The Places Where Cinemas of Old Manila Once Stood
by Anne Marielle Eugenio, June 10, 2020 9:00pm
Art by Dani Elevazo
When a new film comes up, we’ve set our minds to see it on the big screen. And so we swarm the mall theaters to watch the much-awaited movie. Back in the day, the people of Old Manila also loved to go to cinemas but they didn’t go to malls to see a new movie. They have stand-alone theaters and cinemas they can go to to have a good time.
But with urbanization and construction in Manila, the theater business began to deteriorate. Soon the theaters closed down and some of them even got completely replaced by other establishments. Some managed to stay but all that’s left are abandoned buildings left uncared for.
Let’s look back at the places where the vibrant cinema scenes of Manila once took place.
As a former business center, Escolta, Manila has its very own theater—the Capitol Theater. The theater that once showed the 1934 Hollywood musical film, 20 Million Sweethearts, closed down and just became one of the buildings in Escolta. In 2018, it was reported that the Capitol Theater will be demolished to give way for high rise buildings, gaining an uproar from the citizens who insist the establishment is a Manila heritage.
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Cinematografo Rizal is the first Filipino-owned cinema in the country. IT belonged to a Filipino painter named Jose Jimenez. But this theater, which once stood on Azcarraga Street (now C.M. Recto), in front of the former PNR Tutuban Train Station, is now just a memory.
Ever see a building along T.M. Kalaw with a big “Luneta” sign on its facade? That’s Luneta Theater owned by the Litonjua family. Up to this day it still stands but you won’t be able to see movies inside this theater as it is no longer operational.
Recto street is filled with affordable finds like books and services. But this street is also where one of Old Manila’s theaters was established. But as the theater business fell, it stopped its operation. Today, shopping centers stand where Odeon Theater was once built.
Back in the day, Quiapo is not only known for its church or bargain finds. This Manila district was once the home of Times Theater, a cinema house that was built in the early 1940s. During the Japanese colonization, the owner opted not to show propaganda images against the colonizers. Although Times Theater appears to be unmaintained, it is still operational. Rumor has it that it will be taken down to give way for business establishments.
The Avenue Theater, located along Rizal Avenue, has witnessed the glory days of old Manila cinema during its prime. In the 1930s, it even had hotel and office spaces. In 2006, Avenue Theater was demolished to make way for a resto-bar.
Built during the 1930s, Bellevue Theater was one of the first theaters in Manila. Its building still stands today but it is no longer operational as a movie theater. It is now a space for a clothing store.
These cinemas were once part of Manila’s entertainment life. And although most of them are no longer operational and completely gone, these movie houses surely made its part to make the old Manila alive and thrive.