City of Manila

Reminiscing the cinematic glitter: the old movie theaters of downtown Manila (Part I- an introduction)

Before came the blight, there was the bright. The bright that shone from the dozens of neon signages that illuminated the cityscape which was downtown Manila. For the people who lived in those bygone days, those neon signs were a form of welcome, a respite from those day-to-day struggles or whatever issue of the day that was bothering them.

from Flickr: Rizal Avenue in the 1950s. note some of the movie theaters that used to stand there

The bright lights would lead them right into a movie theater where they can enjoy the latest movie released in town. Or it could be a comedy act or some performer who will be having a show for that day. Yup, some of those theaters serve a dual purpose as well.

From the early 20th century up until the 1970’s, downtown Manila was home to dozens of movie theaters that made it become the entertainment hub of sorts of the city. Unlike what it is today, each movie theater has something different to offer in an effort to stand out and beat the competition, so to speak. Some would hire the best architects of the day like Juan Nakpil or Pablo Antonio to design their theaters. Some would make arrangements to make their theater become the exclusive venue for movie studios, both local and foreign, to show their films. One can imagine how vibrant and cut-throat the business was back in the day.

Unfortunately, by the 1970s, things made a turn for the worse in the downtown area, especially for movie theaters. Commercial activity was shifting away elsewhere to the other more vibrant districts like Ortigas Center and Makati. The rise of the shopping malls and their multiplex, more impressive movie theaters in different parts of the metropolis made the downtown lost its luster as an entertainment hub. The construction of what would become the mass transit system (the first LRT) Line 1 was a death knell of sorts to the businesses not along where the elevated railway was built but in surrounding areas as well.

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Rizal Avenue, 2013

As someone who grew up in the city in those trying times, I have been witness to the struggles the downtown movie theaters have made to survive in a changing era. Unfortunately, it was a struggle in which very few manage to make it thus far to today. Over the years, I have been witness to some of the theaters transformed into something different, disappeared completely from existence, or hanging on barely by showing some old B-movies or softcore pornflicks.

In the succeeding installments of this series, the Urban Roamer will strive to document the movie theaters that once dominated the landscape of downtown Manila: those that have vanished, those that were radically transformed, and those that have remained in whatever state they are at the moment. This is not intended to be the most comprehensive reference but a humble contribution of this roamer as a way to honor and remember the glorious past Manila had before and perhaps a guide of sorts to help decide the future the city has to make in order to somehow recapture its lost appeal.

For this series, I greatly acknowledge numerous sources and references that I could find to help make this series: Video48 and Rod Samonte, Mr. Richard Tuason-Bautista of the Heritage Conservation Society, GMA News, Wish You Were Here, Manilahub, Flickr, and others I apologize to have missed out if ever for their help in making this series.

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The rest of the series can be accessed here: Downtown Manila movie theaters

© The Urban Roamer

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