Heritage advocates issue call to save façade of Escolta’s Capitol Theater

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
Heritage advocates issue call to save façade of Escoltaâs Capitol Theater
The Capitol Theater in 2021.
Philstar.com / Deejae Dumlao

MANILA, Philippines — Heritage advocates sounded the alarm over the ongoing demolition of the remaining tower façade of the Capitol Theater, a known landmark in Escolta, Manila.

In a Facebook post, heritage advocacy group Renacimiento Manila reported that they are witnessing the current demolition of the remaining façade of the famed theater.

The Capitol Theater, an Art Deco building located near the corner of Yuchengco and Escolta streets, is a work of by the country’s first National Artist for Architecture, Juan Nakpil.

It is recognized as “Manila’s Most Modern Theater” and “The Showplace of the Nation” as it can sit around 1,100 theater-goers in its double balcony setup when it was still operating.

The theater’s design is centered on its national flower theme, Sampaguita.

It is also said to be one of the structures that survived the Battle of Manila in 1945.

In 2017, it was reported that cultural agencies National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), National Historical Commission of the Philippines and National Museum greenlighted the demolition of the iconic theater for a high-rise that will be built by Ascott Resources & Development Corp. .

The developers, were, however, ordered to retain the theater’s tower and façade. This was also reiterated in a letter in 2018.

“…this Commission does not approve any new proposed design or methodology for the conservation of the ‘tower relic’ and façade of the CTB (Capitol Theatre Building),” the NCCA’s letter dated June 7, 2018 reads.

“We wish to reiterate the previously approved and agreed in-situ bracing methodology which is the best approach to preserve the façade of the tower relic,” it added.

The theater’s demolition pushed through in 2018, which was also met with opposition as some said it occurred despite the  existence of the Republic Act 1066 or the “National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009,” which protects Important Cultural Property.

ICP covers structures dating at least 50 years.

“A few years ago the PNB was razed to the ground. Over the last week, it was the Capitol Theater's turn. Both are gone despite a heritage law (RA10066) that is supposed to protect architectural icons over fifty years old,” urban planner and architect Paulo Alcazaren wrote in a June 2020 Facebook post.

“The driving force behind all the demolitions is real estate that looks at high-rise, high-density developments for maximizing profit over any other agenda,” he added.

This month, opposition against the demolition was renewed amid the demolition of the remaining façade, ordered to be conserved by the cultural agencies.

“We are currently witnessing the demolition of what's left of the facade of the Capitol Theater, one the few remaining heritage structures along Escolta and a work by National Artist Juan Nakpil, with sculptures by renowned Francesoc Monti. Because apprently, the works of National Artist or any renowned person is of no value save for empty applauses from cultural agencies,” Renacimiento Manila wrote.

The group vehemently questioned why such demolition was permitted despite the Capitol Theater’s cultural and historical significance as well as the repeated calls to save it.

“So what is the plan now? To let the developer just recreate the tower and facade making a hamfisted work of the original with no [regard] to the age and value of what is currently standing in the location? Have the agencies totally given up? Has the city government in charge of Manila also given up [on] saving the city's heritage and will just sit happily in the squalor of being a faceless city in urban decay, a city not worth visiting in Asia?” the group said.

The enraged heritage advocates said that while they are saddened by the developments in the renowned theater, they are planning to take action by compelling other property owners to protect and save similar landmarks and cultural icons.

They also called the move a “cultural vandalism” and vowed to end this practice.

“And from this rage we must be inspired to act and speak out for our city. If these agencies swill not speak, then we must do so. And we promise to draw the line against cultural vandalism,” Renacimiento said.

“As concerned citizens we refuse to let this continuously happen, and we will shame those who are responsible for the cultural vandalism being done to our city - namely these rabid 'developers'. Fighting for a better city means saving its cultural treasures, and its heritage, and developing them for the people. Not worshipping profits over our collective identity,” it added.

Chinatown Museum in a separate Facebook post  similarly condemned the demolition of the “once magnificent building” being torn down “despite the initial agreement with the national government the initial agreement with the national government that the tower and its bas reliefs will be restored and incorporated into the new building.”

The museum added the hashtag #SaveManilaHeritage in its post.

Meanwhile, Renacimiento Manila tagged NCCA and the Department of Tourism, Culture and Arts of Manila in its post.

The group said it has informed the NCCA of the ongoing demolition accordingly.

“Regarding these issues, we always have two initiatives: [educating] and informing the public about ongoing demolitions (which is most important since developers like it when they could destroy things without public attention) which is [ringing] alarm bells. and secondly directing our concerns to the agencies that should be involved. It is always a two-pronged [approach],” it said.



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