Last Updated: November 8th, 2017
A stone’s throw away from the LRT Central Station, is the iconic landmark of Old Manila, the Manila Metropolitan Theater. In its heyday, Met played host to different performances from zarzuelas, dramas, and even translations of foreign classics. Today, with the help from the national government, it is undergoing rehabilitation to help save one of the architectural icons of Old Manila. Here are 14 highlights of the theater’s history, design, construction, and the people who worked together to build this magnificent edifice.
1. The construction of the theater began in 1930 and was inaugurated on December 10, 1931.
2. It was designed by Juan M. Arellano, one of the first pensionados in architecture. Pensionados are qualified Filipino students whose expenses are covered by the government while they acquire their degrees abroad.
Juan Arellano, a graduate of Drexel University in Philadelphia, was a Filipino architect best known for designing some of the most iconic buildings in Manila. Some of his best-known works include the Manila Central Post Office, the Legislative Building (now houses the National Museum of Fine Arts), and Jones Bridge which connects Binondo and Ermita.
He’s also behind the design of the Cebu Provincial Capitol, the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol, and the main branch of the Bank of the Philippine Islands in Cebu.
3. It incorporates Art Deco style in its design.
Art Deco is a style of visual arts and design that first appeared in France before World War I. Not only did it influence designs of buildings, but also furniture, jewelry, fashion, cars, trains, and objects that we use every day, such as radios and vacuum cleaners.
In the Philippines, other theaters with Art deco style include the Capitol Theater in Escolta, Saint Cecilia’s Hall at Saint Scholastica’s College, U.P. University Theater on Taft Avenue, Scala Theater in Santa Cruz, Gaiety Theater in Ermita, State Theater, and Times Theater among others.
Skyscrapers built in the 1920s and 1930s are also living monuments of Art Deco Style. Some of the most famous structures that incorporate Art Deco in its design include the Chrysler Building in New York, the Fisher Building in Detroit, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Brussels, and the Éden Theater in Lisbon.
Other structures in the Philippines that also incorporate art deco style include the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan, First United Building in Escolta, Afable Building in Sampaloc, and the Cebu Provincial Capitol in Cebu.
4. The engineering firm Pedro Siochi and Company supervised its construction. Construction began in 1926 and was completed before the outbreak of war in 1941.
Pedro Siochi’s renowned firm is also behind the construction of big infrastructure projects including the five-star Manila Hotel, La Mesa Dam and Reservoir, Quezon Bridge, the Manila Central Post Office, Cebu Provincial Capitol, and the Legislative Building (National Museum of Fine Arts).
Pedro Siochi, a native of Malabon, Rizal obtained his degree in Civil Engineering from the Ghent University in Belgium. He also served as the president of Philippine Constructors Association from 1945-1946.
5. Renowned Filipino sculptor Isabelo Tampinco designed the Philippine plant-themed carvings inside the theater.
Isabelo Tampinco is best known for his wood carvings on churches. Among his works were Manila Cathedral’s facade, the high relief on Santo Domingo Church, the woodcarvings of the San Agustin Church, and the main altar of the Laoag Cathedral.
He also worked on the altar, pillars, and ceilings of the Church of San Ignacio in Intramuros The church was destroyed during the Battle of Manila and is currently being rebuilt as part of Museo de Intramuros. It is planned to be an ecclesiastical museum that will house a thousand artifacts that the Intramuros Administration had collected over the years.
6. National artist Fernando Amorsolo painted the murals “The Dance and The History of Music” located at the ends of the balcony.
Fernando Amorsolo, a graduate of University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts, was a portraitist and painter of Philippine landscapes, Filipino customs, culture, fiestas, and occupations. Some of his best-known works include Dalagang Bukid (1936), The Explosion (1944), The Burning of Manila (1946), The Mestiza (1943) among others. At a 1996 Christie’s auction, Amorsolo’s The Marketplace went for US$174,000. In April 2002, Portrait of Fernanda De Jesus was bought for US$377,947.
He was honored as the first National Artist in Painting at the Cultural Center of the Philippines by then President Ferdinand Marcos. Some of Amorsolo’s work is now displayed in the National Museum of Fine Arts, and the Jose B. Vargas Museum & Filipiniana Research Center at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.
7. Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti designed the Siamese and Oriental dancer sculptures embellishing the exterior and the figures of Adam and Eve in the lobby.
Francesco Riccardo Monti studied art at the Institute of Ponzone for Decorative Arts and Technology and the Royal Academy of Breza in Milan. Monti’s work shows a strong classical influence, owing to his early training in Italy. After World War II, he was offered a teaching position at the College of Fine Arts of the University of Santo Tomas. Some of his works include the reliefs on the facade of the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City, he also sculpted five allegorical statues for the Philippine International Fair, a project of President Elpidio Quirino which now stands on the grounds of the Malacañang Palace.
8. Arcadio Arellano, Juan Arellano’s brother, painted the arches with colorful motifs with a combination of mangoes, bananas, and foliage. Painted on top of the proscenium are figures symbolic of Music, Tragedy, Poetry, and Comedy.
Arcadio Arellano, a graduate of Ateneo de Manila University (formerly Ateneo Municipal de Manila), worked closely with Governor William Howard Taft (who became the President of the United States from 1909-1913) as his private consulting architect. He also supervised the assessments in Intramuros as ordered by the Schurman Commission after the Philippines was ceded to the United States by Spain following the Treaty of Paris of 1898.
9. It was partially damaged after the Battle of Manila in 1945 (World War II). After the war, the theater was used as a boxing arena, gay bar, basketball court, and a cheap motel.
10. Imelda Marcos initiated its restoration on December 17, 1978 when she served as the governor of Manila. However, it fell into decay when it closed its doors in 1996 due to the conflict of ownership between the city of Manila and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
11. It was sold to National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) for Php270 Million by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
The NCCA , the country’s prime government agency for arts and culture, credits the efforts of the national government, led by President Benigno Aquino III, and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Florencio Abad for this development. The DBM released P270 million from the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts (NEFCA) for the sale of the Met from its owner, the GSIS.
12. Architect Gerald Lico of the University of the Philippines Diliman will lead the restoration which is expected to take two to three years. It will first involve the assessment of the building’s structural integrity using 3D laser scanning and ground penetrating radar.
The original designs and features of the theater will be retained.
13. During the course of its rehabilitation, the original details of the theater were discovered to be intact:
- The 1930s Art Deco proscenium designed by Riccardo Monti
- The wrought-iron grillwork was also discovered after the old air-conditioning units were dismantled
- The tunnels under the Manila Metropolitan Theater were discovered to be true, and not just an urban legend. The tunnels pumped cold air from an American-era ice processing plant, where the LRT Central station stands.
14. Architect Gerard Lico estimates that the rehabilitation of the Manila Metropolitan Theater will take up to five years to complete, at an estimated cost of Php 700 to Php 800 Million.
The team behind the project is currently focused on the rehabilitation of the main theater, and hopefully get it done in time for the 86th anniversary of Met in December.
– The Manila Project
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