The photos taken by professional and amateur photographers on June 17 told the disheartening story: The grande dame Manila Metropolitan Theater, or simply the Met, one of the cultural shrines of the antebellum period (along with the Manila Grand Opera House), fronting Liwasang Bonifacio—don’t call it Lawton—was on fire.
Smoke billowed from the first floor a few doors away from the art deco facade and rose sky-high, even as cars and motorcycles went on their way. The fire surged, but now we could see a fire truck nearby even as traffic continued. Then the firemen arrived in force, and traffic was rerouted.
Fire trucks and volunteer brigades surrounded the area around the entrance; and from the flyover and bridge leading to Santa Cruz, news photographers, camera buffs and cellphone owners made haste to document the event.
National Cultural Treasure
To think that the Met, a National Cultural Treasure, had just undergone restoration.
According to a statement issued in Filipino by the management of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Met, the fire began in a room on the first floor of the building’s Padre Burgos Wing, which is presently being improved under Phase III of the restoration project.
Thankfully, the fire did not spread to the other parts of the theater complex and was declared under control by 9 a.m.
No one was injured, and the property damage was limited to old and dilapidated stuff (kagamitan) that had been taken from other parts of the theater.
Gratitude was expressed for the efforts of the Department of Fire Prevention, the volunteer firemen, and the City of Manila, as well as for the messages of concern.
The statement ended on an encouraging note: “We are more determined than ever to serve and thus bring about a new life for our National Theater,”
No other details could be supplied by NCCA information chief Rene Napeñas, who was, at the time of this writer’s inquiry, “in the mountains of Abra” where the internet signal was Intermittent.
Arellano and Edades
The Manila Metropolitan Theater, designed by architect Juan Arellano with an assist from Victorio C. Edades (both of whom later became National Artists), was inaugurated on Dec. 10, 1931.
Unlike many buildings in the capital, the iconic theater survived almost intact the Battle for Manila in February 1945.
It endured a period of decline, after which it was rehabilitated in 1978. For a time, cultural shows were once more presented in a manner hopeful of rivalling the Cultural Center of the Philippines. But then years of neglect came again.
Finally, a six-year restoration project was started in 2015 under the aegis of the NCCA. The Met was restored to its full glory in June 2021. A regular season, however, was not yet in operation.
And now this fire, the cause of which has not been clarified but fortunately was not a consuming conflagration. Repair work should be done soon, and we look forward to the eventual presentation of plays, concerts, operas and musicales—to be staged in “monumental fashion,” as was promised then and now.