Manila Metropolitan Theater
History and museums
The Manila Metropolitan Theater (Filipino: Tanghalang Pangkalakhan ng Maynila, or MET) is a Philippine Art Deco building found at the Mehan Garden located on Padre Burgos Avenue corner Arroceros Street, near the Manila Central Post Office. It was designed by architect Juan M. Arellano and inaugurated on December 10, 1931.
Teatro del Príncipe Alfonso XII was an old theater built in 1862, during the Spanish colonial period. It was located within Plaza Arroceros, near the present-day Metropolitan Theater. In 1876, the old theater was burnt down.
It was in 1924, during the American Colonial period that an idea of constructing a theater in Manila came about. It was approved by the Philippine Legislature to build Senator Alegre’s theater proposal within the Mehan Garden (now Sining Kayumanggi). The construction began in 1930 under the supervision of the engineering firm Pedro Siochi and Company in a 8,239.58 square meters of the park. It was inaugurated on December 10, 1931. This new theater housed different performances from zarzuelas, dramas to translations of foreign classics.
Juan Arellano, one of the first pensionados in architecture, also known for his other major projects such as the Legislative Building and Manila Central Post Office Building, designed the Manila Metropolitan Theater in January 1930. He was sent to the United States to be guided by one of the experts in designing theaters, Thomas W. Lamb of Shreve and Lamb.
The theater’s roof and walls were partially destroyed during World War II. During the post-war period, it was misused as a boxing arena, low-quality motels, gay bars, basketball court and home of the squatters. Restoration was done by Otilio, the nephew of Juan Arellano in 1978. This plan was initiated by Imelda Marcos in December 17, 1978 during her rule as the governor of Metro Manila. Its prestige as a cultural center was redeemed but short-lived. It closed down its doors again in 1996 because of conflict of ownership between the city administration and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). Then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and then-mayor of Manila Alfredo Lim tried to revive the theater on June 23, 2010.
The theater was used again once for the Wolfgang Band concert in 2011. But since 2012, the theater is closed again due to decays inside the building.
In May 2015, the Department of Budget and Management released Php 270 Million from the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts (NEFCA) for the sale of the Met from its owner, the GSIS. In June 2015, the GSIS transferred the right of the Met to the NCCA to start the rehabilitation process of the Met.
The concept of the theater was explained by Juan Arellano during one of his interviews in January 1930.
“The Philippines needed a modern cultural center for operas, concerts, and plays, and he planned to achieve a monumental one through its dimensions, elevations, and splendid decorations, and through its harmonious liens it would symbolize an organ or a cathedral.”
Arellano was influenced by early Filipino art which uses local motifs and diverse imagery of Philippine flora. Aside from his knowledge on Filipino art was the factor of economy which both helped the architect in having a modern design approach to the theater. Meanwhile, the phrase “on wings of song” gave the structural configuration, a box-shaped auditorium flanked by pavilions on both sides. The mix of modernization and romanticization resulted in A. V. H. Hartendrop labeling it as modern expressionism.
The Metropolitan Theater façade resembles a stage being framed by a proscenium-like central window of stained glass which carries the name “Metropolitan” with flora and fauna motif surrounding the label. This helps bring in light to the lobby. It was highlighted on both ends by the curving walls with colorful decorated tiles in resemblance with the batik patterns from Southeast Asia. There are also moldings of zigzag and wavy lines that go with the sponged and painted multi-colored massive walls. The wall that framed the stained glass is a segmented arch with rows of small finials on the upper edge of the wall. Angkor Wat-inspired minarets crown the top of the concave roof which suggested its status as a theater back in its prime days. Located in the entrance are elaborate wrought iron gates which are patterned into leaf designs and various lines. Accenting the ground level are Capiz lamps and banana-leaf formed pillars which go alternately with the theater’s entrances.
Standing at the back is a huge vertical box decorated on the sides by geometric motifs. The ceiling profile of the auditorium was reflected in the exterior through stepped vaults.
There were different artists who collaborated in this project especially inside the theater. Located at the main lobby were sculptures of Adam and Eve done by Francesco Riccardo Monti,who resided in Manila from 1930 up to his death in 1958. Isabelo Tampingco, a Filipino artist designed the Philippine plant-themed carvings in the interior spaces including the lobby while National Artist Fernando Amorsolo painted the murals The Dance and The History of Music located at the ends of the balcony. The grillwork on small balconies looking out into the foyer was exceptionally elegant transitions from Art Nouveau to Art Deco, expressed by Lourdes Montinola in her book. The two black posts at the bottom of the staircases were decorated with glass mosaic tiles.
The main auditorium projects a different character as compared to the building envelope’s ornamentality. A sequence of gradually lowered arches made of local wood, enhanced by panels with colorful motifs. These motifs were a combination of mangoes, bananas, and foliage painted by the brother of Juan Arellano, Arcadio. On top of the proscenium are figures symbolic of Music, Tragedy, Poetry and Comedy. Resembling bamboo stalks are the tapering lamps of translucent glass which surround the theater space. The focal point is the rectangular stage adorned with mango fruits and leaves motif.
The crystal lamps made from bamboo stalks which vertically light up the hall are the first in the country in terms of indirect lighting. It is also a new character of Art Deco during that period. The theater, according to some people has good acoustics and lighting and a large seating capacity of 1,670 (846 orchestra, 116 in loge, and 708 in balcony) which housed performances, operas, concerts, and plays for more than a decade. It also continued up to the Japanese occupation where Zarzuelas, Filipino operas, films and stage were shown.
Currently, the Manila Metropolitan Theater continues to physically deteriorate because of the lack of historical consciousness and aesthetic sense of some according to the accounts of Montinola. Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the Manila City Hall, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) had an agreement in reviving the historical theater.
Developments grow in its surrounding area. An example of this is a bus terminal and a parking structure that have both been constructed at the back of the theater.
Vandalism, political advertisements, promotional materials and trash now degrades the heritage theater. The theater has been protected using pieces of wood, scrap electrical wires and rundown plywood. Help continuous to pour in but lacks any concrete actions.
On June 11, 2015, it was the announced that the theater was sold by the GSIS to the NCCA for 270 million pesos. An assessment is being done to determine the cost of restoration, which was initially estimated at another 270 million pesos. It is planned to transform it into a "people's theater", as opposed to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which is for high-end consumers.
Clean-up drive were started in December 2015, paving the way for the eventual restoration of the building by 2016.
The Manila Metropolitan Theaters housed performances by international artists like Ted Shawn, Jascha Heifetz, Amelita Galli-Curci and Fritz Kreisler and local shows such as the “Smiles of 1936,” “Querer Ranchero” and “Luisa Fernando” were all part of the decade that followed its inauguration.
It was still active during the Japanese occupation showing support even for the guerrilla underground. The concert of the Manila Symphony Orchestra was cancelled because the performers ran away from the Japanese. The Metropolitan Theater has not been used for a long time.
Due to the efforts of Imelda Marcos in restoring the theater, it was back to its old function starting off with a performance from Kabataan Barangay’s “Isang Munting Alamat.” The play not only encouraged the youth to attend theaters but most importantly it taught the good traits of Filipinos. Then President Ferdinand Marcos hoped that the theater “will emerge as the shining monument to the cultural enlightenment of the New Filipino.”
Other shows that took place in the theater were: