Ideal Theater

Ideal Theater during its pre-war heyday. Ⓒ Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

Manila was a city which served as a model of pre-war prosperity. Its other Far Eastern neighbors such as Singapore and Hong Kong were no match to Manila's outstanding beauty. The city boasted the finest shops, restaurants, theaters, and institutions that made it earn the title 'Most Beautiful City in the Far East'. Along the fabulous Avenida de Rizal, known to many as the Avenida, there are numerous theaters to choose from. One of these theaters was the Ideal, considered by Manila's alta sociedad as one of the best theaters in the city.

The Ideal Theater was an art-deco masterpiece designed by the National Artist for Architecture Pablo Antonio in 1933. The theater, owned by the Roces family, in partnership with Teotico, Basa, Tuason, and Guidote families, has been operating since 1912, with the first theater made out of wood. 

 Pablo Antonio y Sebero, architect of the Ideal Theater. Ⓒ History of Architecture

As mentioned, the Ideal Theater was commissioned by the Roces family to Pablo Antonio, one of the second-generation Filipino architects who came back after studying or training overseas. Antonio's commission on the Ideal made an impact to his career. Later on, he would design other Manila landmarks, such as the Far Eastern University, White Cross Orphanage, and the post-war Manila Polo Club in Forbes Park. 

The Ideal was then the exclusive exhibitors of MGM motion picture films in the Philippines. Ⓒ Paulo Alcazaren

The Ideal projected an art-deco style of architecture. This type of architectural style was prevalent in the 1930s, wherein cinemas and theaters were designed using this style. One of its interesting features is that it boasted a streamline design -- that is, it was adorned with smooth curves and finishes. After its completion in 1933, the Ideal became one of the city's best theaters. Because of its location along the Avenida de Rizal, many theaters soon rose on its grounds. Rival theaters such as the State, Ever, and Avenue owned by the Rufino family built their theaters along Avenida de Rizal. 

The Ideal (center), and the Roces Building (left), taken sometime in the late 1930s. Ⓒ Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

Ideal Theater's proscenium. Take note of the streamline design of the arches. Ⓒ Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

During the Japanese occupation, the Ideal, along with other theaters in the city did not feature Hollywood films, but instead showed Japanese films and stage plays used for propaganda. 

Filipinos welcoming the Japanese as they paraded triumphantly in the newly-captured city of Manila. The Ideal Theater can be seen on the left. Ⓒ Alfredo Roces

The liberation of the City of Manila in February of 1945 brought great suffering to hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. More than fifty percent of the structures in the city were either damaged or completely ruined. The Ideal was one of the structures in the city that was not totally devastated during the month-long battle. 

Avenida de Rizal after the liberation in 1945. The Ideal (left) and State (right) theaters can be seen. Ⓒ Flickr/Beyond Forgetting

Post-war rehabilitation came immediately after 1945. Many of the city's destroyed structures were either rebuilt or completely demolished to pave way to new and modern structures. The Ideal was rebuilt, along with other movie theaters in the city. In fact, movie theaters were the first to be rebuilt as many people demanded entertainment. 

Ideal Theater in the early 1960s. Ⓒ Manila Nostalgia/Jess Espanola

The emergence of air-conditioned shopping malls such as Quad and ShoeMart paved way to the decline of the standalone movie theaters. In the case of the Ideal, and other theaters located along the Avenida, it was due to the construction of the elevated Light Rail Transit in the 1980s. 

The Ideal, once the gem of Rizal Avenue's theaters, closed down in the 1970s and was demolished to make way for shopping arcade.

The Ideal Theater taken sometime in the 1970s. Ⓒ The Urban Historian

Capitol Theater

The ever-beautiful Capitol Theater along the busy Escolta. © Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

Pre-war Manila was a city of entertainment, its streets lined with nightclubs, cabarets, theaters, cinemas, and social clubs. The city had so much theaters that some were built right in front or beside each other. So, along the stretch of the beautiful Escolta is a first-class theater that many members of the alta sociedad prefer, which is the Capitol Theater.

The Capitol Theater sits on prime land at the western side of the Escolta, once the country's premier business and shopping area north of the Pasig River. The Capitol Theater is one of the city's many cinema theaters, but not the Escolta's only cinema as its rival (later sister) theater Lyric is only two buildings away from the Capitol.

