CEBU CITY—This grand mansion has been an epitome of Cebu's old rich especially in the 1930s. The old landmark on Vicente Ranudo Street here used to be a venue for lunches and dinners of Cebu's rich and famous.
Now, screams can be heard from the charming house of Señora Teresa "Chichay" Escaño, considered the grand dame of Cebu's society, after it has been converted into a humongous hunted house.
House 104, named after its street number, has been receiving visitors who love a good scare for an entrance fee of P150 each (P100 for students) since Sept. 22.
But the move is seen by some as a disservice to Chichay Escaño whose legacy is a happy one -- filled with European fashion, festive food, family music and theater, drives on the black Cadillac limousine, and world travel.
The Escaños made their fortune in abaca after the opening of the ports of Iloilo (1855) and Cebu (1860).
The founder, Don Fernando Escaño from Luzon, had married Doña Agustina Faelnar y Onting of Cebu and Leyte. Both had settled in Malitbog, Leyte, where Don Fernando later became known as a “king.”
By the turn of the century, the Escaños were among the wealthiest Visayans.
By 1909 -- with the marriage of Dr. Mamerto Escaño (Chichay’s brother) to Doña Mena Fortich y Galan -- their formal entry to Cebu’s high society was complete.
Mena was descended from inter-marriage between Cebu City’s oldest Hispanic and Mestizo Sangley families.
Chichay married Gil Garcia, a former officer of the Philippine Constabulary (now Philippine National Police). The couple settled in the former suburbs of Cogon (Cogon-Ramos) in an area where the Americans built their airy wooden bungalows.
One of these modern edifices, neighboring those equally imposing houses of Doña Hermenigilda Chiong Veloso de Velez and Don Florentino Borromeo y Rubi, is the 1932 Garcia-Escaño Mansion.
In this big house, the Garcias made a home where they hosted “lunch and dinner on Sundays” attended by family members.
Wrote National Artist Resil B. Mojares in his book, “Escaño: A Family Portrait” (Fundacion Escaño, Second Edition 2013): “Chichay loved to cook and her dishes of cocido and broas-chocolate pudding were family favorites”.
Mojares continues: “Gil and Chichay would ceremonially gift each of their grandchildren with coins Chichay had already neatly arranged in piles on her desk for the occasion. Fond of her grandchildren, Chichay would take them on outings to such places as Cansojong, Talisay (Cebu) which she had seeded with `kaykay' shells so the family would always have something fresh for dinner”. At that time Cansojong was a fashionable beach town.
A portrait of Chichay and Gil (socially and posthumously known as “Don Gil” for his role as a well-loved president of both the Escaño-controlled Visayan Electric Co. and Hijos de F. Escaño) would not be complete without their unswerving commitment to the Roman Catholic Church.
Mojares recounts that Chichay was a devotee of San Vicente and Gil to San Antonio -- on whose days, Tuesdays, the street children would be treated to a snack of bread and chocolate.
And like many prominent pre-World War II families, they had set Fridays as alms-giving days during which time the beggars would line up at the gates for “limosna.”
The Garcias also figured prominently in the reconstruction of the damaged Cebu Cathedral. Chichay “took pride in the Cathedral and she personally supervised its cleaning.”
It is perhaps against this idyllic backdrop, that those who knew the family are uncomfortable with the reuse of an old landmark into a “horror house.”
An Escaño descendant (name withheld upon request) considers the use of his “lola” Chichay’s house “into a haunted house attraction” a “shocker” despite the fact that it has been sold by an heir years ago.
He vents in disappointment: “I’m sure lola will really make it a haunted one in her anger”.
Former local newspaper writer, Teraii Maria Serna, asks: “Why? They should have turned this into a museum? Or a kind of airbnb hotel/museum?”
Branding consultant and advertising man, Carlo Borromeo, agrees: “Sad. It would be great if this could be turned into a museum. Cebu needs more museums and zero 'haunted' houses,” concludes Borromeo.
The idea to convert it into a horror house came from Elwin Abellana, head organizer of House 104 under Alfapro Events and Promotions.
Abellana said he wanted to transform an old house into an attraction.
He said the old Garcia mansion was a perfect fit because it was big, "creepy" and with parking spaces at the property’s backyard.
Convincing the new owners to use the property was not a problem. The only condition was not to decorate the house with a coffin.
It only took them two weeks to transform the mansion into a Halloween attraction.
Visitors navigate the chambers filled with ghost-like images that suddenly appear. Dark passages lead to the owner's old room where mythical creatures are ready to greet the guests.
At least 15 actors have been hired to act as ghosts, apparitions and mythical creatures lurking behind the walls as ambient music and gothic lighting engulf the entire house.
The scare tour, which takes about 10 minutes, opens daily from 3 p.m. to midnight. But it would be on a limited two-month run -- until Nov. 24 when the contract expires.
It might return next year if the new owners would allow it.
But there have been scary sightings of the house on 104 Ranudo Street. Security guard Joel Aballe had heard footsteps from one of the empty rooms while doing his rounds. The next day, a caretaker also got locked in the room where the footsteps had come from.
“After that incident, I never close the door whenever I go to the bathroom, I don’t want to get locked like the caretaker,” he said.
A medium hired by Abellana claimed that an Agta, a tall mythical creature with dark skin, lives on the acacia tree near the house, while a white lady lives inside the house.
Abellana said there was a time when the crew had to close the house early due to some “noise” from the second floor while the actors were taking their break.
“We got scared because we heard thuds from the second floor. It was as though they were mimicking the things that we did to the horror house visitors,” Abellana said.
One psychic has put it in perspective. She reportedly “saw” an old woman on the porch acting upset all the time and understood that the old woman wanted the house to “return to its former glory”. INQ