For over 120 years, Machuca Tile has been the pioneer of handmade cement tiles in the Philippines. Through the years, we’ve gathered a record of the company’s origins and its journey to the present day.
Read through our story to understand why every Machuca tile carries with it a piece of Philippine history.
Machuca Tile is a family-owned cement tile manufacturing company, tracing its beginnings to as far back as 1903. Today, the company is managed by the Machuca family’s 4th generation, humbly growing and nurturing the name that Filipinos have come to associate with high-quality decorative cement tiles.
Jose Machuca y Romeo, the founder of Machuca and Company, and the namesake of the “Machuca tile”, is the name Filipinos have historically attributed to decorative patterned tiles. Born on October 21, 1858 in Seville, Spain, Jose Machuca was the son of Jose Machuca Sobrevilla and Carmen Romeo Pla. In 1870, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts (bachiller en artes) degree at the Colegio de Cabra in Cordoba. Four years later, in 1874, he finished law in Granada. He arrived in the Philippines in 1875 at a relatively young age of 17. In practicing law, Machuca first became a recorder (relatores or court reporter) in the Real Audiencia (Royal Audience or Supreme Court) of Manila, before being assigned as a Judge of the Court of First Instance (Regional Trial Court) in Bataan, Albay, and Cebu. He also served as assistant fiscal (auxiliary provincial attorney) of the Audiencia Territorial of Cebu, and later as president (chief magistrate) of the Real Audiencia of Manila.
The surname Machuca traces its origins since at least the 15th century. Among the first to bear the surname was Pedro Machuca (1490-1550), an architect known to be related with Michelangelo. He was the designer of the Palace of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and painter of the Royal Chapel of Granada. It appears to have come from the Spanish word machar, which means “to grind”, “to hammer”, or “to pound.” This suggests that the family must have been originally characterized as artisans, likely as metalsmiths or stonecutters. Both industries were evidently vital for the tile industry. In addition, Machuca’s hometown of Seville, as well as the sites of his education (Cordoba and Granada), were all known for producing mosaic tiles. It is not difficult to imagine how the young Machuca may have been inspired by the surviving relics of azulejos, and the reemerging Spanish tile industry during his time. Initially, the original name of his company was always thought to be Mosaicos Machuca or Mosaicos de Machuca, which was attested to be founded in 1900. However, available documents show that company has first been known as Barretto, Machuca and Company (Barretto, Machuca y Compania).
Machuca starts the tile business
There are two possible likely dates for Machuca to start his tile business: in 1898 when he receives a large sum of liquidated shares from a co-owner of an 1882 general partnership that granted loans to crop businesses, and in 1903 when he receives a smaller amount from that same partnership.
The 1914 Catalog featuring Machuca’s tiles can provide some light on this issue. More than being an inventory of his products, Machuca mentions in the catalog how much they have improved since they released the 1905 Catalog. This suggests that at least by 1904, Machuca’s tile company must have been an established business. However, what pushes back this date was a 1902 lease of land by a tile company called Barretto, Machuca y Compania, wherein Machuca’s partner was said to be a certain Pio de la Guardia Barretto Sy Pioco.
In the 1914 Catalog, Machuca assumes sole proprietorship of the tile company, which by this time was known as Machuca and Company (J. Machuca y Compania). Barretto died in 1905, and there is evidence that Machuca at this time did not immediately replace him in their partnership. This is reinforced by the 1914 Catalog informing the public that it no longer goes by the name Barretto, Machuca y Compania.
Machuca as Trendsetter of Tiles in the Philippines
Historical evidence shows that Machuca was still one of the five recorders of the Real Audiencia of Manila in 1876, which means he must have held the position ever since he arrived in the Philippines, at least until he was designated as a judge thereafter. As a recorder, he is by no means bound by restrictions given to judges and fiscals in terms of engaging in business and similar commercial activities. This provides him leeway to begin the tile business as early as 1875, possibly to further augment his income and/or to introduce the yet non-existent azulejo tradition in the Philippines, wherein he originally partners with Chinese businessman Pio Barretto. Later, when he is assigned as a Judge of First Instance, as Assistant Fiscal, and as President of the Real Audiencia, Barretto officially manages the company in his stead.
