Every time you pass going to Arroceros St. and Taft Avenue in Manila, you will see a derelict. Its white walls now covered with cracks and graffitis, and smokes from jeepneys and buses exhaust has made its toll. Its majestic edifices now covered with weeds and blackened by the passing seasons. People pass by without even looking at its rusted gates. Yes, I am talking about the Manila Metropolitan Theater.
It was in the early 1920’s. At that time, Manila was considered as the Europe of Asia and like Europe, the arts play a very significant role in our lifestyle. That is why in 1925, members of the first Philippine Legislature proposed that a theater be constructed at the Mehan Garden. Now, the plan was simple, but doing the actual construction? It took almost six years for the first stone of the MET be placed in a selected spot at the eight thousand square meters of the garden.
The 1920’s was also a time where a lot of Filipino architects were aspiring to create. Fresh graduates from different universities are competing and would like to put their new ideas in designing buildings around the growing city of Manila. One of those architects was Juan Marcos Arellano. A graduate from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1911, he will also be known to design such buildings as the Legislative Building (which now houses the National Museum) in Manila, the Jones Bridge and the Negros Capitol Building in Negros Occidental. He was greatly inspired by the Art Deco designs in the United State that is why in 1930, he returned to Manila and started designing the MET.
Art Deco was a prevailing “modern” design in the 1920’s to the 1930’s. It is characterized by geometric shapes and striking color. It was the French who introduced it in the United State in 1925 since a lot of French theaters were already into Art Deco. In the USA, the architect William Van Alen created the Chrysler Building in New York in such a style.
In Manila, the construction began with the help from donations of the elites in Manila, the MET finally opened on December 10, 1931. A full attendance of Manila’s famous personalities and elegant societies were at the inauguration. The theater boasted a capacity of 1670 seating capacity (846 in the orchestra, 116 in the loge, and 708 in the balcony). Sculptures of bronzed deities created by the Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti surround the building and inside, Highly stylized relief carving of Philippine plants executed by the artist Isabelo Tampingco decorate the lobby walls. Murals were decorated by renowned Filipino artist Fernando Amorsolo. There are minarets lined on the concave roof that resembles a crown, which were inspired from temples in Indonesia. Stained glass in the front of the building give the MET such a dazzling appearance.
Casualties of War
On December 8, 1941, the Japanse bombed Pearl harbor in Hawaii, thus starts World War 2 in the Pacific. In Manila, a declaration of Open City prevented the Japanese to do damage, thus saving the MET from Japanse bombs. In the years that follow, a lot of theaters have closed, but the MET continues to give the Manilenyo show like zarzuelas, operas, and variety shows. During liberation and the Battle of Manila on February 1945, the Manila Metropolitan Theater was badly damaged.
Not Like It Used To
So we asked ourselves, what happened to this piece of cultural gem in the heart of Manila? When I was in college, I always passed into that dilapidated building every time I’m taking a jeepney ride near The Manila City Hall. I never really payed too much attention, I don’t know anything about the MET. I even asked myself, “ why does this rundown structure still standing?” The sad reason for this is that we really don’t give too much time about some heritage structures in Manila. Maybe we just take them for granted. Anyway, as the story goes, after the war MET never regains its former glory. From 1950’s to the later part of the 70’s, MET was transformed into a boxing arena, an ice cream parlor, and yes, it also became a gay bar.
It Just Refuses to Die
In 1978, former First Lady and Governor of Manila, Madame Imelda Romualdes Marcos tried to revive the MET, but due to heavy damages, it never really worked out. Some grand pianos were bought and the gardens were rehabilitated, but due to water damages, it was again abandoned. And again, politics prevailed. By 1996, a dispute on the issue of who will own the building between the administration of the City of Manila and GSIS have halted the rehabilitation work. In 2002, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA) donated over 50 Million Pesos for its rehabilitation and reopened the theater, but after the Wolfgang Concert, MET again closed its rusting gates to the public in 2012.
It is almost impossible to imagine that the Manila Metropolitan Theater can be again rebuilt, with all the decay and negligence that happened. The place is now surrounded by a Park and Ride and vendors are almost everywhere. Homeless gather in its sidewalks. Political posters, graffiti and cracks have replaced the murals and artworks in its walls. Today, there are some people fighting for its rehabilitation. Groups that are asking the public to ask the City of Manila not to demolish it and transform it into a condominium. I hope that someday, the new generation will again see the splendor that once captivated us here in Manila.
A sad reminder of what's happening to Philippine culture and arts right now.