A photo of the Capitol during its grand opening. © Nostalgia

The Capitol Theater was built in 1935, and a masterpiece of National Artist Juan F. Nakpil de Jesús, who also designed the Pérez Samanillo Building together with the great Andrés Luna de San Pedro. It was designed and built in the art-deco style of architecture, an architectural style that was prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s. The Capitol had a total of eight hundred seats, and one of Manila's air-conditioned theaters. One interesting feature of the Capitol was its design. Inside the theater, Nakpil made use of double balconies, which was then a rare architectural design. Its lobby adorned murals designed by the triumvirate composed of Filipino modernists Victorio C. Edades, Carlos V. Francisco, and Galo B. Ocampo. According to documents, Nakpil originally commissioned Edades to work on the mural. Edades then chose 'Botong' Francisco to be his assistant, who then brought with him Ocampo. The three had just returned from the United States and hoped to change the Philippine art scene long dominated by the masters Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino. 

Capitol Theater's mural called 'Rising Philippines' adorned its lobby. From L-R are: Carlos V. Francisco, Severino Fabie, Galo B. Ocampo, Victorio C. Edades, and Arch. Juan F. Nakpil. © Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

There are other interesting things about the Capitol Theater. Its façade has two bas-relief sculptures designed by Italian sculptor and expatriate Francesco Riccardo Monti. Monti's other works also include the bas-relief sculpture called 'Furies' at the old Meralco (then Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company, now the Manila Electric Company) Building along Calle San Marcelino, sculptures atop University of Santo Tomás' main building, and the sculptures at the Quezón Memorial in Quezón City.

Escolta corner Calle Nueva. The Capitol Theater can be seen on the right side of the photo. © Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

The bas-relief at the Capitol portrays two Filipinas in the tradional Filipiniana attire. Both sculptures are placed on both sides of the theater's façade.

"The Capitol Theater, designed by Juan Nakpil in 1935, explicitly portrays Filipinas in the native garb on the front elevations. The women, set within a tropical landscape, evoke a faraway rural and bucolic place very much different from the urbanized and built-up setting of the commercial district of Escolta in Manila. If the situation is closely inspected, the Filipino designers employing art deco were not considered as part of the “rural folk” being represented in the stylistic ornamentations, but rather were metropolitanized architects who were in fact part of the “new” cultural elite of cosmopolitan Manila (Salamanca 1968, 91-92). Thus, they were not necessarily experiencing in their daily lives the “rural” and “native” imagery that they were enacting." (excerpt from Heritage Conservation Society)

Monti's bas-relief sculpture featuring Filipinas in tradional Filipino attire. © Manila Nostalgia/Isidra Reyes

The Capitol was owned and operated by theater moguls Vicente and Ernesto Rufino, whose family owned many theaters throughout the city such as the Lyric, State, Grand, Ever, and Avenue Theaters. But, according to José Victor Torres' 'Manila: Studies in Urban Cultures and Traditions', the Tuason family first owned the Capitol through their purchase of the Eastern Theatrical Company Inc.

"The heirs of Demetrio Tuason first engaged in show business by purchasing the Eastern Theatrical Enterprises which owned the Fox Theater and operated the Metropolitan Theater. The Tuason family then put up the Eastern Theatrical Co., Inc. The encouraging results prodded the heirs to build the Capitol Theater at the Escolta which was inaugurated in 1935. This also became the new office of the family company. The company also purchased the Lyric Theater from the Peoples Bank and Trust Company in 1939. This acquisition made the company sole owners of the two modern movie houses at the Escolta.  The Lyric Theater in itself had an interesting history. In 1917, the Exhibitor’s Exchange, which was owned by the firm of France and Goulette, built the first Lyric Theater on the side of the old Botica Boie at the Escolta. It was remodeled in 1927, changed ownership in 1935 and remodeled again in 1937. President of the Eastern Theatrical Co., Inc. was Jose Tuason and Nicasio Tuason was General Manager." (excerpt from Manila: Studies in Urban Cultures and Traditions)

The Capitol and the Escolta viewed from inside a shop also along the majestic street. Photo taken sometime in the late 1930s. © Nostalgia

A colored photo, probably a postcard, of the Escolta business area. The Capitol is on the left side of the photo. © Arquitectura Manila Photo File

Escolta and the Capitol during the mid-thirties. © LIFE via Flickr/Beyond Forgetting 

The Japanese occupation came about in 1942, with the defeat of the combined Filipino and American forces in Corregidor. During the war years, the Escolta still continued to be the center of gravity in the city. Since most theaters in the city featured American films before the war, they were banned from being showed by the Japanese High Command. The Capitol instead showed local films, live production acts, and Japanese propaganda tools. It has been said that Fernando Poe Sr. was a film producer in the Capitol during the Japanese occupation.

