The Cinemas of Pasig
From the Desk
We had one of the most silent Christmas Days ever. In fact it was very far from what we are all accustomed to. The last Christmases have been devoted to parties and endless reunions - something which we cannot do as of the moment. Perhaps one of the things we can't do as well is to watch movies on a Christmas Day. Busy shoppers and children accompanied by their parents flock malls to buy new things, disposed of their "aguinaldos" and finally conclude the day by watching films listed part of the Metro Manila Film Festival. Such was the excitement and the volume of people in one concentrated area that one could find it highly impossible to see such crowd during the pandemic.
Movies and theater have been part of everyone's life. It offers a quick escape from the monotony and boresome realities. Movie and theater houses are also most likely a symbol of a community's rich culture and artistic endeavors. In Pasig, being the erstwhile center of Rizal Province, the town has its share of entertainment temples.
Cine Victoria and the Theater Belt of Pasig
Do you still see the grotesque happy/sad paired masks that seemed hidden from view because of the domineering KFC logo? It is the perennial symbol of the theater and we all know this place as KFC Victoria because it used to be the Victoria Theater. Billed in its day as the "longest cinema house in the world". The theater was built in 1927 by Don Fortunato Concepcion and was named after his wife Dona Victoria. It has the distinction of being the oldest functioning cinema given that its contemporary theaters in Manila offered a mixed of films, plays and vaudeville. Cine Victoria is considered the most prestigious in the string of cinemas that dotted Pasig in the past.
There was to name a few the Pasig Theater and Pinoy Theater in Malinao, the Elma and Leleng Theaters, the Topstar Cinemas, Prima Theater and the Pamas that became the Pines near the Rizal High School and the Pasig Presbyterian Church in Caniogan. Victoria Cinema was also the site where then Mayor Cipriano Raymundo welcomed the Japanese Forces and offered the keys to the city with cases upon cases of cervesa or beer. Perhaps the most famous film ever shown in Victoria is the 1939 Hollywood Flick entitled "The Real Glory" starring the legendary David Niven and Garry Cooper. The film is about the Moro Rebellion during the American Occupation of the Philippines and it quite made stir as there were scenes depicting how a Filipino Muslim was threatened to be buried on a Pig's Skin - something that violated there beliefs and culture. In the last days of Cine Victoria, it showed a mix of Filipino and American Moves like the Titanic among others. Today, the old theater area is an empty box that used to house the Merriam-Webster Bookstore while the Projection Room and Lobby became the second and ground floors of the KFC Fast Food respectively.
How Pasig came to be a marketable place for the silver screen is attributed to the rise of transportation and the tranvia that was opened and maintained by the Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company or nowadays the MERALCO. Pasig is a gateway town sitting near the foot of the Sierra Madre and Antipolo. Realizing this strategic location, the town became part of a dynamic commercial route that is still being felt to this day. The Manila Railroad Company maintained routes in Taytay and Montalban passing thru Pasig while bus companies of the time with the likes of Antipolo Bus Line, Raymundo Transportation Company, Montalban Bus Line, Maingat Transport Company and Halili Transit became the kings of the road. Pasigueno Businessmen like Felix "Leleng" Reyes built his own bus terminal in Kapasigan to cater the people in the town's earliest Manila-Pasig bus transportation routes. With easy access to travel, the people's footprints covered more areas with Manila getting nearer and as a result, the culture and entertainment mediums of the capital suddenly poured in the otherwise simple Pasig Town. Along with it is the passionate love for film and theater.
Apart from cinema, Pasig is also a place for live theater. Despite rolls of films being shown in movie houses, Pasiguenos truly have the taste to the sweeter things in life. In 1964, an ambitious project was organized, the production of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera, The Mikado. The people behind this important production are the Church people whose prime motive is to gather funds to purchase a church organ. The Pasig Immaculate Conception Choir was the brainchild of this opera and though at that time the choir only accepts male members, they were able to pull this one out and staged it at the Pasig Catholic College Big Room. The first night was covered by The Manila Chronicle and despite advance pronouncements of being just a normal show, they were surprised because of the energy and the outpour of talent in one stage. The conductor was then a 23 year old UP Conservatory Scholar Ramon Santos with singers all from the town of Pasig. It was indeed a success that PCC's Big Room became part of the artistic map. The success of The Mikado spawned numerous productions and even lured The Repertory Philippines headed by Zenaida Amador to organize a local production of "The Play's the Thing" in the Big Room in 1969.
Nowadays, these theaters have become lowly shadows of its former selves. Some became grocery stores, warehouses, a KFC Restaurant while the famed Big Room of PCC is now the Parish Formation Center of the Pasig Church. However, despite big changes in Pasig, the people remain artistic, creative and hopeful. Who would have thought that the 23 year old music student that conducted The Mikado would become a National Artist for Music? There are still prospects and the culture remains alive. As you walk on to the roads and old buildings that used to be filled with people queuing in lines, you would somehow remember or at least think about, how talented and how classy Pasiguenos are. We are still after all the same people with families deeply rooted in the town but changes do happen, let us all strive to change for the better.