When Machuca returns to Spain sometime between 1876 and 1888, he develops the idea of shifting to cement tiles. At this time, he also gets married to Amparo Sanchez (born 1863). As attested in the 1914 Machuca tile catalog, when he returns to Manila, he later acquires seven electric powered hydraulic presses for the manufacturing of the cement tiles. Electricity comes to Manila only by 1894. In so doing, Machuca waited for the opportunity to procure better technology. This is likely as the spread of the Machuca tile elsewhere in the Philippines begun even before 1900, such as those installed in the Pamintuan Mansion in Pampanga (built 1890), and the Cabatuan Cemetery in Iloilo (built 1894).
Tile Companies Galore
In response to a growing number of local tile companies in the 20th century, Machuca’s expertise expands from manufacturing tiles into production and laying of artificial stones, and manufacturing of cement sewers and pipes. Machuca even entered constructing fountains and mausoleums, such as the Limjap Mausoleum in Manila (1918), and the Arroyo Fountain in Iloilo (1927). Consulting American records, it is evident that two companies dominated the tile industry through the 1920s. The last entry of Machuca’s main competitor, Fressel’s Manila Tile Works, appears in 1926 (Fressel passes away in 1904). After this, Machuca’s main competition becomes Manila Hume Pipe and Tile Works. At the advent of the Commonwealth Period in 1935, the number of tile companies increased exponentially, responding to the growing demand of Commonwealth-era structures for decorative tiles. Added to this roster were General Mercantile Corporation, and Ciriaco Tuazon and Sons (Tuazon, C. e Hijos) in Manila, as well as Parañaque Lime Factory and Tile Works, Philippine Spuncrete, Henry M. Tile Factory, and Serrano’s Tile Factory in Rizal. This was the situation of the tile industry when in 1936, Machuca’s sons Jose Machuca y Sanchez (1892-1963), fondly known as Don Pepe, and Antonio Machuca y Sanchez partnered with Jose Barbaza y Pagtalo, Pedro Cantero y Enriquez, Dr. Jose Ma. De Marcaida y Rosales, and Jose Perez de Tagle Maffiotte to form the Machuca Tile Company. Consulting the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) records, the company retained this name, further emphasizing the focus on tiles. Among Machuca’s better known projects during the 1930s include tiling President Jose P. Laurel’s Paco, Manila residence. While some of the tile companies which were founded in the 1930s remain in operation, it can be said that Machuca’s business can rightly claim the title of being the longest standing mosaic & cement tile company in the Philippines. In fact, a landmark 1982 Supreme Court case initiated by a certain Conrado G. De Leon, who tried to prove that he invented mosaic tiles in 1960, upheld that it was indeed Machuca who first introduced mosaic tile making in the country.
Machuca Tile Lives On
For most of its early years, Machuca Tile has been located in Balmes Street, Tanduay. However, documentary evidence reveals that it has not been always the only office Machuca Tile had. When it was still Barretto, Machuca y Compania, the office was located in Calle Nueva (now Yuchengco Street) in Binondo, which suggests that the Balmes location was more of a factory and showroom then. Jose Machuca y Sanchez was then succeeded by his son, Luis Machuca y Arrieta (1928-1999). After the Second World War, a larger factory was erected in Parañaque (at around 1962-1964), while the office moved to its present location in General Solano Street, San Miguel.
Today, the company is being managed by Machuca’s fourth generation, Luis Machuca y Punsalan, who just like the Machuca of the distant past, is an architect by profession. As the patterned cement tile continually develops to produce a possibly infinite amount of combinations, so does Machuca Tile forging on to uphold the quality that had been and will be renowned for decades.