This is not some grammatical anomaly there. I am referring here to the grand old dame of Philippine theaters: the one we affectionately call “The Met” or The Manila Metropolitan Theater.
Located near the foot of Quezon Bridge in the corner of old Arroceros, (now known as A. Villegas St.) this iconic landmark was built in an area that was once part of Manila’s first botanical garden in the late 1920’s and was opened on December 10, 1931. It is one of the few remaining structures in the metropolis that follows the architectural style known as Art Deco, one of the most popular architectural designs of the period. It was designed by Juan Arellano, who also happens to be the architect of the Manila Central Post Office and the Jones Bridge; the area where these works are located is known as the “Arellano Triangle.”
With a 1,670 seating capacity and a 3-sectioned seating plan (orchestra, loge, and balcony) n its heyday, the Met served as the center for cultural entertainment before the Cultural Center of the Philippines was built more than 30 years later. Back then, it is considered an honor and privilege to be able to perform on a met, whether it’s a stage play, a concert, or any other cultural presentation. Even during the Japanese Occupation of the city from 1942-45, the Met still served its function as THE venue for entertainment in the midst of the tense wartime atmosphere.
It was heavily damaged during the Second World War, but was rebuilt thanks to the American Rehabilitation Act of 1946. But as the city expanded during the postwar years and new forms of entertainment were being patronized by the public, the Met fell in disrepair by the 1960’s. Then Imelda Marcos came to the rescue; in December 1978, the new Met was unveiled to the public. Apart from cultural presentations, the Met became a Vilmanian haven of sorts when actress Vilma Santos (who was just reelected governor of Batangas) used the Met as a venue for her weekly variety show in the 1980’s.
Soon the Met found itself on the brink of death again as it became a victim of neglect (especially after Vilma’s show ended) and squabbling between the City of Manila (which owns the land where it was built) and Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) which also holds a significant stake on the property, not to mention also holding a local office there. But like the resilient Filipino spirit, the Met is one tough lady that refuses to die; now it is undergoing major renovation works to restore the Met’s rightful place as the grand dame of Philippine theaters. In fact, it just had a soft opening recently as part of the restoration efforts with a presentation of “Senakulo,” directed by actor/Manila councilor Lou Veloso.
Despite the wear and tear it has suffered for a long time, there’s no denying the Met’s charm is still there. Art Deco motifs are abound throughout the theater, Art Deco with an Eastern/Philippine touch to be specific that Juan Arellano brilliantly incorporated in his design.
Special mention must be given to the Francesco Monti, an Italian-born sculptor who moved to the Philippines in 1930 to escape the Fascist government which ruled Italy at the time. He actually sculpted a number of notable works still found around the city, like the Siamese dancer found right above the Met.
The lobby boasts more Art Deco goodness, including stylized sculptures of Adam and Eve, also by Monti.
The level above the lobby going to the loge area used to showcase works by Fernando Amorsolo which celebrated the arts. Today, we only see this blank wall as the paintings are kept at the GSIS offices for the meantime for safekeeping and to protect them from the harsh elements. Hopefully the paintings will return to their rightful home once restoration is completed.
Entering the theater itself shows that some progress is being made, and a lot of work still needed to be done…
…but thankfully, the Art Deco character is still intact, waiting to be given new life once more.
Apart from the theater itself, the Met also boasts a grand ballroom that was actually not part of the original 1930’s Met. It had one only in 1978, thanks to Imelda Marcos. Today, the ballroom stands empty, the pianos gone, but the chandeliers still there, awaiting the day the music will fill the room once more.
For the meantime, the on-going restoration must address the issue of pollution and other elements jeopardizing the structure’s integrity before some significant damage is done on the Met.
In the face of these challenges, it is my fervent hope that I get to see the Manila Metropolitan Theater restored in its full glory someday. For now, I congratulate all the stakeholders and supporters of Met’s ongoing rehabilitation for a job well done so far and to keep on doing this noble endeavor. I also encourage all the readers to help support the efforts of saving the Manila Metropolitan Theater for the future of the city, our culture, and our children’s future.
My special thanks to Lawrence Chan of FSCC for organizing a special tour inside the Manila Metropolitan Theater, and to the Manila Historical and Heritage Commission for their kind permission to grant a tour like this one. You can contact Lawrence Chan for a tour around the Manila Post Office, Metropolitan Theater and other nearby places being held every month through email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© The Urban Roamer