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Arts & Culture

12 Hauntingly Beautiful Photos of The Metropolitan Theater

Take an exclusive peek of this Art Deco treasure in Manila that has been neglected for years, and is currently being restored to its former glory

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Original Article: Chinggay Labrador Photography: Michael Angelo Chua Pictorial Direction: Nat Clave assisted by Tala Singson

If you’ve ever driven past Arroceros Street in Manila, chances are you’ve seen the Manila Metropolitan Theater also known as MET or Tanghalang Pangkalakhan ng Maynila in Filipino. For years prior to its current restoration, the 85-year-old Art Deco structure was decrepit and abandoned—a landmark signifying the city’s heyday as well as its demise.

The Met’s rehabilitation has been a subject of much debate in the design and architecture community. For decades, its decline has been in plain sight to people who remember visiting the site for concerts and shows, to people who, on their daily commute, pass by the fading structure without giving it a second glance. Thanks to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Met will finally be restored to its former glory.


“The Metropolitan Theater is in a very good position right now,” says architect Gerard Lico, consulting architect for the NCCA. “We’re confident that this restoration effort will bring about the best in the historic structure. The NCCA aims to use this restoration as a demonstration of the best practices in the field of heritage conservation and adaptive reuse and as such, it is to become a textbook example in the conservation of our reinforced concrete structures,” the architect expounds.

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Having been abandoned for years, the theater’s utilities were no longer working. This meant installing new wiring and lighting, and fixing the plumbing—basic requirements to make the theater functional, at the very least. “Currently, we are in the process of structural and architectural analyses to determine the integrity of the structure, employing a skilled team of experts and the best in digital laser scanning technologies.”


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Interior designers Leo Almeria, Adelaida Mayo, and Mary Ann Bulanadi are working to bring the Met back to the way Arellano had intended it to be in the 1930s. As the structural integrity of the building slowly comes back to life, so do its ornate carvings, rooms, sculptures, and grillwork.

The team at the NCCA documents and regularly posts updates on the Met on their Facebook page METamorphosis. Follow their page to see their work and videos of 3D illustrations of how the Met will look like after the restoration.

Exterior



Filipino architect Juan Arellano, who was inspired by the Art Deco styles of the 1925 Paris Exposition, designed the structure with a fresh approach in terms of massing: the theater, which is comprised of an auditorium bordered on both sides by pavilions, resembles a bird with its wings expanded, already in flight. The modern plan was offset by the proliferation of embellishments and themes inspired by local artistry, pulling in the influence of tradition, history, and craft. 

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Its Art Deco theme was given a unique localized treatment. Philippine flora and fauna, batik patterns, Southeast Asian minarets, banana leaf patterns, and capiz shells are scattered from façade to even these exterior lighting fixtures, adorning the building with significant motifs that give people a distinct sense of place and Asian culture.


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A work of art in and of itself, Arellano gave the Met a distinguished building to showcase equally illustrious works of art inside and out—from carvings by Isabelo Tampingco and figurative sculptures by Francesco Riccardo Monti (above), to murals by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo.

Main entrance



The theater’s main entrance boasts this ornate, high-Art Deco gate. According to building administrator Teddy Abrera, the booth seen here housed a paging system used by patrons to call their chauffeurs in the era before mobile phones were invented.

Lobby



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Installed in the lobby of the Met is Agnes Arellano’s “Angel of Death and Six Bullets,” part of the London Biennale Pollination which was staged here in September of 2016. Incidentally, Agnes is the daughter of Otillo Arellano, nephew of the Met’s architect Juan Arellano. A reproduction of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo's mural can be seen on the second floor.

“Since The MET project is guided by rules on conservation, my teammates and I intend to restore the existing original art works introduced by architect Arellano in the building interiors and resurrect those found in his original plans. The interior design of the Theater’s main auditorium on the Ground Floor and the Ballroom on the Second Floor will be resurrected based on the original plans,” explains Mayo, the Dean of Clothing Textiles and Interior Design Department in the University of the Philippines-Diliman. 

Main lobby staircase



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Impeccable grillwork can be seen throughout the Met—from the Art Deco zigzags, curves, and trapezoidal forms of the gates, to the intricate curlicues on hallway railings and staircases, which bear traces of Art Nouveau, an earlier style.

Side entrance



These costumes by the side entrance of the main theater may be dusty and old, but they still exude glamour that harkens back to the heyday of the Met. Building administrator Teddy Abrera is happy to have found these ensembles still in good condition.

Second floor



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One wing of the Met used to hold offices for travel agencies, a courier, and a district office of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). GSIS, the previous owner of the structure officially transferred ownership to the NCCA last June 2015.

Grand Ballroom



The grand ballroom seems to have been preserved by time, with its aquamarine walls and majestic chandeliers—a vestige of the theater’s glory days. In 1978, restoration was initiated by then First Lady Imelda Marcos during her tenure as governor of Metro Manila. On the Met’s Facebook page, a 3D video shows the proposed renovated interior, with a gold, white, and warm wood palette with touches of Art Deco details.

“One of the most challenging aspects of the project is the research involved—finding the surviving documents and photographs of Arellano’s original 1920s drawings,” says interior designer Leo Almeria, who explains that much of the work involved “filling in the blanks.” The sleuthing and teamwork necessary for the adaptive reuse of the Met has, however, been enriching for everyone on board.

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Watch this quick video and discover more about The Met:

NOTE: Photos in this story were taken prior to its restoration, in October of 2016. Rehabilitation works on the theater are currently underway. Read the complete article ("Spotlight: The Met") in the December-January 2016-17 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to summitnewsstand.com.ph/real-living for more details. 

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