Casa Real de Bucay
1st Capital of Abra
5. Fort General Martinez, Casa Real and jail


The Fort as Casa Real site
The plans of the first Casa Real
The Fort as jail site

The map Tajonera sent to Claveria includes details of the fort’s organization and structure (see Plate # 6 for details.) It shows the fort as a walled-in square approximately three fourths of a hectare (100 x 75 meters) with elevated guard houses atop turrets on the four corners. Today, only its main gate remains. Called Casa Real, it is a monumental arch made of a core of masonry covered by bricks. Enclosed within the fort palisade were the officers’ quarters (a small remnant of their brick walls still enduring abandon inside and to the right of the main gate as seen in Plate #15), troops barracks, two separate small buildings with the kitchens for officers and troops, a camarin or tobacco warehouse, a casamata or artillery armory, horse stables and a sun dial. Outside of the back wall to the northeast, near the tobacco warehouse, was a platform that performed as a riverine dock where cargo transported by river would be unloaded –or uploaded, as the platform was on a cliff above the river. There was a small gate connecting this platform and the tobacco warehouse inside the fort.

Reports of necessary repairs to the fort due to typhoons show that the perimeter wall was actually a stockade made of wood and/or bamboo and buho, which may explain its complete disappearance. A few brick and masonry ruins within the stockade perimeter is all that remains of the fort and Casa Real, pointing to the existence and position of the officers’ quarters and perhaps of the casamata or artillery store and sun dial (Plate # 15.) 

The Fort as Casa Real site

The scarcity of resources from the beginning made of the fort the site of Casa Real or provincial Government House, seat of the Audiencia (provincial courthouse) and Provincial Government. Although Tajonera toyed with the idea of having one, as the Cariño map shows (Plate #14) , Bucay the capital of Abra never had a dedicated building for its Casa Real.

For two years, Tajonera had to make do with the fort facilities for the office space needs of the provincial administration. But from the beginning, Tajonera was aware of how essential a Casa Real separate from the military installation was for the governance of the Province… and how difficult to fund it! On 23 December 1848 in letter to the Governor General, Tajonera says that the construction of the Casa Real cannot be delayed but trying to conciliate “the interests of the Treasury with those of this Province’s public welfare” he suggests to spend only in the work to remodel the present facilities of the fort to include the necessary premises for the “the offices of the Government, Court and Archives under my charge”. The provincial governor, with a keen eye for how well received would a proposal be that incorporated savings, notes that a new building would necessitate an outlay of 7000 to 9000 pesos, while his proposal would cost the Treasury no more than 1300.24  Probably by the time he sent the letter, Tajonera had already in his possession the budget prepared by his contractor, for his estimate came very close to the actual budget of 1289 pesos 

The bureaucrats in Manila began moving on January 2, 1849 and took all of seven and a half weeks to sent a reply to the Tajonera’s request requiring him to submit a budget for and a scheme of the construction to be undertaken. Tajonera acknowledges on 23 February 1849 and commits to comply.25  The plan and a 1289-peso budget are forwarded to the Governor General who after the due bureaucratic process approves it.

The plans of the first Casa Real

The plans Tajonera submitted for approval are in three manuscripts in the National Archives (Plates # 7-9.)26  Although the Casa Real was housed in the building complex called Officers’ Quarters, the three plans submitted concern exclusively the area he was already using as Casa Real. The set of referenced three drawings consists of the floor plans of the lower and upper floors of the Casa Real and a drawing of a side façade with the officers’ quarters behind.

The drawings are rather too simple, not very accurate or consistent. Although the façade plan includes a scale, it applies only to longitudinal measurements, heights obviously were not drawn to scale. The length standard of the times was the Castillian or Burgos vara or yard, equivalent to .836 m. The façade is then 15 varas or 12.5 m wide. If we applied the same scale to the height, excluding the roof, the building would have been an implausible 12 m in height for a structure of only 2 floors, or each floor more than six meters, nearly 20 feet, in height! The two floor plans of the ground and upper floors are drawn to different scales. All of it makes of the set of plans submitted by Governor Tajonera nothing close to professional architectural standards for plans even of the mid-1800s. It is not too far-fetched to think that the scarcity of resources in these early years extended also to a lack of adequate drawing and studio measuring tools, hence the poor professional quality of the drawings. It has to be noted though, that architectural plans were not required; in the administrative documentation for the project one reads always croquis, schematic drawings, and that is what the three sheets are.

The roof on the façade drawing suggests that the fort’s officers’ quarters were remodeled in a building made of two wings shaped in a letter “L.” The short arm of the “L” was the rectangle that was occupied by the Casa Real with a rectangular footprint and whose narrow base facing north was its façade. The officers’ quarters was the building at the back, transverse and at a 90º angle with the Casa Real arm. The “L” shaped postulated by the building plans is consistent with the drawings on Tajonera’s map of Bucay submitted to the Government of Manila two years earlier. The building front, Casa Real façade plus officers’ quarters at the back, has a length of approximately 48 Castillian yards, some 40 m or 132 feet.

