Save the Manila Metropolitan Theater!!!

Just a day after my birthday, I joined my media friend Mr. Fernando “Rannie” Bernardo and Ms. Melissa Grace Dizon (La Consolacion College School of International Hospitality Management professor) in a group being assembled  by Mr. Lawrence “Rence” Chan (who hosts the Royal Postal Heritage Tour), of the Filipinas Stamp Collectors’ Club, that was to be part of a special documentary tour with the GMA 7 I-Witness team.  The documentary was to feature the sorry plight of the now-abandoned and unused Metropolitan Theater (fondly called “The Met”), for me a precious and stunning icon of the Filipinized Art Deco genre that needs to be preserved for other generations to see and appreciate.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater

Aside from Rence, Ronnie, Melissa  and I, our group also consisted of Ms. Ma. Fatima T. Flores (a B.S. Architecture student from FEU), Mr. Efren C. Taburnal, Jr.; Ms. Gemma Suguitan-San Jose (of the Southern Luzon Association of Museums); Ms. Maria Ronna Beltran (a blogger); Mr. Dong Despojo (Prima Camera Club); Mr. Noel Aguilera Acedillo (Prima Camera Club); Ms. Bettina Arriola (an art teacher) and Ms. Marian L. Barro (a U.P. Manila student).

Our documentary group

However, due to some miscommunication between GMA 7 and Rence, the scheduled tour did not push through.  Even worst, we were not allowed entry by the security guards.  Just the same, so as not to make this an exercise in futility, Rence proceeded to give us a moving documentary on the history of the Met. The theater, along the Pasig River and in front of the equally classic Manila Post Office, was designed, in  the Art Deco style (then a rage in the U.S.A.), by National Artist (for Architecture) Arch. Juan M. Arellano.

Inaugurated on December 10, 1931, it seats 1,670 (846 in the orchestra section, 116 in loge and 708 in balcony) and was the biggest in the Far East at that time. During its heyday as the “Grande Dame” of theaters, the Met played host to vaudeville acts, zarzuelas, operas, pageants, Filipino and Spanish plays, and performances by well-known artists such as violinist Maestro Jascha Hefertz and composer/conductor Dr. Herbert Zipper (who conducted the Manila Symphony Orchestra).

Severely damaged (losing some of its roofing and some walls destroyed) during the liberation of Manila in 1945, the theater was rebuilt, fell into decay in the 1960s (where it became an ice cream parlor, boxing arena, garage, motel and gay club) and was meticulously restored to its former glory by Arch. Otillo Arellano (Juan Arellano’s nephew) and former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos and rededicated on December 17, 1978.

However, it again fell into decay. Worst, a nondescript, 24-hour Park n’ Ride bus terminal and parking structure, with its accompanying itinerant vendors and equally unsightly food stalls, was built behind the theater by then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, compromising the theater’s once-privileged landscape.

Stained glass panels above main entrance
Detail of bas-relief curlicues

In 1996, it was closed due to a long-running financial dispute between the city government and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) over its ownership and management. On June 3, 2010, after extensive renovations (the main roof and 2 minor ones were repaired), it was again reopened by Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Manila Mayor Alfredo S. Lim but again slowly deteriorated due to disuse, typhoons (Angela) and water infiltration.  Water and electricity has been cut off.  The main entrance is now home to the homeless vagabonds and its arcades are filled with garbage and stinks to the high heavens with urine.

Tiara-like pediment with minarets
The theater’s still exuberant and symmetrical exterior, with its tiara-like pediment with stylized minarets, has rectangular stained glass panels (by Kraut Art Glass of Germany), bas-reliefs with curlicues or mask-like chimeras; whimsical rope designs; friezes; colorful ceramic tiles; capiz shell main entrance lamps; intricate grille work at the doors and windows; and is also enhanced by sensuous, exotically-draped female statues, said to be Siamese dancers, done by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti (who lived in Manila from 1930 until his death in 1958). It used to house the Museum of Philippine Costumes and Dolls, a GSIS district office, an LBC branch and a travel agency.
 
Female statues done by Monti
Detail of column with capiz lamps
Theater arcade
Another statue by Monti
NHI plaque

Such a beautiful Art-Deco masterpiece deserves a much better fate and should not follow the demise of other gems such as the Manila Jai Alai Building and Meralco Building.

Manila Metropolitan Theater: Padre Burgos Ave., Liwasang Bonifacio (near LRT Central Terminal), Manila

Arroceros Forest Park: Manila’s “Last Lung”

I was slated to join a group being assembled  by Mr. Lawrence “Rence” Chan (who hosts the Royal Postal Heritage Tour) as part of a special documentary tour with the GMA 7 I-Witness team tasked to feature the sorry plight of the now-abandoned and unused Metropolitan Theater.  However, as I arrived very early, I decided to explore the nearby Arroceros Forest Park.

Arroceros Forest Park

Arroceros Forest Park

Located in the  middle of Manila, on the western bank of the Pasig River, beside the LRT Central Terminal Station and right beside the point where one end of the Quezon Bridge (formerly Puente Colgante) is situated, this small but valuable pocket of green is the only secondary forest left in the entirety of this noisy and polluted metropolis.

Quezon Bridge over the Pasig River

Quezon Bridge over the Pasig River

Upon entering its gate, I was literally transported to a different world as this 2.1428-hectare mini forest park was intended, by former Mayor Alfredo Lim, as a refuge of Manileños from the chaos and pollution of this rapidly urbanizing city.  In 1992, the city government purchased this abandoned riverside lot, for PhP60 million, from the Land Bank of the Philippines.

The park entrance

The park entrance

The park has a rich history, though, it being the site of a 16th and 17th century trading post where Filipino rice dealers in Pasig River engaged in barter with visiting Malay and Chinese traders.  The name arroceros was derived from the Spanish words meaning “rice dealer.”  Later, it became the site of the historic Fabrica de Tabacos. during the 19th century and, site of a military barrack (Estado Mayor) during the American era.

A man-made home for the birds

A man-made home for the birds

Though almost a half of its original area (and 70% of the trees) has been irretrievably lost to the concrete structure of the Manila Education Center of the Division of City Schools (another ill-conceived project, built in 2002, of former city mayor Lito Atienza), it still plays host to a diverse array of 8,000 ornamental plants (pink frangipani, palm fronds, etc.) as well as 10 kinds of city-dwelling avian wildlife (sparrows, bulbuls, etc.). Currently, the park is being maintained by Winners’ Foundation Inc. with the help of the Catholic Women’s Club.

The ill-conceived Manila Education Center

The ill-conceived Manila Education Center

To enhance the park’s visual appeal, some minimal landscaping was done, mostly in the form of walking paths, thus enabling visitors to walk within the park. The 61 varieties of trees in the park (labeled accordingly), which insulate the visitor from the noise, heat and pollution, include talisay trees (Terminalia catappa), acacia trees (Acacia confusa), narra trees (Pterocarpus indicus), mango trees, ficus rubber trees (Ficus elastica), mahogany trees (Swietenia mahogani) and Indian neem trees (Azadiratsa indica). Despite its diminished size, this accessible and calm oasis, the “last lung of Manila,” was still worth a visit.

Bridge over a pond

Bridge over a pond