Manila is home to a lot of historical spots, monuments, plazas, heritage sites, and landmarks; many of them I, as a local, never knew even existed. But one particular edifice right in the heart of the Philippine capital is difficult to miss. The imposing Metropolitan Theater in downtown Manila is a symbol of resilience, and of a city that keeps on rising again after the dark clouds have passed. The MET, a theater that made Manila a renaissance in art and culture, has been the subject of my curiosity since I was young because of its unique architecture and the mystery that bounds it.
The façade of this architecture marvel alone is a feast to the eyes. I cannot help but be amazed by the detailed stained glass mural that showcases the Philippine’s rich flora and fauna.
Minarets that reminded me of Angkor Wat line the concave roof of this building that resembles a crown fit for what was once revered as the grandame of Philippine theaters. Miniature ogival watchtower that looked like lotus buds stand high on each side of the façade. Bas-reliefs of zigzag and wavy lines also accent its massive walls.
I marveled at the intricately designed wrought iron gates detailed with leaf designs and various lines as I inched closer to the theater. Capiz lamps and pillars with banana leaf details flank the theater’s entrance were the public once queued to watch zarzuelas, plays, concerts, recitals, and other cultural presentations. Despite the cobweb-covered ceilings and soot-dusted walls, the theater’s façade never fails to fascinate onlookers even from afar.
While the façade remains fascinating despite its current condition, the inside looks depressing. The statues of Siamese dancers in ethnic poses that stand atop the side pillars of the theater are now left unnoticed. Graffiti, political streamers, promotional banners vandalize the abandoned theater. The area was cordoned off haphazardly using spare pieces of wood, scrap electrical wires, and dilapidated plywood. Beyond the makeshift fence show sheer neglect and abandonment—shattered glass windows, rusty galvanized iron sheets, ruined pieces of plywood, and heaps of trash left by passersby. The banquet halls inside are suffering from the same remorseful state. The rectangular theater that can accommodate almost 2,000 spectators was left to decay and deteriorate.
Because of the notable and exquisite architecture of the theatre and its important role in Philippine history and arts, the MET was declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 1976. It was also immortalized in Philippine postage stamps that were issued in 2003 as part of Philippine Postal Corporation’s architectural heritage postage stamp series.
Renowned architecture Juan Arellano designed this art deco building, the same architect responsible for designing the Manila Central Post Office and the nearby Jones Bridge. It was inaugurated in 1931 but fell into ruins during the 1945 Battle for the Liberation of Manila. The ruins became home to informal settlers. But through the efforts of the city of Manila, the edifice was reconstructed in 1978. It was closed in the 1990s and reopened shortly in 2010 after repairs. However, it was closed once again a few years ago. Now the theater continues to fall into complete despair.
Despite previous efforts to bring back this theater to its former glory, the MET is still suffering a slow and natural death. Restoration and conservation efforts failed to reach completion. And it did not help that this landmark got caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare with several government agencies claiming ownership of the theater—an unfortunate incident that threatens the continued existence of this built heritage that holds and reflects the story of the Filipino people.
The Filipinas Stamp Collectors’ Club, a group that organizes regular tours of the MET, started an online petition early this month calling on the city government of Manila to take responsibility for the restoration of the Manila Metropolitan Theater. The online petition received 575 signatures as of May 19. Many of the signatories recalled having watched a play in the theater that helped nurture Philippine arts and culture.
But it looks like the theater will soon rise from the ashes again as the Philippine government recently bared a new plan to preserve this heritage building. In May 14, 2014, the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center announced that it has approved funding support for the Manila Heritage and Urban Renewal Project proposed by the Privatization and Management Office of the Department of Finance. The PPP Center said that the project, which is still in its conceptualization stage,
“aims to preserve heritage buildings and landmarks through adaptive reuse. It will also revitalize important historical districts in the City of Manila making them as vibrant tourist zones. The project involves the preservation of the Manila Central Post Office, Liwasang Bonifacio, Manila Metropolitan Theater, Bureau of Customs Building, and the redevelopment of the South Harbor Expanded Port Zone (SHEPZ).”
The government is yet to release full details of the project. The PPP Center is expected to complete the feasibility study for the Manila Heritage and Urban Renewal Project by the end of the year.
An earlier version of this story appeared on CNN. Some portions of this article were also quoted on Wikipedia and other publications on the Manila Metropolitan Theater.
Manila Metropolitan Theater
Padre Burgos Avenue, Manila, Philippines [Google Map]
Landmarks: LRT – Central Terminal Station, Liwasang Bonifacio, Manila Central Post Office
The Filipinas Stamp Collectors’ Club conducts regular tour of the Manila Metropolitan Theater. Please contact the group via Facebook for more information.