Shortly after Spanish-American War and the Philippines had been ceded Spain to the United States, Victor decided to build another house right in the town of Silay (the exact date when this house was actually constructed has yet to be determined). This is the very same house on5 de Noviembre Street that is now one of Silay City’s characteristic examples of turn-of-the-century architecture. It was a reflection of the exigencies of the times that a house in a town became necessary. The children had to be sent off to school. Prospects for other business ventures were opening up. One such venture was a brick factory which Victor built in the Mahmbulac area just behind the house on 5 de Noviembre Street
The house is of the type called Balay na Bato, literally “house of stone”, however, reflecting American colonial influences, the lower storey is not constructed of stone but of concrete. The foundation posts are made out of trunks of the balayong tree, a local hardwood; the floorboards are of the same material. The house’s upper storey is constructed of wood topped with a roof of galvanized iron instead of tile (reflecting the late-19th century trend started in Manila owing to an rule discouraging the use of tiles in favor of then-novel hiero as roofing material in the aftermath of the 1880 Luzon earthquakes).
The marker of Balay Negrense.
The house has a four-metre high ceiling and large windows with ventanillas, smaller windows beneath the large windows with sliding panels that can be opened to admit the wind. The lower storey itself is elevated from ground level by a metre-high crawlspace, allowing the wooden foundations to be aired, preventing dampness from rotting the wood.
Victor Leopard Gaston was the second child of Yves Leopold Germain Gaston of Lisieux, France, and Prudencia Fernandez of Balayan, Batangas, Philippines. He was born on November 23, 1850, in the town of Silay, Negros Occidental.
Victor’s early life
When he was twelve years old, his father died on May 1863. Within a year after, his education, along with that of his older sister, Maria felicia, and his younger brother Fernando, was entrusted into the care of a Spanish European by the name of Don Soterro Nessi. Others may say that Nessi tortured them in order for them to learn the kind of lesson. Until then, it might be assumed that his credentials were worthy enough to have been approved by the French consul in Manila. Yves Leopard Germain Gaston had expressly specified in his last will and testament that the French Consul be consulted that no expense be spared in providing for the education of his children.
Another piece of information about his childhood has been provided by his eldest living grandchild, Teresa Gaston Dacudao. She recalls that her Lolo Victor used to talk about a trip his father and he made with his father to France when he was seven years old. He remembered how happy both his father and his family were to see each other again, how happy his father’s family to know the young Victor. They did not stay long, he recalled, before returning once more to the Philippines.
Besides this rather sketchy information about Victor’s early life, one should not neglect to mention the continued presence and therefore maternal influence of Prudencia Fernandez on Victor’s formative years. Prudencia Fernandez lived until 1875, the very same year that Victor turned 25. Coincidentally, it was also at this age that Victor assumed his full inheritance and its corresponding duties.
Records indicate that Victor probably shared the administrative responsibilities of his father’s estate with his brother-in-law, Manuel Suarez (who married his, Maria Felicia, in 1864), and then with Fernando when this also turned 25. No records have yet been found that indicate how the three heirs finally arranged to divide their inheritance and their responsibilities. It is clear, however, from an Estadistica report, that by 1897, Victor was in complete charge of the property known as Buenretito while Fernando was listed as owner of the property referred to as Binunga.
Victor was married to Filomena Maquiling in 1885 with whom he had the following children: Cenon, Emilio, Felix, Demetrio, Consolacion. Jose, German, Asuncion, Antonio, Victor, Rosario, Conception. Hardly anthyning is known about Filomena Maquiling except that she was a native Guinhalaran, Silay. Again, this is one of the area of future research for there must be living person perhaps who might provide information about her. Filomena Maquiling Gaston died in 19898 leaving her husband a widower at 48 years of age.
After his mother’s death in 1875, Victor continued to live in the same house that Yves Leopold Germain Gaston Built in Buenretiro. It was however, moved from its original site to the present area where its ruin may still be views. All of Victor’s children may be presumed to have been born in that house.
In 1898, the year his wife, Filomena, died, Victor beckoned to his second son, Emilio, to come back to Negros from his studies in Manila and take over the supervision of Buenretiro. Emilio had just graduated from Ateneo de Manila and he had planned to stay on to take up studies to become a doctor. Dutifully, however, Emilio did as his father Victor asked him.
Victor and his children divided their times between the two residencies as circumstances dictated. It was not until after World War II that Victor’s heirs were permanently deprived of their country home in Buenretiro. Used as officers’ Headquarter by the Japanese assigned to the area shortly after their occupation of the Philippines, it was burned to the ground in angry retaliation to the Japanese by the underground Filipino guerrilleros just before 1945.
Victor did not live to see the destruction of his parent’s and his childhood home. He died on Octorber 19, 1927, in St. Paul’s Hospital in Iloilo City but was buried in Silay. Besides official documents relating to the deposition of his last will and testament and other pertinent data referring to his death, there are no other records, newspaper clippings, or personal correspondence that might tell us more about the latter part of his life.
We do, however, have the recollecting of his new remaining grandchildren. The referred interview with Teresa Gaston Dacudao brings out pivture of Victor on his later years as that of a serenity fulfilled man, thouroughly, enjoying his role as grandfather, content to leave the workings of his sugar land holdings to the next generation, and yet being fortunate enough to keep himself busy with the new project of running a brick factory. Following is a description of a normal say in the later life of Victor as related by his granddaughter.
He would start each day going to Church. He did not go merely to hear mass but to pray his devotions and novena after the mass. So much so that he would not be back at his house until around ten. The rest of the morning was then devoted to reading the newspaper and doing paperwork at his office located in the first floor of his house.
After lunch, he took the traditional siesta. Then at around four, he would set our toward his fruits orchard at the side of his house and go to the brick factory. If any of his grandchildren were at his house, as Teresa often was, they would go with him on these walks. Teresa remembers vividly the Igloo-shaped ovens were the bricks were baked, remembers the men with the long “palas” taking out the baked brick and setting them out to cool.¨
These remembrances along with those of his other grandchild, Antonio, finally evoke the following image of his personality: he was a quiet one though given to occasional outbursts of temper. He was also a very conservative person for he was never one to decide on an important issue without thinking long and hard about it, sometimes too long. According to his grandson, Antonio, had it been left completely up to him, his son Jose, would never have gone to the United States to study in 1906. It was his older son, Emilio, who made him see the importance of sending one of his sons to the United States. The Philippines was now a U.S. colony; English had to be learned; and above all, scientific and technical advances in the field of agriculture were being developed and taught in many American Universities.
So the decision to send Jose to the United States was finally and painfully made. And yet Victor had one lingering concern, a concern related to many times by his own son, Jose: “Will Osing (as Jose was called by his family) be able to find enough rice to eat in the U.S? Despite the assurances that Osing would indeed find rice in America, Victor Gaston wanted to make sure, on the eve of his son’s departure, as Osing was locking his leather trunk, the quietly concerned but determined presence of Victor Leopold Gaston came into view, holdinf out a bag of rice: “Esto es, por siacaso, no podras encontrat arroz en seguida al llgar alli.”.