaning to dream), Regine Sarabia Espinosa hopes this will be a home for artisans and creatives just like her:

“…It’s one way to not only keep the memories of the house alive but also to share it with the rest of the community for generations to come.”

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You’ll be happy to know that the authentic design of the house, including ventanillas, stilts, wooden floors, and colors were preserved during the restoration. Many of the furniture and art pieces were brought in by Regine’s mother, Gina Sarabia Espinosa. The result is an airy, fresh space that still feels like a trip back in time. A portion of Balay Sueño is dedicated to Regine’s cookie business, Sunday Bake Night.

“I started the cookie business as a hobby. There are so many people who helped me power through this venture, especially during the pandemic… My parents, my sisters, my friends, my team (who helps me run the cafe), and my customers. I always say that I have the best customers ever. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

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Regine’s recipe for success is simple. She suggests having a business plan, creating things you enjoy, and asking for help when you need it.

“As an entrepreneur, you have to choose a business that you won’t get tired of. I liked seeing people happy, so I just kept showing up. I kept on creating; making things that I enjoy. It’s great that people enjoyed it, too!”

What excited Regine about her chosen trade is Iloilo’s expanding market, as well as the Ilonggos’ love of new things.

“I love that the local food industry is growing and that there’s always something new… the best marketing strategy is not a secret: just make a good product.”

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Visitors can enjoy cookies and coffee at the sala, patio, or the back terrace of Balay Sueño. The second floor can be booked for private affairs.

“…This business has opened up new dreams for me. It’s an avenue where there are so many possibilities for collaborations and expansion. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Got a sweet tooth? Check out their Facebook page @sundaybakenightph for cookies, stories, and more.

Balay Sueño, 2 Washington Street, Jaro, Iloilo City

Open: Monday – Sunday; from 11AM to 5PM

(Photos courtesy of A Not So Secret Life Iloilo and

Molo Mansion: Preserving a Love for Culture and the Arts

Located at Locsin Street, just across Molo Plaza, Molo Mansion is an imposing sight with its American Colonial architecture and understated Art Deco features. Walking toward its semi-circular portico is enough to transport you to its old-world charms.

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Formerly known as Yusay-Consing Mansion, the ancestral house was built in 1926 and owned by Don Estanislao Yusay and his wife, Doña Petra Lacson. It was later handed down to one of their children, Rosario, and her husband, Timoteo Consing Sr.. In 2014, the Consing family sold the property to SM Prime Holdings Inc.. After a year, it opened to the public as a place for tourism and worthwhile events.

“Ms. Teresita Tan Sy-Coson is the greatest key to how the Molo Mansion was restored…it’s a symbol of her love for culture and arts, as well as a reflection of SM Prime Holding Inc.’s responsibility to the preservation of local culture and tradition.”

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There’s a nice variety of small businesses offering food and drinks on the expansive lawn. Inside, you’ll find décor, souvenir items, accessories, and beautiful filipiniana dresses sold by Kultura, SM’s cultural retail store.

“…Customers love to dine at our food establishments because of the scenic Molo Mansion. They can take pictures and appreciate local tastes.”

With a balanced approach to business, the current management at Molo Mansion ensures smooth operations by immediately responding to customer concerns and engaging the online community using fun, exciting social media posts. Thanks to their efforts, one of Iloilo’s gems can finally glitter once more.

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“We were able to maintain the architectural structure of Molo Mansion despite the enhancements. In a modernized world, we want to instill the classic features of the place so that people will be able to capture a glimpse of the past and the rich life of a prominent Ilonggo back then.”

Love local arts and crafts? Head on over to their Facebook page @themolomansion to stay updated.

Molo Mansion, Locsin St., Plaza Molo, Iloilo City

Open: Monday – Sunday; from 10AM to 8PM

Panay doesn’t have a shortage when it comes to heritage houses and establishments. From Balay Sueño to the Molo Mansion, these are just a couple of what Iloilo has to offer. Make sure to cross these off your bucket list!

Come visit them and fall in love with the city all over again.


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Author Portrait

Cris Antonio

Cris Antonio is a freelance Copywriter, Editor, and Speaker. If she’s not writing or editing, she helps business owners and young adults build their presence on the Web.