The floor plans for Casa Real are rectangular. The ground floor drawing features two entrances, one would open to an irregular inner hall from which several rooms could be reached and the other is only for access to the office of weights and measures standards and its store room. A stair case leads to the upper floor. The ground floor houses the court room, the two rooms for the weights and measures control office, staff rooms, a kitchen and stables.

The upper floor houses mainly living quarters for the Governor and his staff in addition to two office rooms for the provincial government and an upper kitchen. The front features a sotea, misspelling of azotea or terrace, with a balcony.

The drawings in Plates # 10-12 show an architect’s educated guess at what the Casa Real could have looked like originally. Although the plate drawings are based on the old plans submitted by Tajonera, the architect had to contend first with the formal defects mentioned above and adjust the height of the floors and building lowering each floor by about two meters to a more acceptable four meters in height each, still a rather impressive height for rooms but we are dealing in pre-industrial building design with no electricity to take care of light, aeration or internal temperature management, conditions that favored in general tall rooms and big windows for colonial buildings. The architect had to make other decisions to solve the problems posed by a design that did not call for doors or windows in the stables, and the major design flaw of a Casa Real that had windows on the common wall with the officers’ quarters building at the back.

Other conclusions were easier to make. The building, at least its ground floor, was made of brick masonry as inferred by a look at the few ruins of columns and partitions existing today. It had wooden sliding windows with  embedded "conchas", translucid capiz (a kind of sacallop) shells, as can be concluded by the list of materials budget accompanying the plans.27  The roof was made of cogon (elephant grass) fastened by bamboo cane slats as inferred from the requisition of materials for repairs made three years after construction.28

Tajonera actually was killing two birds with one stone for part of the remodeling was actually repairs needed after the destruction wrought by a typhoon earlier in July of 1848. The budget for the remodeling of the fort was prepared and submitted on 1 September, 1849 by Paulino Llanes, utility man by profession (carpentry and masonry) and Mayor of the town of Caoayan in Ilocos Sur, by the bocana of the Abra River. The same Llanes concluded the work and was paid for it according to budget as per his affidavit of 1 March 1850.29

The Casa Real de Bucay was established and remained always within the fort for the period Bucay was Abra’s capital, which explains why the townsfolk with time came to call the Fort General Martinez also Casa Real, to the detriment of the former’s name, which was eventually erased from the town’s memory. Until today, the arched gate, only remnant of the fort, is still called Casa Real by the town’s people.

The Fort as jail site

Another added function that had to be accommodated in the fort-cum-Casa Real was that of provincial jail. As early as 12 August 1848, Governor Tajonera conveys in a letter to the Governor General the dire need of a building to house the jail. The provincial government, for lack of a better place, installed it in a small space with steel bars below the troops barracks which, besides unsafe, was very inconvenient for the troops as it was poorly ventilated and prone to be flooded during downpours.30  Enclosed in the communication were plans (two simple drawings, see Plate #13)31  and a budget for the building of 1563 pesos 6 reales in materials and 503 pesos 6 reales in jornales or salaries, for a total of 2067 pesos and change.32  The jail was planned to be a single-story square building 26 Castilian yards to a side (almost 22 m or a little over 71 feet.) with an inner yard The correspondence does not mention a prospective location within the fort or anywhere else for the jail.

There were administrative problems to authorize the building of the jail, problems related to the lack of clarity as to funds appropriation. Also, it is probable that some functionaries in the Manila Government balked at the idea of expending more for the jail than for the Casa Real. In every government construction project expenses had to be shared between the Central Government and what was called Cajas de Comunidad or local coffers. Besides being insufficient, Tajonera’s sources of funding were not clear or accurate, and probably worse, they would be in part the proceeds from the franchise of the riverine transportation system balsas de transporte or transportation rafts, the accounting of which was severely castigated by the Government in Manila.33  All of this might have given occasion to the government advisors in Manila to be weary and almost antagonistic to the project, adding conditions to a possible authorization that would make impossible the construction of the jail. Finally, Governor Claveria in Manila issues a decree on 28 November 1848 to execute the plan but with a very reduced budget. He accepts the consultants’ recommendations and decides that labor and materials would have to come from polistas, iron works and supervisors salaries from “what is left from the 450 pesos” accrued to the provincial treasury as income derived from operating the raft transport system. There was still an almost sanctimonious recommendation to exercise equity in the requisition of materials and “utmost economy in the use of funds.”34  No wonder the jail was still a project in 1863 when the Provincial Capital was transferred from Bucay to Bangued.