The Capitol Theater was one of the iconic buildings along Escolta during its golden years. What made it so iconic? What does it look like now? Our group did some library research about the Capitol Theater and took pictures of it during our photo walk in order to get to know it better and to prepare for the tourism development plan (with emphasis on our assigned building) that is part of our requirements for NSTP.
Escolta wasn’t just about banks and briefcases–it was also about another kind of business, namely show business.
The Capitol Theater was built after the heirs of Don Demetrio Tuazon succeeded in the theater business. They bought the East Theatrical Enterprises, which owned Fox Theater and operated the famous Metropolitan Theater. The Capitol Theater building was inaugurated on January 8, 1935. After its construction, the Tuazons bought the nearby Lyric Theater and thus became the sole owners of both air-conditioned movie houses on Escolta Street.
The Theater was glamorous—it was 1,200 square meters in size, it had a seating capacity of 1,100, air conditioning, and stage techniques and performances similar to those General Manager Nicasio K. Tuazon had observed in movie houses abroad. The central motif inside the theater was the sampaguita. A design of sampaguita buds was repeated in the stairs, lobby and foyer of the Theater. Sadly, the interior was destroyed during the war. The proscenium arch featured sampaguita in bloom done in a white seashell finish. These flowers were surrounded by four concentric circles of bamboo nodes.
Outside, the Theater was just as grand. The architect, Juan Nakpil, designed it with Art Deco influences. (It was also Nakpil who had renovated the Ideal Theater on Avenida Rizal, thereby starting the trend for Art Deco architecture.) The Theater’s right façade had low relief patterns of spirals, circles and squares. The central panel had long vertical windows with wrought iron bars flanked by reliefs of two Chinese-Filipino-looking women in baro’t saya. One held a mask while the other held a lyre. The left façade had window awnings instead of relief patterns. At the top of the building were ziggurat-like projections.
The Capitol Theater showed American films like Midsummer Night’s Dream. A popular picture of it on the Internet shows a marquee for a film featuring Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers. An orchestra seat at the time reportedly cost a peso, more than the matinee prices at other theaters nearby.
By 1939 the Capitol Theater was owned by the Rufino family. Both the Capitol and Lyric Theaters suffered during World War II but were reconstructed. The Capitol Theater was reconstructed and reopened in 1947.
But as the country struggled to recover after the war and businesses started to move out of Manila, Escolta and the Capitol Theater declined. For a while, the Theater showed Chinese movies. Today, the Capitol Theater building occupied but its right side has been demolished. It is home to various establishments, such as the Escolta Restobar. There is also a big Pioneer Insurance sign on top of the building. We have yet to actually go inside and see the interior for ourselves, but we hope that the people attached to the place will soon learn of its significance and will work with us to help RESCUE, REVIVE AND RELIVE ESCOLTA, starting with the Capitol Theater. ♦
Contributors: A. Chiong, A. Joson, K. Gutlay, M. Besana, N. Ventura and R. Peralta
Malaya. (1992, August 12). p. 16
National Historical Commission of the Philippines. (n.d.) The Capitol Theater. Prepared by Architects Veronica Amarra and Lorelei Del Castillo. Manila: Philippines. (n.p.)
The Tribune. 14th Anniversary. 1939. p. 38
Salumbides , V. (1952). Motion pictures in the Philippines . Chapter 4
Lico, G (2008). Arkitekturang Filipino. Diliman : University of the Philippines Press
De ocampo, N. (2011). Film: American influences on Philippine cinema. Mandaluyong: Anvil Publishing.
De Viana, L.C. (2001). Three Centuries of Binondo Architecture 1594-1898: A Socio-Historical Perspective. Manila: UST Press.
Photos by: Regina Peralta