Whenever I visit Manila, I often pass by and see a certain pink Art Deco building standing on P. Burgos Ave. corner Arroceros. Parts of its façade are covered in graffiti, and litter surrounds it. In front of the building, traffic is sometimes heavy, and undisciplined vehicles and pedestrians alike contribute to the bleak scene. For many, this building is just another of those structures forgotten by time in Manila. Unbeknownst to them, at an era when the number of vehicles had not yet choked the streets of the city and World War II had not transpired yet, the Manila Metropolitan Theater (often referred to as the Met), had a glorious run. Its purpose was carried out: different shows and theatrical productions were staged – something that is hard to imagine nowadays.
Even when I was younger, I often wondered what its history was. I only knew it by its name and its pink hue (which I later on learned was not even its original color). I know I watched a play at the Met as part of my field trip during my elementary years, but my memory of it is similar to its paint that is blemished and is now peeling off.
Just like many of the buildings in Manila, the Met has been neglected by the government for several years. There were a number of restoration projects to revive the grand theater, but they were either temporary or worse, completely unsuccessful.
Last year marked another initiative to resurrect the theater and it started when the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) was able to purchase it from its former owner, the Government Security Insurance System (GSIS). The news of its purchase kindled some hope that the Met would be salvaged from further decay.
(note: Click to enlarge photos and see the captions.)
One of the things you’ll immediately notice is how dark the places is. This is because the electrical wires have been stolen, so there’s no power running in the whole structure. It’s creepy, actually.
The NCCA, during the latter part of 2015, called for some volunteers to help them for a series of clean-up drives. Unfortunately, the first few ones were reserved for Architectural students, preventing me and other numerous ordinary citizens to jump at the opportunity to help out. When NCCA finally allowed the public to join, I immediately grabbed the chance to register. I registered early because only about 60 people per drive were allowed. Getting in was difficult; I registered twice, but twice I was not included either. Thankfully, my third time proved to be a charm and I was able to join the concluding leg last April 30. Since it was the last chance for the public to attend the clean-up, the NCCA decided to permit more than what was originally allowed. I, together with my sister and some of her students from her school, as well as other volunteers from different universities, public and private offices, and even soldiers from the Philippine Air Force and the Military, formed the largest number of volunteers – almost 200! It was beautiful to see a big gathering of volunteers working together to bring the Met back to its former glory.
The Manila Metropolitan Theater is just one of the numerous heritage buildings around Manila, and most of them, sadly, are not as lucky as the Met. They continue to deteriorate and be robbed of their belongings, and ultimately, their future. Some are even torn down.
I hope that the government under this new administration will come to its senses and see the great significance and vast potential of these structures; heritage laws must be actually enforced. They can be reused for new purposes, and the government can give tax incentives to those who decide to keep them and reuse them appropriately. It must be remembered that these are not mere buildings, but structures that have been part of history of the country and the nation.
I am happy that the NCCA came up with this clean-up drive and it involved the public in the theater’s initial restoration process. I hope that this spark would turn into a blaze and create a greater interest from the public, allowing them to appreciate history more. Likewise, I fervently hope that this is the start in helping the government see that many people actually do care and that it should a whole lot, too.
proposed plans for the Met. Photo: METamorphosis FB