Reopening of Manila Metropolitan Theater

April 29, 2010 ( Thursday) Officials of the city government  said that the Met—fondly referred to as the “grand dame” of Manila’s theaters—is on its way to being restored to its former glory.

group photo of the stakeholders within the  Metropolitan Theater

According to old historical records, 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.

In 1862, the Teatro del Principe Alfonso XII was opened to the public and several foreign companies were hired to perform operettas, zarzuelas and three-act plays. On June 11, 1865, “La Conquista de Jolo” was staged there and it glorified the military campaigns of Governor Antonio Urbiztondo in the south, in 1750. Another play dedicated to the Spaniards who waged war in Jolo, Sulu  “Una Pagina de Gloria” was presented in April, 1876.

Unfortunately, the Teatro del Principe Alfonso burnt down a few months after that but it was never proven that an irate Muslim had put it to torch.

Japanese tourist posed at the Mehan Garden circa 1900’s – from the private collection of Mr. Centeno

Several years later,  During the American colonial period in 1924 , When  a member of then Philippine legislature proposed that a theater to be constructed near the Mehan Garden formerly Jardin Botanico de Manila established in 1858. The botanical garden was considered to be one of the oldest botanical institutions  in  Asia after the  Indian Botanic Garden in Horah established in 1787 by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kyd.  Buitenzorg Botanical Garden (now  Bogor Botanical Garden) Indonesia  was established in 1817 .   Singapore Botanic Garden was established in 1859 about a year after the establishment of Jardin Botanico de Manila .

No one lambasted him for being a profligate elitist with misguided priorities . The proposal was first conceived in 1924 when Manila was not only known as ” Pearl of the Orient” but also dubbed” Milan of Asia” , reputed to be as charming as Paris . This city embraced four cultures Asian, European , North American( American colony ), Latin American  through Spain and Mexico  .

It took another 6 years to lay the corner stone of the theater on a selected spot within the 8,000 square meter Mehan Garden . Finally on December 10, 1931 the art deco inspired architecture of  brothers  Mr. Juan Arellano and Mr. Arcadio Arellano following the American architectural planner Mr. Daniel Burnham lured by the unique opportunity of designing in tropical Asia these proud edifice would symbolized the power and glory of the American colonial administration.

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.

Adam sculpture by Monti

The sculptures in the façade of the theatre are from the Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti , who lived in Manila from 1930 until his death in 1958, and worked closely together with J.M. de Guzmán Arellano. Highly stylized relief carving of Philippine plants executed by the artist Isabelo Tampingco decorate the lobby walls and interior surfaces of the building. Murals by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, namely “The Dance” and “History of Music” adorned the lobby. ( now kept at the GSIS museum for safekeeping).

The 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.

a gallery of Filipino artists

The venue played host to vaudevilles , zarzuelas , performances by world re known artists like Jascha Heifetz, violin virtuoso were also also held within the theater.  Indisputably , the Metropolitan theater was the masterpiece of Architect Juan Arellano . He did it in Art Deco style which was the rage in the United States.

During its heyday, the theater could accommodate 1,670 people: 846 in the orchestra section, 116 in the loge and 708 in the balcony areas.

Manila Metropolitan Theater after the war circa 1945

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 before it was rebuilt in 1978 by former First Lady Imelda Marcos.

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 grad 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 category 5 typhoon  wreaked havoc over Metro Manila, Calabarzon Region and Bicol Region.

The Met fell 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.

In 2004, the GSIS and city government finally agreed to set aside their differences, and, with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, signed a tripartite agreement on a work action plan for the structure’s restoration.

Higantes provided a colorful backdrop to the festive atmosphere

Coincidentally , the Metropolitan theater was also featured in Philippine stamps ( Architectural Heritage series ) in 2003.

Almost P90 million, including P50 million released by President Macapagal-Arroyo, has been spent for the project.

Television host German Moreno has vowed to initiate fund-raising efforts for the Met , said Araneta. Lim added that they are also waiting for another P50 million promised by the President.

Author’s note: The author through the Filipinas Stamp Collectors’ Club in cooperation with Manila Cityhall , Museo ng Maynila , National Press Club , Intramuros Administration and Philpost conducts a regular free guided tours within the Metropolitan Theater grounds every third sunday of the month . Pre-registration is required  to those people/ groups who wanted to join the free guided tours.

For contact : (0919-3901671 )

Email: L_rence_2003@yahoo.com

Land line: Mrs. Josefina Tiongson -Cura (+632) 735-5001 monday to saturday 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM only !

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