rizal avenue

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Then and Now: Rizal Avenue

Avenida Rizal or more popularly referred to now as Rizal Avenue is one of Manila’s busiest districts.  In the 1920’s through 1930’s, Rizal Avenue was the place to be for the city’s elite and socialites.  Streets were lined with high-end shops, restaurants and movie theaters.  These theaters were designed by famous architects during that era, some of whom are now immortalized in our architectural history books.

On our first photo, you can see Rizal Avenue when we were still part of the United States.  A street busling with kalesas mixed in with early model Fords, it is evident here that it was already a busy area of Manila around the 1930s.  A notable landmark is the newly built Ideal Theater, erected in 1933 by Architect Pablo Antonio.

Rizal Avenue, circa 1930s. Note the traffic police stationed under the umbrella, and the vintage telephone pole in the middle of the street.

The next photo shows a war-torn Rizal Avenue.  Probably taken around 1945. Note the burned shell buildings to the right of the photo and a column of American tanks and jeeps on the street.  The Ideal Theater however survived the Japanese occupation and is seen here, still intact.

Rizal Avenue, circa 1945. Probably right after Japan’s surrender.

After the war, Rizal Avenue regained its reputation as the preferred recreational destination by many of Manila’s residents. Architects Pablo Antonio and Juan Nakpil, created several more of the movie theaters along the avenue. Adding to the Ideal Theater, Antonio designed the Galaxy, the Scala and the Lyric theaters, while Nakpil designed the Capitol, the Ever and the Avenue theaters.  The photo below, which was taken around the 1950s, shows the emergence of the AC jeepney  (which was originally designed using surplus American military jeeps) and the Otis, State theaters on the right and Galaxy theater in the far distance.

Rizal Avenue, circa 1950s. AC jeepneys now abound.

Around 1968, American Photographer Harrison Forman aimed his large format camera at the Rizal Avenue.  The resulting shot is shown below with Goodearth Emporium already there, and Ideal, Otis and State Theaters still standing.  As a child, I remember seeing ‘Now Showing’ advertisements for these theaters in the early 1970s in Manila’s leading newpapers. So I know they were still operating as theaters during that time.

Circa 1968. Photo Credit: For a higher resolution photo, visit the UWM Libraries at http://www.uwm.edu/Library/digilib/. Photograph by Harrison Forman.

As the years went by, the area was victimized by urban renewal. Shown on the photo below (circa 1980s) is Rizal Avenue without any cars or jeepneys.  The Ideal Theater, which survived World War II is now gone.  The “OTIS” sign is so delapidated it’s barely readable, but State is still there.  Goodearth Emporium however is probably enjoying its glory days during this time.

Circa 1980s. No more cars or jeepneys.

The photo below shows Rizal Avenue as seen today.  Giving way to the LRT, it is now one of those places where you can’t ever imagine the transformation that has taken place.

Rizal Avenue Today

Rizal Avenue today. (Rizal Avenue, corner Carriedo Street., the approximate spot where all the photos above were taken.)

The main culprit of the deterioration of the area was the LRT; the train was to ease traffic in Rizal Avenue and Taft Avenue south of the Pasig River but it also killed business along the route. The cinemas themselves resorted to showing double feature B-movies and soft porn, as people transferred to the newer and more modern Ortigas Centernand the Ayala Center.

In 2000, during the mayorship of Lito Atienza, the stretch from C.M. Recto Avenue to Palanca Street was turned into a pedestrian-only thoroughfare by laying bricks on the road, with the buildings and the LRT painted as part of an urban renewal project. This caused vehicles to use the secondary roads such as Tomas Mapua and Doroteo Jose Streets in order to go to and from Plaza Lacson.The Ideal Theater was previously demolished, the Galaxy, Scala and Lyric theaters are now misused. The first level of the Ever Theater is occupied by stalls, while the upper levels are abandoned. Only the refurbished Capitol Theater, now a dimsum palace, survived the modern times and is still active.The pedetrianization of Rizal Avenue was completed on 2003 and was meant to only last for a short time but it has persisted until 2008.

The Avenue Theater, which survived the Battle of Manila of 1945, was demolished in 2006 to give way to a parking area. The costs of maintaining the facility were too high, as compared for it to be converted as a parking area. The National Historical Institute (NHI) and several private entities tried to prevent the building from being torn down.

On July 17, 2007, Lim attended the ceremony reopening the closed portion of Rizal Avenue, and it has remained open to this day.

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Some excerpts in this article were taken from Wikipedia under the terms of the Creative Commons license.  Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standalone_movie_theaters_of_the_Philippines
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rizal_Avenue