The old Sampaguita Film Studios and the home of its owners, the Vera-Perez family, can be found at the south western edge of the New Manila district of Quezon City. Located along Valencia Street, the Sampaguita Studios open in 1937, after Judge Jose Vera purchase 4.5 hectares for the Magdalena Estate and parts of the friar lands in the Municipality of San Juan Del Monte.
The Sampaguita Studios followed the LVN (De Leon, Villonco & Navoa) Studios that opened in the nearby Cubao district, making the New Manila the Hollywood of the Philippines. The first film produced by Sampaguita Studios was “Bituing Marikit”, in 1938, starring Elsa Oria (Elsa Maria Louisa Purificacion Rineo Oria-Eastman, 1916-1995) and Rogelio dela Rosa (Regidor Lim de la Rosa, 1916-1986).
Judge Jose Olfinas Vera (1888-1956) was originally from the province of Catanduanes, and had served as the Governor of the nearby province of Albay. He was elected into the Sixth Senatorial District, which represented the provinces of the Bicol Region: Albay, Sorsogon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, and Masbate. Senator served four times, from 1925 to 1935, and served again as a senator from 1946 to 1949. During the time from 1935 to 1946, Vera served as a judge in Manila, which was also the same time he established the Sampaguita Film Studios, along with his wife, Dolors Honorado Vera.
Doña Dolores Morato Honrado Vera (1896-1980) hailed from the province of Albay, where she met her future husband, Jose Vera, while he was starting his political career. After her husband’s retirement in 1951, Dolores took over managing the business, with the help of her only daughter Azucena Vera-Perez, and son-in-law, Dr. Jose Perez. Due to her tireless work in producing quality films, Dolores was honored with the Presidential Medal of Merit and Citation from Pres. Carlos P. Garcia, citing the company promotion of positive values through its films.
Doña Azucena “Nene” Honrado Vera-Perez (1917-2014) and her brother, Gregorio, were the only children of Judge Jose and Dolores Vera. After her brother died of Typhoid Fever in 1939, Nene would help her parents in managing Sampaguita Pictures, and would take over the business after her mother retired. Nene married Dr. Jose Perez, and whom they had seven children: Maria Azucena (married Senator Ernesto Maceda), Pepito (died 2018), Georgina (married Congressman Joe de Venecia), Roberto (died 1977), Lilibeth (married Bonifacio Nakpil), Chona (now Mrs. Ampil) and Jose Gregorio. Long after Sampaguita Pictures closed in 1981, Doña Nene resolved not to sell the family home in the old studio lot, and instructed her children to transform the old lot into an events place after visiting the Fernwood Gardens events place in Quezon City.
Dr. Jose Roxas Perez (1915-1975) originally came from the province of Bulacan, but migrated to Manila to take up medicine. While studying at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Jose met Azucena Vera, whom her courted. They later married on December 10, 1942, during the Japanese invasion of Manila. After a fire razed a large part of the Sampaguita Studios in 1951, Judge Jose Vera had to retire from his managing of the company, due to failing health, Dr. Perez turned his back on his medical practice to help his wife Nene and mother-in-law Dolores in managing the business. From then on, Dr. Perez was known to be a “Star Maker” in the film business, for launching the careers of many of the great actors and actresses of the golden era of Philippine movies. In honor for his impact in the film industry, the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) established the Dr. Jose R. Perez Memorial Award that recognized individuals who have contributed greatly to the development of Philippine cinema.
When the Sampaguita Studios started operations in 1937, the family of Judge Vera still lived in the city of Manila. The family finally moved into their new Art Deco styled home, within the studio compound, in 1940. And on the gate to their home, the date of construction is proudly displayed in wrought iron.
One year later, the invading Japanese forces took over the Vera-Perez home, and turned it into a food garrison. There is still a reminder of that dark past, with a World War II machine gun on display in the garden.
After the 1951 fire that burned down much of the studio, the Vera-Perez family was able to recuperate their losses, and reach the top of the film industry once more. To celebrate this, the family had the famed painter, Fernando Amorsolo, to create portraits of the Judge Jose, Dolores, Nene, and Dr. Perez from 1953 to 1957. To this day, these four portrays are proudly displayed inside the Vera-Perez home.
Fernando Cueto Amorsolo (1892-1972) is one of the most important artists in the history of painting in the Philippines. Fernando, along with his brother Pablo, lost his father at an early age; and they were “adopted” by their uncle Fabián de la Rosa. Born in Paco, Manila, Amorsolo earned a degree from the Liceo de Manila Art School in 1909, before entering the U.P. School of Fine Arts and graduating in its first batch in 1914. Amorsolo’s portrayal of the beautiful and dignified peasants of the Philippine countryside, as a form of silent nationalistic protest against the rapid adapting of American styles and attitudes among Filipinos in the city, and thus he was showing the true spirit of the Filipino was to be found in the provinces. He was declared the first National Artist, by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, in 1972. Amorsolo is also known for designing the label of the very popular gin, Ginebra San Miguel.
Also during the 1950s, there was a need to construct more roads that would connect the many cities of Metro Manila. Quezon City Mayor Norberto S. Amoranto (1917-1980) approached Judge Jose if he could sell some of his property, to create a road that would link the City of San Juan with the New Manila district of Quezon City. Judge Jose agreed to sell one hectare for a very low price, as part of his civic duty. And that parcel of land became Granada Street, which links San Juan’s Ortigas Avenue with Gilmore Avenue of Quezon City.
With the reconstruction of the Sampaguita Studios, the family put up a dormitory for cast and crew, a chapel for the family and employees, several nipa huts for the cast and crew to rest between takes, and a forest garden for family, employees and visitors to enjoy. Although most of these are gone, there are efforts to restore the chapel.
In 2014, the children of Dr. Perez and Nene renovated the old ancestral home, through the work of Arc./Eng. Edgar Allan Pasion and the Los Angeles based interior designer, Santi Santos. Although no single family member resides in the old home, everything was restored to its former glory, to honor their parents and grandparents.
The whole compound was reopened as the events place named Sampaguita Gardens, which has become a top choice for many high society weddings. The bedrooms have retained their Art Deco charm, even as they have been converted into the dressing rooms of the brides-to-be and their entourage.
In front of the Vera-Perez ancestral home is a modern multi-function building used for banquets and other events, with each hall named after one of the Sampaguita Studio’s founders. This building was also designed by Arch. Pasion.
The old forest garden of the Sampaguita Studios is long gone, as much of the old property has been sold and converted into homes and businesses. However, what was left of the Vera-Perez gardens have been re-landscaped and it now used for open air weddings and other events.
Right across the street from the Sampaguita Gardens in another events place, owned by the film producer Mother Lily (Lily Yu Monteverde, born 1938), whose Regal Films Studio challenged Sampaguita Studios in the late 1960s and 1970s. Mother Lily purchased the house from the singer actress Nora Aunor (born Nora Cabaltera Villamayor, 1953), who gained fame with her 1960s to 1970s film love team of “Guy and Pip”, with actor Tirso Cruz III (born Tirso Silvano Cruz III, 1952), under the Sampaguita Studio’s roster of stars.
In 1982, Sampaguita Studios shut its doors with its last film “Batch ’81”. However, the legacy of the Vera-Perez family lives on with its vast film archive, and spin off production companies that now produce shows for television, under the children of Dr. Perez and Nene. As for the old home, it has found a new life for many well-to-do Filipinos to enjoy its heritage while celebrating their own memories in parties and weddings at the Sampaguita Gardens.