City of Manila

Reminiscing the cinematic glitter: the old movie theaters of downtown Manila (Final part: south Santa Cruz and Binondo)

At the height of the glory days of downtown Manila, movie theaters were sprouting not only along Rizal Avenue but also in nearby streets as well in the downtown area as a whole.

One such street, Florentino Torres, which ran perpendicular to Rizal Avenue was once home to two prominent movie theaters, the Deluxe and Republic theaters. Republic was no longer standing by the 1990s as a commercial building that bears its name stands today. Deluxe, which was a landmark in itself in its twilight years thanks in part to its proximity to Ambos Mundos Restaurant, was gone during the mid-2000s and a modern-looking commercial building now stands in its place as well.

the former Deluxe Theater

the former Republic Theater

Further down is Ronquillo Street which lies between Rizal Avenue and Plaza Santa Cruz. Given the street’s proximity to Avenida, there are a couple of prominent movie theaters along this street, the Mayfair (where a casino now stands in its place) and Palace. (where one can see a fastfood restaurant now)

the former Palace (left) and Mayfair movie theaters

Speaking of Plaza Santa Cruz, there were a couple of movie theaters located in the area, just right across the Santa Cruz Church: the Savoy or Astor as it was eventually called after the war and Sta. Cruz Theater, previously known as Tivoli, which was a few blocks away. As the case of many movie theaters, no trace of them can be seen these day, save for the commercial buildings that now stand where they used to be.

the former Tivoli/Cine Sta. Cruz at the background and the Astor/Savoy in the foreground where the blue-striped building now stands

Nearby is the Plaza Goiti, now known as Plaza Lacson. Located nearby at the corner of the foot of MacArthur Bridge and the former Echague Street was the Clover Theater. While it did serve as a movie theater, it was known more for its live performances courtesy of the country’s premiere entertainers in the day like Dolphy, Pugo and Tugo, Bobby Gonzalez, Katy dela Cruz, and the Reycards among others, (and if you are all too familiar with the story of German Moreno, the master showman, this was the place where he first worked and made his start) competing with the Manila Grand Opera House in the north. Think of Clover as the equivalent of sorts of the comedy bar that we know today. It is unfortunate that for such a venue with a very colorful past where some of the legends we know today once performed, not a trace of it remains, not even a memorial or something.

the former Clover Theater

The nearby district of Binondo also boasted of being home to some movie theaters as well. One is the Dragon Theater which is said to be located along Ongpin St. There’s another theater along Ongpin called Rex or King’s Theater (sources seem to vary or they may be the different names in different times of its existence) which is now the home of a Chinese restaurant.

the former Rex or King’s Theater

Then, there’s the famed shopping street of the old that was Escolta which was the home of two prominent movie theaters. One was Lyric Theater, a more grandiose art deco-styled building designed by Pablo Antonio which served as the exclusive home for Warner Bros.films. Then there was Capitol Theater, home for Columbia Picture films that was designed by Juan Nakpil which is also influenced by the Art Deco style, accented with wall murals in its interiors byt the Victorio Edades, father of the Philippine modern painting and the bas relief sculptures one can see today which is said to be the work of Francesco Monti, the same fellow who has done some works for the UST Main Building and the Metropolitan Theater. Today, the Lyric has long since disappeared while the Capitol still stands, albeit in a dire condition that still manages to retain a certain charm as it awaits for a day for it to be brought back anew in the midst of the efforts to revitalize Escolta and downtown Manila as a whole.

the Lyric Theater in the 1930s (from the web)
site of the former Lyric Theater (2013)

With that, the Urban Roamer concludes this series on Downtown Manila’s movie theaters. I hope that this series has been somehow been an educational one and help us better appreciate the heritage that we lost as a guide for us to plot a better future for our city.

Acknowledgements to the sources as enumerated in Part 1

© The Urban Roamer


  • Mariel Lim

    Thank you for this! My Lolo always talks about how he spent most of his time watching movies when he was young. He said his grandfather owns a theater called “Society Theater” at Echague so I’m looking it up but I can’t see much. My Lolo’s 86 years old now and seeing old photos makes him really happy. If you can help me look for pictures or if you know anything about the Society Theater, I hope you can share it with us too! That would be really amazing.

    Looking forward to your next posts. God bless!

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