Manila offers to buy Metropolitan Theater from GSIS
If it were up to the city government, it would refurbish the Manila Metropolitan Theater and offer it to students as a venue for art performances.
Mayor Joseph Estrada said that his government was in talks with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) to regain ownership of the Art Deco-style theater on P. Burgos corner Arroceros Street in Manila which opened in 1931.
According to Estrada, the city government has already submitted an offer to buy the long-neglected structure from GSIS.
“We offered P200 million to GSIS to get it back and they are still studying it,” Estrada said in a recent interview. The city government is keen to buy the building at a price that is advantageous to it, he added.
The negotiation to reacquire the theater, which is considered a heritage structure by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, started in September after the city council authorized Estrada to do so.
In a resolution, the city council said it was important to gain control of the theater as it claimed that the GSIS, which currently owns the building, cannot use its funds to operate and maintain the structure.
“There is a need to preserve the structure which has been declared a national heritage and restore its original grandeur befitting the country’s center of arts and culture,” it added.
The resolution was passed by the council at a time when the Manila City government was getting flak from conservationists and historians for allegedly allowing several old buildings, such as the Admiral Hotel and the Manila Army and Navy Club, to be demolished.
Heritage advocates also criticized the city government for allowing the construction of the Torre de Manila condominium which they claimed would mar the sight line of the Rizal Monument.
“The City of Manila intends to rehabilitate and manage the Metropolitan Theater if only to preserve national landmarks and other structures within the city that has historical and cultural significance,” the city council said.
For his part, Estrada said that the venue can be used by students of the two city-run universities—Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and Universidad de Manila—once it is restored.
The Manila Metropolitan Theater was built in 1930 and launched a year after. It was designed by architect Juan Arellano, who also designed the Manila Central Post Office Building in nearby Lawton and the Old Legislative Building on Padre Burgos Avenue, now the National Museum.
It is known for its elaborately decorated façade, with stained glass windows, sculptures and elaborate moldings, and its exotic interior, all inspired by Filipino designs.
It was used as a venue for performing arts and for events such as zarzuelas and plays until World War II when it was partially destroyed. It then fell into neglect and, at one point, was occupied by squatters.
Estrada said that their research showed that during the Marcos regime, then Mayor Ramon Bagatsing donated the building to the Metro Manila Commission, led by then First Lady and now Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos.
“After that, I think the commission mortgaged it to the GSIS. But they did not pay the debt. At one point, just the interest alone cost P600 million,” he said.
The Marcoses restored the theater but it again fell into neglect starting in the 1990s. Since then, only a handful of events has been staged in the theater.
Estrada said they want to regain control of the theater as soon as possible but did not indicate a specific time frame for its acquisition.
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