Traffic in front of the Metropolitan Theater

Manila Metropolitan Theater

Manila Metropolitan Theater, or simply the Met, is the largest and most famous Art Deco theater in Manila. Designed by the prolific Juan M. Arellano, the Met officially opened in 1931 and soon became a focal point for Manila’s high society. Like most of the rest of the city Manila Metropolitan Theater was heavily damaged in the Battle of Manila. The post-war era wasn’t kind to the Met; it fell into disrepute for decades until restoration efforts were undertaken in the late 1970s. Ownership disputes led to another phase of neglect in the mid-1990s and today it remains abandoned despite occasional efforts at rehabilitation.

In front of the Manila Metropolitan Theater, the most famous Art Deco theater in the Philippines.
A closer look at the front of the grandest Art Deco theater in Manila.

I visited the Met on a hot and sunny afternoon in late 2015 after passing by Paco Railway Station and touring Intramuros. I was hoping to capture some photos inside the old theater but had to give up on that idea after seeing how busy the surrounding streets were. There is now a bus station behind the derelict theater and the streets that curve around front are congested with jeepneys. Hundreds of people were all around, many of them staring at me or striking up small conversations as I walked by. Most people were very friendly but the environment was not at all conducive to finding an means of entry to the forbidden theater. In any case, the government appears to have done a decent job securing the site, for it would surely be colonized by squatters if there were an easy way in.

The front entrance is securely locked, probably to prevent squatters from moving in.
Beautiful ironwork on the front entrance of the old theater.
Most of the building is covered with graffiti, and not the good kind.
Government signs are posted all around the building and I found no inconspicuous means of access.
Even the back of the theater is covered with gorgeous details.
Entrance to the MET Canteen.
The style is completely unique in my experience.
Historic plaque out front in Tagalog.
The decaying Manila Metropolitan Theater from across the street. The roads are congested but traffic isn’t moving very quickly.

Even without taking a look inside I was highly impressed with the design of the Manila Metropolitan Theater. I am only a casual student of architecture but I’ve never seen anything like it. The Art Deco influence is obvious—but the style is highly localized, drawing inspiration from the Philippines as well as the rest of Southeast Asia. Wikipedia has an uncommonly informative article that I suggest reading to learn more about it. From what I’ve read it sounds like efforts to preserve heritage properties in Manila are inconsistent at best—but at least in the case of the Met it looks like there are positive signs, as a clean-up effort was underway about a month after these photos were taken. Hopefully something is done to restore this Art Deco masterpiece and national treasure to its former glory!

The side of Manila Metropolitan Theater from Intramuros.

Immediately after visiting the Manila Metropolitan Theater I crossed a bridge into the downtown core and discovered many more examples of Art Deco and other pre-war architecture in central Manila. Follow that link for more!

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