The journey of discovering downtown Manila’s old movie theaters begins at the city’s geopolitical center: the district of Quiapo. While it may be hard to see Quiapo today as a haven for cinema, (except for the cinema released on those not-so-legal optical media) in the olden days, Quiapo boasts of some of the most notable movie theaters in the city, even though they may not be as numerous as that in the Avenida Rizal strip. In fact in its heyday, there were about a dozen or so movie theaters found in the district, many of which were concentrated along the stretch of Quezon Boulevard, Quiapo’s main thoroughfare.
Today, a number of these theaters have now vanished from existence. To name a few, Metro, Main, Center, and Boulevard theaters along the aforementioned boulevard; Society along the former Echague St. (now Palanca); Illusion at Padre Gomez St. near Carriedo; Inday and Pacific along Estero Cegado St.; and Esquire along the former Raon (now Gonzalo Puyat) have disappeared by the 1980’s.
Then there were Center and Ginto (also known before as Lider) along Quezon Boulevard and Gala and Crown along Evangelista St. which managed to maintain its theater operations until the 1990s-2000s though their operations in their dying days were a far cry from what they were before. Ginto and Center survived by running second-run films (films already released before) of local R-rated films while Gala and Crown were converted into beer joins/sleaze clubs. Ginto, Gala, and Center even figured in the news in their final days due to being dens of prostitution and were raided quite a few times which led to the closure of their theater operations.. Eventually, Gala and Ginto were demolished; Crown and Center are also due to go under the wrecking ball due to these structures being “structurally unsound.”
As grim as the situation is today in Quiapo’s entertainment scene, one can still find some remnants of that colorful past that have withstood the test of time for present and future generations to appreciate at the very least. One example can be found at the front of the Justice Arsenio Dizon Research Center of Manuel L. Quezon University along Hidalgo St., where one can see a curious sight of two lions that seem like guarding its entrance. These lions were actually remnants of a movie theater that used to stand on that very spot called Zest.
Then there are the so-called “Big 3” movie theaters along Quezon Boulevard whose imposing structures at least survived to this day even though the movie operations did not, in the case of two of them. Along the boulevard’s southbound side stands two neighboring movie theaters, Globe and Life whose structures still dominate the Quiapo skyline despite the closure of their theater operations.
Once a famed movie theater, Globe closed its theater operations by the early 2000s and now serves as a commercial complex. However, one can still see inside some aspects of its movie theater past. In addition, its legacy still lives on thanks to its famous fresh lumpia still being served in the theater’s old premises.
A few steps away is its bigger neighbor, Life Theater. Designed by renowned architect Pablo Antonio, it had an art deco influence just like his other architectural masterpiece, the FEU campus. It was originally built in 1941 and, interestingly, the theater’s owners, the Villoncos whose patriarch the building was officially named after, was an original partner of local movie outfit LVN Studios. (they were the V in LVN) It was destroyed by World War II but was rebuilt in 1946 as a state-of-the-art movie theater at the time. When the Villoncos were out of the partnership in LVN, Life became the exclusive movie theater for showing the films of LVN’s rival studio, Sampaguita Pictures. Life’s movie theater business closed for good in the 1990s and like Globe, it is now just a commercial complex as well.
On the opposite side of the boulevard is Times Theater, which was built around the same time as Life. Designed by Architect Luis Araneta, Times holds the distinction today as the only movie theater in Quiapo that is still in business to this day. In fact, one can check out the theater and watch second-run films, mostly Hollywood blockbuster films. Sadly, it has gotten a seedy reputation in recent years due to it being known as a place for a quick fulfillment of those carnal desires, regardless of the film being shown is appropriate for such or not. It is even sadder to note that a number of these surviving movie theaters suffer from the seedy atmosphere that has choked the once-vibrant moviegoing culture in this part of the city.
To be continued…
The rest of the series can be accessed here: Downtown Manila movie theaters
© The Urban Roamer