BOOK REVIEW: Luna, Arquitecto

by Rose Churma

This book is a biography of Andres Luna de San Pedro, the only son of the painter, Juan Luna, and a nephew of General Antonio Luna.

Both Luna brothers featured prominently in the revolution against Spain and during the Philippine-American War. To better understand the life and times of Andres, it is necessary to know the context of his birth and his early years.

The Luna Family hails from the coastal town of Badoc in Ilocos Norte. Don Joaquin Luna de San Pedro and his wife, Laureana Novicio, had seven children—two girls and five boys.

Their oldest son, Manuel Andres was a violin virtuoso who died at age 27. Juan Luna, who came after Manuel Andres, initially studied to be a sea pilot like his older brother. During their younger years, the brothers plied the seas and visited the ports of Asia.

Sea life did not suit Juan Luna so he turned to painting and continued his studies in Europe. While there, he received various awards for his paintings, and in March 1884, his painting “Spolarium” was first displayed in Rome and eventually exhibited in Madrid where it won one of three gold medals given at the Madrid exposition—making Juan Luna a sensation overnight. He was considered a celebrity in the art capitals of the world—Madrid, Paris and Rome.

Typical of Filipino expatriates living in Europe at that time, Juan Luna bonded with his countrymen abroad, such as Jose Rizal, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and others.

They were often invited to the home of the Pardo de Tavera residence in Paris, and this is where Juan Luna met and courted Paz, the only sister of the brothers Trinidad and Felix Pardo de Tavera.

At that time, the Pardo de Tavera widowed matriarch, Juliana Pardo de Tavera y Gorricho, mother of Paz, Trinidad and Felix also lived in virtual exile with her children in Paris.

Juan Luna was the toast of Europe when he courted and eventually married Paz. However, despite his fame and obvious artistic talents, he never was accepted by his mother-in-law.

In spite of her misgivings, Dona Juliana lived with the couple and paid for the rent, their nanny’s salary and purchased Juan Luna’s unsold artworks, and agreed to have Juan’s younger brother Antonio Luna live with them while he studied in Paris. Even then, she felt that it was a bad match from the very start.

The couple’s son, Andres, was born in Paris on September 9, 1887, followed by a daughter who died soon after, in March 1892.

Domestic abuse became a daily occurrence at the Luna residence. Juan broke a cane on Paz’s back because “she was wearing colored frocks before the mourning period for Bibi (their daughter’s nickname) was over,” and ripped all his wife’s dresses to shreds and threw these into the fireplace. When the physical assaults on Paz escalated, Dona Juliana was often heard asking Antonio Luna for help in stopping the abuse.

In the Autumn of 1892, Andres, who was five years old then, would witness his father shoot his grandmother and his mother Paz to death. It was a brutal and grisly killing, described in detail in the transcripts released by the French tribunal (and used as a reference by Filipino historians Carlos Quirino and Alfredo Roces and quoted liberally by the author of this book.)

Juan Luna was acquitted by the French court jury in February 1893 but penalized Luna to pay the Pardo de Tavera family in the amount of one French franc and the reimbursement of the cost of the trial.

Luna’s defense attorney called it a “crime of passion” and that Luna, an Ilokano, belonged to a “savage” race and once provoked, cannot be held responsible for his actions.

Luna’s lawyer claimed that Paz was an adulteress and that the murders were caused by her alleged affair—that Paz was at fault and Luna the aggrieved party. His brother, Antonio Luna, also rallied his fellow Filipino expats and his friends in the press to picture Paz as a person who deserved to be shot point blank on the head.

Adding insult to injury, Juan Luna ended up being the administrator of the estate inherited by Andres who was still a minor, from his mother, Paz. Since Dona Juliana died first, one-third of her estate went automatically to Paz, who died eleven days after her.

If Juan Luna killed his wife first and Dona Juliana died much later, then the outcome would have been different. As the author says, “It can not be said that Luna did not know the law.”

The author, Saul Hofilena Jr. is a lawyer by training, graduating from Ateneo’s law school in 1985. A large part of the book includes his legal analysis of the court’s ruling, including the case transcript, as well as a comparative analysis of the Spanish and French legal systems and his views on Luna’s acquittal.

