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Casa de Rizal

4 July 2011

Happy Philippine-American Friendship Day!  And what better to celebrate than to look into the early years of our relationship with Uncle Sam.

I came across this curious group, referred to as “The Aristocratic Filipino Club”  in an article dated 1908, “unearthed” by the Filipino American National Historical Society of Northern Virginia.  It writes of a place along Washington Street in San Francisco where early Filipino migrants to the United States, came to live.  I simply had to know more about it and the people who roamed its halls.

The Building.  The dream of Casa de Rizal started with 80 enthusiastic Filipinos who leased land and worked, taking no wage, to build what was to become their haven in a foreign land.  Agnes Buchanan Foster described: “It is an unpretentious, two story building. The entrance is ordinary and unimposing. The small door at the head of the three steps leads into a small-bare hall. There is really-nothing to excite your curiosity until you read a notice posted on the west wall.  By it you learn that you are within the walls of the Casa de Rlzal.”  The Filipino Club had a library, which served as the common area, and 18 bedrooms to house 36 resident members.  

The 1908 San Francisco City Directory lists the “Rizal Club and Commercial Society” as being located along 1006 Washington Street.  Sadly, no hint of this pioneering effort remain.  In present-day San Francisco, only a row of late 2oth century low-rise buildings now stand where Casa de Rizal stood.

Washington Street, San Francisco

Club Life.  Casa de Rizal seems to have been designed to be a home away from home.  It offered shelter for a handful; but for the other 400 or so members is was a place of fellowship with compatriots.  The 1908 article described a romantic existence where well-groomed Filipino men wore crisp suits, dinners were elaborately planned and a home-grown orchestra made music and dance a daily part of life.

Why was it called a “commercial society”?  I have yet to uncover if the club entered into a specific form of business.  The “Rizal Club and Commercial Society” was organized on 25 March 1906 with $15,000 capitalization.  The President and General Manager was listed as Eligio Villafranca.  It may be that the Club acted like an employment agency of sorts.  Through Mr. Villafranca’s efforts, many found work with the Alaska Commercial Company (which was in the nasty business of harvesting seal fur).

I also found reference to trouble in the halls of Casa de Rizal.  A Mr. C. Alva filed battery charges against Mr. Villanfranca and two others, Francisco Sabio and Fortunato Aseso for forcibly ejecting him from a chair during a Club function.  Villafranca and others replied that Alva was refusing to give up his seat for a female guest.  After what turned out to be a comedic reinactment from a witness, Judge Shortall ruled in favor of the Club citing that the defendants’ actions were “incited by the desire to preserve the dignity of the club.”

From the San Francisco Chronicle in 1908

By 1909, the Club President and other members were found to be living elsewhere.  Did the Filipino Club move to another location?  What happened to the building along Washington Street, once called Casa de Rizal?  Did the organization die out?  Or did it evolve into another entity, which may now bear another name?

The Officers and Members.

FORTUNATO ASESO.  Aside from the newspaper clipping above, I cannot find a trace of him.  I could not find this name in US Census Records.  Did he Americanize his name?  Or did he come home to the Philippines?

FRANCISCO SABIO.  I found a reference to a Francisco Sabio who enlisted with the Philippine Scouts under the US Army in 1901, and mustered out in 1902.  He filed for his pension on 08 April1929.  However, I could not find this name in US Census Records.  Did he Americanize his name to Frank or Francis?  Or did he come home to the Philippines?

ELIGIO VILLAFRANCA.  The organization’s President entered the United States in 1902.  In the 1909 San Francisco City Directory, Eligio was listed as a “contr” (short for contractor?), living in 953a Jackson Street.  I could not find this name in US Census Records.  Did he Americanize his name?  Or did he come home to the Philippines?

THE VILLALUZ COUPLE.  The couple came to live in Casa de Rizal immediately after their marriage.  It then became convenient for Mrs. Villaluz to act as the official Club chaperone.  This marked a change in the Club’s social repertoire — the evening soirees which had traditionally included only men, was now open to female guests.

The San Francisco Call article discloses that Mrs. Villaluz was a Caucasian, a Scot, whose sister also married another Filipino, “Vicente L. Legardia, editor of the Philippine Review”.  If this gentleman is the same person as Vicente Lucio Flores Legarda (the Glasgow-educated architect, who trained with Daniel H. Burnham, taught at the Technical College in San Francisco, California, returned to the Philippines in 1909 and became one of the country’s most prominent architects), then Mrs. Villaluz is the sister of  Mary Frances Lockhart-Legarda.  I have yet to discover her first name.

The 1910 San Francisco City Directory lists only one Villaluz — “Villaluz, Andrea.  ship fitter r 953a Jackson Street”.  I figured this was the same Mr. Villaluz, cited as a club member, as he shared the same address with Eligio Villafranca.  Still, I feel the first name was misspelled.  His name was very likely Andres Villaluz.  He worked as a ship fitter — he was involved in the construction of a ship, tasked with welding and riveting.

Next Steps.  I hope to trace the identities of Casa de Rizal’s early members.  Contributions are welcome.

Research Notes:

. Brechin, Gray. “Alaska Commercial Corporation“. FoundSF.org.  Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
. Buchanan, Agnes Foster. “The Aristocratic Filipino Club: One Striking Proof of Progress“.  The San Francisco Call.  Page 6.  05 January 1908.  Date published: 2007.  Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
. Kim, Hyung-chan and Mejia, Cynthia C. “The Filipinos in America, 1898-1974: a chronology & fact book“. Oceana Publications, 1976.
. “Sabio, Francisco“. US Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index: Philippine Scouts. Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
. “Judge upholds Casa de Rizal“.  The San Francisco Chronicle.  Page 5.  07 January 1908.  Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
. San Francisco City Directory.  1908.  Page 1506.  Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
. San Francisco City Directory. 1909. Page 1583. Date accessed: 22 June 2011.

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