Saturday, April 12, 2008


This is the facade of Life Theater on Quezon Boulevard in Quiapo, which was owned by Remy Villongco and located only a few meters from the Quiapo Church.

During the golden age of the local film industry, beginning after the Second World War, this theater was one of the two that the association of movie producers agreed on sharing -- on a rotating basis, ten days for each movie studio -- to showcase its new film.

The studios that ruled the land at that time were Premiere Productions, LVN Pictures, and Sampaguita Pictures. There was also a fourth one, Libran, but its sophisticated fare with obvious foreign bent failed to capture the interest of the general public. It eventually ceased its operation.

The smaller Dalisay Theater on Avenida Rizal was used by the studios for minor releases, while the larger and air-conditioned Life Theater hosted the blockbuster releases and their glitzy premieres. At these affairs, the local female leads emulated their Hollywood counterparts; projecting incredibly elegant movie star personas with wardrobes designed by just as equally famous local couturiers.

If the current television shows -- such as Pinoy Big Brother and the Dream Academy -- are today's leading dream factories, back during that era, it was Sampaguita Pictures under the helm of Dr. Jose Perez that produced the country's most popular silver screen idols. His female stars were always dressed by Ramon Valera and the supporting stars by Pitoy Moreno, who was reportedly discovered by him. As for the upcoming starlets, it was Christian Espiritu who was delegated by Dr. Perez to design their glamorous gowns.

At premieres, the stars would arrive in the air-conditioned Sampaguita Pictures bus and alight in front of the Life Theater in the midst of blinding klieg lights and deafening cheers of adoring fans, most of whom arrived hours beforehand just to get a glimpse of their favorite stars. Everyone would scream deliriously at the sight of these movie stars with stiff regal hairdos, theatrical make-up, and double-layered eyelashes created by renowned stylists such as Moises Sic, Benny Baluyot, Freddy Marasigan, and D' Fernando.

And if the newly-released movies shown at Life and Dalisay proved to be box office hits, "move-over engagements," as they were called back then, were immediately arranged at the nearby Times or Boulevard theaters. For additional mileage, there were the double bill features at Illusion and Inday theaters.

The bakya crowd was and has always been the largest block of supporters of these Tagalog films; hence, the economic force behind every successful locally-produced movie. However, by the beginning of the martial law period, the three major studios eventually lost their foothold in the local movie-making business. It was a time when independent producers started churning out low-budget bomba films that became popular due to their steamy sex scenes. Shortly thereafter, the Golden Age of Filipino Movies began to see its moribund turn.

As for the movie theater business, the extensive delay in the construction of the LRT made downtown Avenida Rizal inhospitable to its regular patrons; hence, many opted to stay away from the area. In addition, the newly-opened air-conditioned malls replete with movie complexes in the outlying metropolitan areas, began to attract the masses. Consequently, these factors, including the subsequent proliferation of cheap pirated DVDs, produced an extensive decline in the revenues of many Manila theaters.

Exasperated with dwindling ticket sales and rising operating costs, Life Theater was among those unable to justify remaining in business. Thus, it eventually closed its doors for good.

Quiapo: Heart of Manila

edited by Fernando Nakpil Zialcita

Recent photo of Times Theater in Quiapo which is still in business.
Click here to view a vintage photograph of it.

Update of movie houses in Manila:

From Blumentritt to Plaza Lacson (formerly Plaza Goiti) along Avenida Rizal:

1. Manila Theatre- demolished sometime during the '90s
2. Cine Noli - still in business
3. Pearl - closed but still standing
4. Scala - designed by Pablo Antonio - now being used as a Christian church
5. Forum - designed by Pablo Antonio - only facade remains; roofless and abandoned
6. Manila Grand Opera House - gone
7. Galaxy - designed by Pablo Antonio - gone
8. Dynasty - gone
9. Capri - closed; buiding might have been demolished
10. Roxan - closed; building might have been demolished
11. Odeon - gone
12. Avenue - gone
13. Universal - still standing but no longer operational
14. Jennets - open
15. Lords - open
16. Ever (formerly Rialto) - closed but building still standing
17. State - designed by Juan Nakpil - gone
18. ideal - designed by Juan Nakpil (Pablo Antonio contributed in designs during various dates) - gone
19. Clover - gone
20. Illusion - gone

Along Claro M. Recto Avenue (formerly Azcarraga):