After Juan’s acquittal, the Luna brothers and Andres left for Manila in 1894 where Juan was treated as a celebrity—and the murder of the Pardo de Tavera women largely ignored and forgotten.

Andres Luna was enrolled at the Ateneo that same year in 1894. In August 1896, the revolt of the Katipuneros under Andres Bonifacio would commence and Jose Rizal was executed at the Luneta in December 1896.

Shortly thereafter, the Philippine-American War broke out, and the brothers Luna would serve the first Philippine Republic. Antonio Luna was appointed commanding general of the Philippine Revolutionary Army and Juan Luna was appointed ambassador to defend the interests of the First Republic.

While in Hong Kong, Juan Luna had a heart attack and died on December 7, 1899 at 42.

After his father’s death, Andres was left in the care of his uncle, Dr. Jose Luna. Information on the life of Andres during this period is scanty until the discovery of the “Andres Luna Trove” collected by Andres’ American wife, Grace V. McCrea, who left these documents with her sister, who in turn left it with a friend, Ruth Francis of New York.

Dr. Jose Luna would become the adoptive father of Andres. While still at Ateneo, Andres already showed artistic talent. Although Juan Luna was happy that Andres wanted to be a “great painter” like him, he counseled Andres—“better be an architect than a painter.”

At the end of World War I in 1918, Andres Luna graduated from Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris and was one of the architects of the Grand Palais de Champs Elysees and returned to the Philippines in 1920. He was appointed City Architect of Manila, an office he held until 1924. One of his projects was the Legarda Elementary School—Victorian in style but followed the adage of “form follows function”—it made use of local materials and local artists like Isabelo Tampinco.

This project became Andres’ calling card to the rich who wanted their houses designed by the son of Juan Luna and thus started his private practice as an architect in 1925. After attending the Exposition Internationale in Paris with fellow architects Juan Arellano and Juan F. Nakpil that same year, they introduced the Art Deco style in the Philippines and enriched it with Filipino tropical elements.

Andres had a prolific practice where he built mansions, monuments and mausoleums. His works received various awards, and the Crystal Arcade, built in Escolta, was considered “the crown of his ambition” and the most spectacular, as noted by one of his partners, Juan F. Nakpil.

The author asks rhetorically, “Did the curse of the Lunas blight the career of Andres Luna?” If one is superstitious, perhaps it did. His masterpiece, the Crystal Palace, was blighted by lawsuits shortly after its opening.

During the Japanese years, his beautiful creations were commandeered by the enemy and turned into torture chambers and makeshift hospitals for their wounded. On the other hand, his works which survived the war were demolished by greedy and opportunistic developers.

Among his buildings that survived was Paaralang Legarda, or what used to be Legarda Elementary School. It became the headquarters of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division and a hospital for American soldiers. In 1991, the Philippines National Historical Institute placed a marker on the site which described the history of the building. Unfortunately, the name of its architect, Andres Luna, was never mentioned.

In 1950, Andres Luna was elected President of the Philippine Institute of Architects (PIA) and was awarded the first “Gold Medal of Merit” before he passed away in 1952 at the age of 64.

The book is filled with historical gems as gleaned from papers left by Andres’ wife, Grace. It also includes photographs of Andres Luna’s designs, sketches, facsimiles of Juan Luna’s and Andres Luna’s artwork and other memorabilia.

How the author acquired what he calls the “Andres Luna Trove” has the makings of a potential book by itself.

The narrative adopted by the author does not follow a straight sequence but meanders—depending on the letter or artifact that was the source of his information.

Nevertheless, it is an important publication for those interested in the Philippine history. As an architect trained in the Philippines, it blew my mind to realize that this is the first time I’ve heard of Andres Luna and his works.

I read this book on March 8, 2023 which was International Women’s Day. It left me depressed that after reading the book and realized that 130 years ago, two women were murdered and the perpetrator was acquitted.

Not only acquitted, but he was also celebrated!

Although the author was sympathetic to the plight of the victims and the child who would live with the tragedy and carry it into adulthood, it still left me with indignation at the injustice that occurred. 

Soon after reading this book, as I surfed Facebook, it lightened my mood to know that the writer Gina Apostol (Gun Dealers’ Daughter, 2013; Insurrecto, 2018), has won the Rome Prize for Literature and will write about Juan Luna’s murdered wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera. I look forward to that book.

ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at

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