As one exit through one of the Intramuros gates near Colegio de San Juan de Letran, one can see a number of cultural and and historical treasures in the city of Manila. There is the nearby National Press Club office, the Pasig River, the Manila Post Office, and the Liwasang Bonifacio. Beyond this cluster of public fixtures is a curiously-looking structure, dressed in pale pink paint, found after you cross the street near Liwasang Bonifacio.
Behold the Manila Metropolitan Theater or simply ‘Met’ to some homegrown Manila folk. The Manila Metropolitan Theater started out as a national venue for theatrical presentations. The building that houses the theater was designed by Architect Juan Arellano who came from a family of renowned architects dating back to the Spanish times in the Philippines (you read his short biography provided by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines or NHCP here). Later on, the Theater catered not only to local talents but also to international artists. Operas, pageants, and Spanish and English plays translated into Tagalog were some of the presentations held in that place. From the online biography of Juan Arellano, the Theater is described: “…as built in the modern style, with motifs of Philippine Flora – like a frieze of native mango and its leaves on its ceiling – as part of its decor.”
Like many other buildings in the budding city of Manila, the Metropolitan Theater became an unwilling victim of World War II. During the so-called Liberation of Manila 1945, the structure was severely damaged by the bombings in the city. The damaged building became the temporary shelter of squatters (informal settlers in today’s terminology) and earned the moniker Besa Boxing Arena. Renovations were done in 1978 but as of this writing, it is quite obvious that much must still be done to actually restore the Theater to its former glorious state.
Through online readings, I learned that parts of the façade decors were designed by an Italian artist while parts of the interior were designed by a Filipino artist. I may not be fully oriented in the events surrounding the eventual disuse of the Theater but the decay of what we could truly say as an architectural treasure is a sign of our general disinterest in the performing arts as well as visual arts. One does not just ignore one’s treasure. You keep it, secure it, and show other people how much you care for your treasure. The further people delay the renovations of the Metropolitan Theater, the more we entrench that ugly image about us, that we are not capable of taking care of a very important cultural, and indeed historical, heritage. Yes, we do have the Cultural Center of the Philippine with all its spacious halls and rooms but it is not reason for us to forget the ‘Met’. (It is for this reason that projects to save the ‘Met’ currently underway are encouraging moves.) This may be somewhat pessimistic in tone but it is my hope that it would make some ripples in the air and compel further the concerned individuals or groups to make the necessary actions now.