Conducting an air raid in December, 1941. © Nostalgia

The Battle of Manila had ravaged more than eighty percent of the city's infrastructure, displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians, and left one hundred thousand civilians dead. The Capitol was one of the unfortunate buildings that were damaged, though not as destroyed as her neighbors like the Crystal Arcade, Cu-Unjieng Building, and the Masonic Temple. 

An aerial view of the Escolta-Binondo-Sta. Cruz areas showing the extent of damages done by both American and Japanese forces. The Capitol (encircled) can also be seen. © Flickr/John Tewell

Life at the Escolta came back to life after the liberation of the city. The Capitol was renovated and was once again up and running until it ceased operations decades ago. This was the trend of movie theaters in Manila during the late 1970s to the 1980s, where standalone theaters close due to the opening of shopping malls that include movie theaters. Today, many standalone theaters no longer feature blockbuster films, but rather operate underground where soft pornographic films, or bomba, are shown.

Recently, the Capitol's interior has been abandoned, leaving only its façade. Several small business establishments and a restaurant used to operate inside.

Art-deco detail of the Capitol Theater. © Super Pasyal

There are initiatives done to preserve the historic Escolta. The Escolta Commercial Association is an organization composed of owners of business establishments along the Escolta. Also, another intiative called 'Hola Escolta' was made in 2012 which seeks the revitalization of the Escolta. 

Here at A.M., our goal is to educate the Filipino people about Manila's glorious architectural past. These built heritage are a part of our nation's history, may it be signifcant or not. To do this, we must preserve the architecture of the past as we are its stewards. We do not own these historic structures, we are only taking care of it for the next generation.  So, in the words of Ayala Corporation President and COO Fernando Zóbel de Ayala Miranda: "Your focus is always on the legacy, on the history, and really looking forward to the next generation, and making sure that you pass the baton in the same way that it has been passed on to you.

The Capitol Theater, circa 2012. © The Filipinas

Manila Metropolitan Theater

The Met's facade during its pre-war glory. © Flickr/John Tewell

If anyone was to be asked 'What is the most beautiful theatre you've seen in Manila?' probably the answer is the Metropolitan Theater, or simply the Met. The Met hosted several operas, plays, and concerts of pre-war Manila. Situated across Plaza Lawton (now Liwasang Bonifacio), this magnificent Art Deco gem is considered as the 'Grand Dame of Manila's theatres' for its ornate architecture.

A front elevation of the Met. © Arkitekturang Filipino

The Met is one of the few surviving examples of art deco architecture in the Philippines. The theatre is an example of Philippine art deco for its native designs and carvings. Built in 1931 by Juan Arellano, architect of many Manila landmarks such as the Post Office Building, the Legislative Building, Jones Bridge and among others. 

The Met sometime after its reconstruction during the 1970s. © Manila Symphony Orchestra 

The Met was inaugurated on December 1931 and has a seating capacity of 1,670 (846 in the orchestra section, 116 in the loge section, and 708 in the balcony section). During its prime, the Met was home to the Manila Symphony and also home to operas, vaudevilles, and zarzuelas. Its stature as the 'Grand Dame' made the Met a gathering place for Manila's 'alta sociedador high society.

The Met's exterior adorned with intricate art Deco tiles inspired by indigenous designs. © Tumblr/Indio Historian (Indio Bravo)

The Met's facade was a stunning piece of art. Its exterior is adorned with intricate designs inspired from Philippine flora. The sculptures within the Met was done by Francesco Riccardo Monti, an Italian expatriate who also made the statues atop the University of Santo Tomas' Main Building and the mourning angels atop the Quezon Memorial. 

One of the Met's bronze statues depicting Siamese dancers. The statues were sculpted by Italian expatriate Francesco Riccardo Monti. © Philippines Blog 

The neglected proscenium of the Met. © Cosplay Rune
The Met's intricate facade is seen through its grills and stained glass windows. © Gustavo Thomas Theatre

The Met's art deco architecture is simply one of a kind. Minarets inspired from Islamic architecture gave it a Filipino touch. © Philippines Blog

Unfortunately, Manila was ravaged by war and most of Manila's buildings were obliterated, including the Met. It was reconstructed again during the Marcos administration in the 1970s, but ownership disputes between the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the City Government of Manila made the Met be closed once again. Calls for reconstruction were made by heritage enthusiasts to save this magnificent gem. It is sad to see the Met (and other heritage structures) being neglected by our own people. When will we Filipinos learn how appreciate our heritage? 

The Met in ruins after the Liberation of Manila in 1945. © Tumblr/Manila 


  1. Beautiful photographs! Thanks for sharing.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. Amazing photos! Thanks for sharing, nice blog!