1. Roben - still operational
2. Vista 1 and 2 - designed by Juan Nakpil - still operational
3. Hollywood - still operational
4. Podmon - demolished; now LRT2 station
5. Dilson - still operational
6. Eastern - still standing but now a school
7. Tandem - still standing but closed
8. Miramar - still standing but closed
9. Maxim - still standing but closed
10. Manila Theater 1 and 2 - gone
11. Ever Gotesco - still operational
12. Dalisay - gone

Along Ronquillo:

1. Majestic - gone

Along Ongpin:

1. King's - now a small mall (tiangge) with restaurant).
2. Rex Theater - converted to President Restaurant (see old photo)

Along Escolta:

1. Capitol - only the facade remains
2. Lyric - demolished

Along Florentino Torres:

1. De Luxe - demolished
2. Republic - demolished

Along Quezon Boulevard, Evangelista Street and other parts of Quiapo:

1. New Love - still standing but closed
2. Cinerama (now Isetann with multiplex theaters on fifth floor)
3. Gala - now a beer/strip bar
4. Crown - still standing but closed
5. Lider (Ginto) - still operational
6. Globe - now a small mall (tiangge) but Globe Lumpia House still open
7. Life - designed by Pablo Antonio - still standing but closed
8. Boulevard - gone
9. Times - designed by Luis Araneta - operational
10. Main - designed by Juan Nakpil still standing - now used by Dating Daan organization
11. Palace - gone
12. Mayfair - gone
13. Savoy - gone
14. Radio - gone

Along Espana and Sampaloc area:

1. Baron (Mercury) - gone - now Chow King restaurant
2. Cine Trabajo - corner of Laong Laan and Trabajo Streets - gone
3. Dapitan - gone

Along Herran:

1. Major - still standing but closed
2. Bellevue - still operational but may soon close
3. Dart - gone - now a supermarket
4. Paco - designed by Pablo Antonio - gone
6. Robinson's - open
7. Gaiety - designed by Juan Nakpil - closed
8. Savoy - Harrison Street - gone
9. Inday - on Juan Luna Street - gone

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the making and updating of this list.

Related links:

Manila's Movie Theaters

Capitol Theater in Escolta

Video 48

Cinema Treasures


posted by Señor Enrique at 12:25 PM


Blogger Panaderos said...

Until you came up with this list, I did not realize that a lot of those theaters are now gone. It's a big loss for future generations. In addition, we do not have a lot of very good and extensive documentation about each of those theaters you listed. That is very sad for each one of those theaters had a story to tell.

For a poor country, we waste a lot of our resources. I'm not saying that all of them should have been saved. I just feel that depending on the area, some of those buildings could have been put to some other use other than simple demolition.

April 13, 2008 5:15 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Good points you raised, Panaderos!

It is really sad that we lack the much needed documentations of these structures. Would you believe that in some areas of Metro Manila, taking pictures of structures are not allowed. Reason: they want you to pay for a permit before doing so.

April 13, 2008 9:39 AM  

Blogger Video 48 said...

Hi Senor Enrique! I'm a frequent visitor of your wonderful site. This is the first time I'll be posting a comment. Being a movie fan, it really breaks my heart seeing these dilapidated movie houses. It's a pitiful sight! Hope the local government can do something about this--- at least to preserve the architectural designs of these establishments. Hope you can visit my site at
Thanks, Simon

April 13, 2008 7:33 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That's one great site you have, Simon! Every Pinoy local movie fan ought to be visiting your site :)

Many thanks for visiting my site and for finally making your presence known. I've just linked your site to this entry.

By the way, I've got to read your entry on Max Alvarado. When I was a kid, I'd fight over with some of my older brothers who would be Max Alvarado, Martin Marfil, or Vino Garcia whenever we wanted to be the bad guys in the cop and robber role-playing games we used to play.

April 13, 2008 8:24 PM  

Blogger DatuPanot said...


it is sad to note that some of the cultural and architectural icons are gone.


April 13, 2008 10:57 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

If such trends continue, DatuPanot, our future generations may never get to know how colorful and diverse our heritage has always been.

April 14, 2008 5:49 AM  

Blogger nutart said...

your list of historic movie theaters is a great research material for cineastes, Eric!

When i was a student at the university i would take up extra subjects on cinema (which was purely for my own interest and not required in my syllabus/course at all). It was all worth it. One of my professors was Virgie Moreno and she opened my eyes to the intensity and passion of moviemakers her and abroad. We also saw footages of Filipino films made during the Japanese occupation here in the Philippines. These movie theaters that you showed in your list could be seen in one film where the cameraman rode on a military tank with a Japanese soldier as they coasted along the main Quiapo road. I could just imagine those bulky cameras being hoisted up!

