The Metropolitan Theater: Manila’s Forgotten National Treasure


When you think of Manila, you probably think of Fort Santiago, its world-renowned churches, or the famous Intramuros.

But what you probably don’t associate Manila with is an 83-year old building that has largely been neglected in the past 20 years.

Tragically, many are not aware that it even exists.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater

The Metropolitan Theater by Corteco8 on Wikipedia

Tucked in a quieter area, almost hidden across the walled-city, is the forlorn-looking Metropolitan Theatre. Painted light pink, the now dusty, dirty, and dilapidated theatre stands across Liwasang Bonifacio in the outskirts of Mehan Garden, in an area called Lawton.

With its current state, it is surprising to learn that this building was actually declared a National Cultural Treasure just 4 years ago.

Damaged Metropolitan Theater

The inside of the Metropolitan Theater taken this 2014 by Jeric Pena

The Manila Metropolitan Theatre or simply called Met, has seen better days. It was designed by Juan M. Arellano, the genius behind other Manila architectural gems like the Central Post Office Building and the Legislative Building (now the National Museum). The theatre is a great example of an Art Deco (a design style popular in the 1920s up to the 40s) building and was inaugurated on December 10, 1931.

Performances like zarzuelas, bodabil (vaudeville) and operas once called the Metropolitan Theatre their home at the time when going to these shows was second nature to those who can afford it.

Philippine National Artists like the Queen of Kundiman, Honorata ‘Atang’ dela Rama used to perform here. But due to internal conflicts and the seemingly growing uninterest of different sectors in the world of art, the theatre had been the sad victim of neglect in recent years.

Badly damaged, the Met still managed to survive the second world war. After that, it became an assortment of establishments – from an ice cream parlor to a boxing arena to even a gay bar. This cycle of multiple functions for the theater only ended after it was reconstructed by Former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos in 1978.

Manila Metropolitan Theater After The Second World War

The Metropolitan Theater after World War II | Photo uploaded by John Tewell on flickr

The Metropolitan Theater was revived and eventually became the location for celebrity performances and awarding ceremonies.

But this positive attention seemed short-lived. in 1996, the theatre closed after a dispute took place about the Met’s ownership and maintenance. The dispute was between the local government of Manila and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

It is very disheartening to see the theatre, once Manila’s crown jewel of theatres, in a state of despair and ruins. The building itself is a great reminder of Manila’s prosperous times, days when our country was finding its own identity in the midst of cultural progress and influence from the west.

In 2004, 8 years after the theater closed down, the National Commission on the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) received a ₱50 million grant from former President Gloria for the restoration of the theatre. Three years later, then Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim created a six-man committee to work on the Met’s restoration and to also determine what happened to the 50 million allocated for its restoration in 2004.

It was in 2010 when it was announced that The Met would reopen after restoration efforts costing ₱90 million.

But it wasn’t until the following year when Filipino rock band, Wolfgang, held their concert, that the old grand dame of Philippine theater once again saw visitors. The performance coincided with the celebration of Manila’s 440th founding anniversary.

Wolfgang Performs at the Metropolitan Theater of Manila

Fans watching Wolfgang perform at the Metropolitan Theater in 2011 | Photo from Inquirer

Nowadays it seems people only visit the Met to experience its reported paranormal environment.

Inside the Manila Metropolitan Theater

Inside the Met by Rocel Zamora

Not everyone has forgotten about its existence though. Just this year, a petition was created via for the restoration of the Manila Metropolitan Theater. It was addressed to current Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. With a goal of 7,500 signatures, as of writing, it is still 2,440 signatures short since it only gathered 5,060 supporters.

Last month, Mayor Estrada responded to the petition and wrote:

Today, in behalf of the City of Manila, I expressed interest to rehabilitate and manage the Manila Metropolitan Theater. The GSIS responded favourably. However, the GSIS, as owner, and the City of Manila, as usufructuary, have to take the appropriate legal steps. I personally want to see the Manila Metropolitan Theater open for performances during my term, now with only two years remaining. Continue your petition. It gives us strength to know that people care for our heritage, most especially for Manila. May Pag-asa ang Maynila! Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat.

A non-governmental organization, the Filipinas Stamp Collectors Club (FSCC) used to occasionally hold a free tour about the landmarks of Manila including the Metropolitan Theatre. However, the Met is currently not included in their guided tours (unless you have a permit from the city government). This is because finally, the Metropolitan Theater of Manila is said to undergo its much-needed restoration.

If you want to see just how beautiful the Metropolitan Theater should look like, you can watch this Met model that Cecille Cruz uploaded on YouTube.

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About Author

Paula O

Paula O has the world’s shortest last name and is a lover of cats, books, history, culture & the arts. A self-proclaimed nature-lover, she is also a certified beach babe. She regularly chronicles her wanderings through her travel site Pondering Paodaolei and enjoys mermaiding in her free time.