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Glory days of Times Theater

Times Theater in 1953

Times Theater along Quezon Boulevard, in Quiapo, Manila has gone to seed. It’s dirty, hot, in a state of disrepair… said to be a ‘hunting ground’ for illicit sexual activities. But then Quiapo is also now ‘no man’s land,’ in a manner of speaking.

All that remains of the once magnificent building designed by Luis Ma. Araneta is the stately façade with art deco design.

During its glory days in the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s, Times Theater was one of the most luxurious cinema houses in Manila.

It opened on Feb. 20, 1941 with pomp and circumstance, attended by prominent figures like Vice President and Mrs. Sergio Osmeña Sr. and Mr. and Mrs. Carlos P. Romulo.

Times made Philippine cinematic history when it introduced the two-way overseas hook-up between Manila and Hollywood, with Deanna Durbin at the other end.

Miss Durbin starred in the first film shown at Times, It Started with Eve.

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The Aranetas owned Times Theater, the first to introduce ‘black light’ for decorative effect. It was also the first to install permanent equipment to treat the air inside with ozone in order to purify and deodorize the place.

Difficulties were experienced by the theater during dark days of the Japanese occupation. Despite orders from the Japanese Military Administration, the owners deliberately omitted propaganda pictures. On Aug. 2, 1942, Times inaugurated a ‘musical interlude’ on its stage, the first time anything like it had been tried. Other theaters followed.

Times again made history when it became the first theater to open after the devastating days of Liberation. The public was starved for entertainment and thousands of men, women and children fell in line, over a hundred meters long and in four rows.

For many years, Times Theater was the home of Universal-International Pictures. But in 1958, the first Tagalog film was shown at Times, Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan, which later reaped honors at the Venice International Film Festival.

There are reports that Times Theater will be torn down to give way to a commercial establishment. While maintaining a theater in Quiapo is no longer feasible, hopefully there will be a way to preserve the beautiful art deco façade of Times Theater. —RKC

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