Back in the Fifties, we used to live in the Malate district, at first in an apartment on Tennessee street then on Remedios, just a couple of blocks down from the church. It was a little boy’s perfect playground for me. The sari-sari store was right on the corner of Remedios and Dakota. If I remember correctly, I used to haunt an ice cream parlor on the corner of Mabini and Remedios, usually on my trek to Dewey Boulevard and to the sidewalk vendors that were stationed intermittently along the wide paseo to get some kropek or roasted chestnuts. Time was spent with the other barefoot, short-panted boys from the neighborhood playing marbles. I usually lost.
As I got older, I would take a jeepney down to my parents’ store on the Escolta, have lunch, maybe see a movie. As an only child, I didn’t have much in the way of parental supervision so I had a lot of time exploring the city on my own. If I caught the jeepney from Mabini, it went northward towards Intramuros, down Padre Burgos past the Legislative building connecting to Taft, seeing the City Hall and in front of us was the massive Post Office. As the jeepney veered towards Jones Bridge, I would catch a glimpse of this interesting pink building on my right. It was rather odd looking, quite art deco. It seemed abandoned. I don’t know, maybe it was, but it was off by itself so I never paid much attention to it.
As I got older and more interested in our surrounding landmarks, I read about the Metropolitan which impressed me even more.
The Manila Metropolitan Theater building was designed by the Filipino architect Juan Arellano, who stated that he drew the plans for the building with the phrase, “On Wings of Song”, in mind. The theater was inaugurated on December 10, 1931, with a capacity of 1670 (846 orchestra, 116 in loge, and 708 in balcony).
In its heyday, it was the home of operas, the Manila Symphony and a symbol of fine arts and high society of prewar Manila. The art deco style by Arellano was enhanced by sculptures in the façade of the theatre by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti , who lived in Manila from 1930 until his death in 1958. Highly stylized relief carving of Philippine plants executed by the artist Isabelo Tampingco decorated the lobby walls and interior surfaces of the building.
The foyer featured marble floors, two wide stairways and a balcony leading to the loge seats. Mural paintings by National Artist, Fernando Amorsolo, named “The Dance” and “History of Music” adorned the lobby.
The most striking feature is the great decorative window of translucent glass, brilliantly lighted at night, which corresponds in shape and size to the proscenium opening within the theater. The facade definitely suggests a place of music, with its rounded upper outline broken by many light vertical elements and slender pinnacles or “finals”.
This stained glass facade was commissioned by Kraut Art Glass established by family patriarch Mr. Mattias Kraut . Kraut company is famous for their art glasses since 1912 and the proscenium was done by the House of Pre-Cast.
The venue played host to vaudevilles , zarzuelas , performances by world renowned artists like the maestro Jascha Heifetz, and Dr. Herbert Zipper who conducted the Manila Symphony. Although also known for his other works: the Legislative Building, the Post Office, and Jones Bridge, the Metropolitan theater was indisputably Juan Arellano’s masterpiece.
Its history is quite interesting and unique. There used to be an old theater during the Spanish colonial period, Teatro del Prinsipe Alfonso XII which was built near the present day Metropolitan Theater . The old theater was the main focal building within the large and sprawling Plaza Arroceros in 1862. Unfortunately, the Teatro del Principe Alfonso burnt down in 1876, blamed on a irate Muslim terrorist. Yes, they had them even then.
Several years later, During the American colonial period in 1924 , a member of then Philippine legislature proposed that a theater be constructed near the Mehan Garden formerly Jardin Botanico de Manila established in 1858. Finally in 1931, a location was selected on a pleasant site amidst the trees at one end of the Mehan Gardens and just across the wide plaza from the impressive new Post Office Building and the approach to the Santa Cruz Bridge.
On December 10, 1931, the inspired architecture of brothers Juan Arellano and Arcadio Arellano, following the American architectural planner Mr. Daniel Burnham lured by the unique opportunity of designing in tropical Asia, was completed; a beautiful example of art deco of the Thirties and, some would say, the Golden Age of Manila during the American colonial administration.
The courtyards on both sides of the auditorium, with their flagstone paths, grass, flowers, and statuary, are most intimate and pleasing, and lead to the ball room, the restaurant, and the bar. Off the main building, wings were set aside for offices and shops to subsidize additional revenue.
The tiara domed with stylized minarets, sensuous female figures in exotic drapes, an exterior with whimsical rope designs, friezes and curly cues, the clashing ethnic -like chimeras and asparagus turrets, the total effect of the architecture is totally different from the other colonial buildings. The building is of an art deco style presenting a symmetry of structure and geometry, full of basic shapes like arc, squares, triangles, rectangles and straight lines.
During the Japanese occupation, many theaters in Manila closed down but the Met continued to be the center of cultural entertainment. Badly damaged during World War II, the theater became an ice cream parlor, boxing arena , garage, motel , gay club and eventually a squatter colony of about 50 to 70 families. Although the designs and plans of the Metropolitan Theater Manila were burned and destroyed during the World War II , the former First Lady Imelda Marcos had it restored in 1978 to its former beauty however it never regained its former glory.
Popular variety television show hosted by Ms. Vilma Santos in the 1980′s to early 1990′s aired on GMA channel 7 provided the entertainment every Friday to the crowd . While several top Filipino celebrities made their debut at the grand dame, Its condition deteriorated in the ’90s due to several factors . First is the water seepage on Met’s roofing , Second is the strong Bagyong Rosing ( Typhoon Angela) which hit the capital city in November 1995 causing further destruction on the theater’s outer roofing.
The Met fell further into decay and finally closed down in 1996 following a long-running dispute between the Government Service Insurance System and the City of Manila over its ownership and management. On June 23, 2010, then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim re-opened the theater after extensive renovations.
So, what’s in store for the future of the grand Metropolitan ? Can it be grand once again, adorned with posters of coming attractions of plays, operas, concerts or even be a venue for films ? Wouldn’t it be a great venue for a Manila International Film Festival ? Ah, so many possibilities, let’s just not let it die another faded memory. Please view the slideshow below for recent photos of this beautiful example of art deco architecture.
Update: January 6, 2014 –
INSIDE THE CREEPY MANILA METROPOLITAN THEATER
new photos of the Metropolitan Theater , sadly still in a dilapidated state.