‘Cultural vandalism’: What really happened to the Capitol Theater? | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

‘Cultural vandalism’: What really happened to the Capitol Theater?
‘Cultural vandalism’: What really happened to the Capitol Theater?
Archival image of the tower —PHOTO COURTESY OF LOU GOPAL

Designed by the first ever National Artist for Architecture, Juan Nakpil, the son of Julio Nakpil and Andres Bonifacio’s widow, Gregoria de Jesus, the Capitol Theater on Escolta Street in Manila remains a major heritage issue despite pronouncements that it, or what remains of it, should be saved from demolition.

On Aug. 10, the heritage group Renacimiento Manila posted an alert on its Facebook page on “the ongoing complete demolition” of the Capitol Theater, followed by a video posted a week later of the demolition of the topmost portion of the tower, the only remaining part of the Art Deco building inaugurated in 1935, which should be incorporated into the new high-rise edifice that is being built on site.

Following these incidents and upon the request of heritage advocate Stephen Pamorada, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) issued a cease-and-desist order against the site’s developer, Ascott Resources and Development Corp. (ARDC), on Aug. 17, and served the order on site the following day.

‘Cultural vandalism’: What really happened to the Capitol Theater?
Tower being demolished in August —STEPHEN PAMORADA

The NCCA order states that the demolition was done in violation of the Republic Act 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, as the building is a cultural property protected by the same law against demolition or modification.

“As mentioned in our letter dated 9 July 2019, this Commission reiterated the previously approved and agreed in-situ bracing methodology which is the best approach to preserve the facade of the tower relic,” the NCCA notes in the letter referring to the theater’s tower.

The NCCA also reiterated to the developer that it had advised them before to revisit their design and architectural and structural methodology in incorporating the tower into the new structure and that “any deviation from the aforementioned must be first evaluated and cleared and/or approved by the Commission.”

‘No value’

‘Cultural vandalism’: What really happened to the Capitol Theater?
Capitol Theater during the American period —PHOTO COURTESY OF LOU GOPAL

Since the demolition was done without the knowledge of the NCCA, the cease-and-desist order was issued, which also required the developer to “enact safety measures to ensure the integrity of what remains of the subject cultural property.”

Following the issuance of the cease order, the developer stopped its demolition activity on site.

In a statement, Renacimiento Manila condemned the demolition of a cultural icon it describes as one of “few remaining heritage structures in Escolta and a work by National Artist Juan Nakpil and with sculptures by renowned Francesco Monti.”

“Because apparently, the works of national artists or any renowned person is of no value save for empty applause from cultural agencies,” it said.

Calling heritage demolitions “cultural vandalism,” the group said these incidents must stop, and Manila’s and the Philippines’ patrimony in general must be protected.

‘Cultural vandalism’: What really happened to the Capitol Theater?

“Fighting for a better city means saving its cultural treasures and its heritage and developing them for the people,” it said, “not worshipping profits over our collective identity.”

The issue of the Capitol Theater’s demolition first surfaced in 2017 after national cultural agencies approved its demolition except for its facade and tower.

Three years after, the building was completely torn down save for the tower.

The demolition of the facade, according to a source, was approved by the Technical Working Committee (TWC) composed of the NCCA, National Museum, and National Historical Commission of the Philippines, but the TWC did not allow the complete demolition of the building.

The TWC later became the NCCA–Technical Working Council on Heritage Issues and Built Heritage Concerns.

On June 22, 2020, the NCCA wrote ARDC reiterating the in-situ conservation of the tower using the approved bracing and framing methodology.

‘Cultural vandalism’: What really happened to the Capitol Theater?
Tower boarded up in 2020 —CHARLES SALAZAR

The letter also reminded the developer to “install appropriate board-ups or enclosures featuring the original facade of the building during demolition and construction works, which can be extracted from your details documentation or as-built of the building’s elevation.”

It likewise asked the developer about the status of the casting of the relief sculptures on the facade, copies of which will be given to the NM.

On Aug. 14, 2020, ARDC submitted the casts of the relief sculptures to the NCCA through NM as ordered, while the board-ups were installed a week after the June letter.

Developer’s intent

ARDC’s intent on the tower is reflected in its Feb. 6, 2018 letter to the NCCA, requesting if it can dismantle the tower and just reconstruct it later.

The NCCA rescinded the request in its March 12, 2018 letter to the developer and reiterated this decision in another letter issued June 7, 2019.

The NCCA said the tower must be preserved and protected while the new building is being built.

Then the August 2022 incident happened, prompting the Commission to stop any further demolition.

‘Cultural vandalism’: What really happened to the Capitol Theater?
Members of the NCCA issued a cease-and-desist order on the demolition of the theater on Aug. 18. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

The Capitol Theater is just one of many pre- and postwar edifices designed by Nakpil who also designed the Capitan Pepe Building in Sta. Cruz, Manila; Quezon Institute in Quezon City; Philippine Trust Building on Plaza Goiti (now Plaza Lacson), also in Sta. Cruz, Manila; and together with Andres Luna de San Pedro and Jose G. Cortes, the Perez-Samanillo Building on Escolta.

He was also the architect for the reconstructed Rizal House (now Museo ni Jose Rizal, Calamba) in Laguna.

In the Capitol Theater, as noted by the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, Nakpil “used symmetric balance and Art Deco motifs of recessed geometric grillwork on the central tower over the entrance marquee.”

Its original interior, which was destroyed during World War II, utilized the sampaguita motif in the wrought iron for the lobby, foyer and stairs.

The encyclopedia further notes that “at the center of the proscenium arch were sampaguita in bloom, finished in white seashells” and “from it radiated four concentric circles of short bamboo nodes finished in concrete.”

Elsewhere in Metro Manila, the NCCA also issued a cease order on Aug. 17 against the demolition of the BDO Corporate Center Buildings (formerly the PCI Bank Towers) in Makati, saying the buildings are presumed important cultural properties under the heritage law as these were designed by a National Artist, Leandro Locsin to be specific.

It ordered BDO to obtain clearance first from the NCCA regarding any developments as the buildings are “intact examples of the national artist’s distinctive later phase architectural language.” —CONTRIBUTED