Yep, those were the days when you'd have to dress up and go to the movies.

I wish these remaining historic cinemas be preserved. Reminds me of the movie "Cinema Paradiso" where the quiant Italian town moviehouse died along with the aging of its projectionist.

April 14, 2008 8:52 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I grew up in era in which the movie industry -- both local and foreign -- provided the major source of awe and wonder, Bernadette. Television, at that time, was not as prolific with its programming as it is now.

Avenida Rizal was also a stunning sight -- from the early evenings on -- when the movie theaters' glorious neon lights would lit up the entire stretch of the avenue. It was a wonderful period, indeed!

Yes, Cinema Paradiso has become a classic film; reflecting a universal phenomenon -- the demise of standalone movie theaters.

April 14, 2008 9:40 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

these are nice trivias eric. too sad most of them are gone now. love the photo of the old times theater, so little have change if none at all... you've got a great archive.... :)

April 14, 2008 12:52 PM  

Blogger escape said...

nice post. a really good posts. well research and nice topic. i see these movie houses in Quiapo.

April 14, 2008 3:19 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, Lino! Goes to show you how much a part of my youth the movies are. Same with the local theaters :)

April 14, 2008 9:00 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Many thanks to you, too, donG!

Yes, I also see these remaining Quiapo movie houses quite often, and they make me think of the other grand theaters we used to have along Avenida Rizal.

April 14, 2008 9:02 PM  

Blogger Photowalker said...

Had I started photography earlier, I would have gone to shoot these theaters before they were torn down.

Nice architecture. Now gone.

April 15, 2008 7:32 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

It certainly would've been a worthwhile effort, Photo Cache; considering that some of these structures were designed by our renowned, award-winning architects.

Sayang talaga :(

April 15, 2008 8:11 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just hope that someone would come out and start the restoration of the theaters that are still standing. then again, there's the issue of funds like where are we going to get it.

April 15, 2008 1:45 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Now, that's one even sadder fact, Carlotta -- where to get the necessary funding.

In a country that's coping with a bleak economic landscape, funding for a heritage structure's upkeep may be the farthest from many people's mind.

April 15, 2008 2:55 PM  

Blogger reyd said...

I just learned about that old Rex theater which is now President Restaurant in Ongpin.
When we used to eat there, parati namin pinaguusapan na dati itong siehan, pero walang nakakaalam ng pangalan. :D
Until a discussion in Skysrapercity forum about some old photos of (Bubbas_girl) taken during WWII.
I have been to most of those moviehouses, but Universal theater is very memorable to our family. Kumpare ng tatay ko kasi ang may-ari at kapitbahay namin.... hehehe, parati kaming libre, pati mga kaeskuwla namin.

April 25, 2008 11:12 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I saw lots of movies in Universal, Reyd! You were lucky to have gone in there many times for free :)

My father would once in a blue moon get free tickets for Avenue Theater from the business association he was a part of in Santa Cruz.

Ang ganda talaga ng Avenida Rizal nuon, ano?

April 26, 2008 7:47 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The site formerly occupied by the Manila Grand Opera House has been turned into a hotel which will open later this month.

Thanks for this list. It makes me yearn for the old days when the James Bond movies were shown in the great Manila theaters like Odeon, Avenue, Maxim, State and Roxan.

August 13, 2008 6:06 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, James!

You may want my recent article on the Manila Grand Opera Hotel:


August 13, 2008 7:36 PM  

Blogger Bren said...

There were several in Legarda St. There was one during the Japanese Occupation, but disappeared after the 2nd World War which later on was turn into an apartment near the University of Manila

September 20, 2009 10:43 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, we searched for the President restaurant along Ongpin yesterday and an old resident told us that it was the former Oriole theater. in your blog it is REX confused now... i need this for my thesis hope you can help me..

thanks for the updated is a bif help for me and my group as we are still searching for old cinemas here in manila...

January 10, 2010 3:57 PM  

Blogger user62949 said...

i came across ur site a while back and got impressed w/ ur b&w photos so i saved ur url as a fave. today i had more am realizing, am slowly getting "hooked" by wishuwerehere....even the title has a melancholic sentimental element that is hard to ignore. but really, nice pix. i like the stories behind it too. is it ok to copy (personal use only as wall paper perhaps)of some of ur pix.

June 30, 2010 7:41 AM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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