We would pass by this quaint town on road trips to the waterfalls and other attractions of the northern Laguna towns of Pagsanjan, Cavinti and Luisiana. Not once did we ever think about exploring Pila. But not until recently did we realize just what we had been missing.
Pila’s town plaza, including the nearby ancestral houses, was declared a National Historical Landmark last 2000 by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines. Only 3 other towns – Vigan in Ilocos Sur, Taal town in Batangas and Silay in Negros Occidental – had been given the same status. So when we learned about it this year we made sure to visit the charming town next time we have another road trip to Cavinti.
The town plaza is just a short drive away from the national highway. It’s large and spacious and we were able find a parking slot right away. The plaza complex in Pila reflects typical Spanish colonial town planning in which the poblacion or town center includes the plaza or town square surrounded by the church, municipal hall, school and ancestral houses of prominent citizens.
Easily the most recognizable landmark at the plaza is the parish church of San Antonio de Padua de Pila. The original structure was completed by Spanish Franciscans in 1617. Flooding in the original location forced the demolition and transfer of the church building to its present site in the 19th century. It was later declared a National Shrine.
Across the entrance gate to the church on Burzagom Street is the Pila Museum, a single story, stone structure housing artifacts found from archaeological excavations done in Pila. (It appeared closed when we arrived but we probably should have checked further.) Opposite the church on the far northern edge of the plaza is the Pila Municipal Center built in 1931 and recently restored.
Many of the ancestral houses may be found surrounding the town plaza. Expecting to find Spanish colonial era houses in the traditional bahay na bato style similar to those in Taal and Vigan, we were mildly surprised to discover that most of the homes are early 20th Century structures and represented a shift towards American chalet-style houses with a mixture of Spanish and native elements and Art Deco design fixtures.
Of the 36 late 19th to early 20th century structures in Pila, 28 are ancestral abodes owned by prominent or elite families during the late Spanish and early American colonial periods. Similar to some of the houses in Vigan and Taal, the ground floor of many of these homes have been turned into commercial establishments.
The second floor of these houses contain the living and dining rooms and may be reached by stairs built into the façade. And unlike ancestral homes we’ve seen elsewhere, some of the old houses here are surrounded by lush gardens.
You won’t find this same concentration of old, ancestral houses anywhere else in Laguna. Perhaps their excellent preservation may be attributed to Pila’s escape from major damage during World War 2; other towns such as nearby Sta. Cruz and Pagsanjan were not so fortunate.
It was almost lunch time when we finished our short exploration of Pila’s poblacion. Just several minutes away is the town of Pagsanjan where we ended up having lunch, surprisingly good coffee and dessert.
Calle Arco is the most popular restaurant in Pagsanjan and for good reason. Our only disappointment was not being able to show our friends the owner’s memorabilia collection of tea pots, china and dolls which we got to observe on a past visit (the rooms were torn down to make way for a structure now under construction apparently). Afterwards it was on to Cavinti for an easy pace tour of a lake and a small eco park.