Raiders of the Lost ART: Deeper into Quiapo

Quiapo is mostly known for its cheap trinkets and dibidi. What a lot of people don’t know — and sadly, many of them populate this area — is that it is the resting place of a heritage that’s slowly fading into obscurity.

This particular trip, a journey into the deep recesses of Philippine Cinema history, is the first of our Communication 322 class’ series of field researches. Here we attempt to find the beauty laying hidden…in the architecture, the cinema and surprisingly, also in literature and visual arts.

Most of Quiapo’s old landmarks have been destroyed and replaced by newer (albeit no less filthy) buildings. Others are about to be demolished. The Galaxy Theater, which was designed by National Artist Pablo Antonio and was touted to be the 50s equivalent of iMAX theaters, is among them. The Manila Grand Opera House is dead. A hotel now stands in its stead.

Anyway, we began our trip at R. Ma Mon Luk. I’ve already blogged about this Chinese eatery before and the place still fascinates me.

My classmates and prof, ready to go (from left): Me, Nina, Doc Joey, Rod and Chitchat.
Photograph by Jenny Ortuoste, who was bold enough to bring her cam out.

Farther and farther we went; things got shocking as we progressed. Gone were the splendid picturesque shopping areas that I used to see in history books. They were replaced with these:

I was actually able to capture a lot of…less-than-savory photos, which I don’t think are for regular public consumption. Heh. They make good conversation pieces though. Like when I thought that there was a store named Tikim.

Oh oh! And look what we found!

Guess what these are? I still fondly remember that my Dad used to teach me how to operate one of these. They were a writer’s best friend. Well, I was a kid writer who wove horrendous, un-childlike stories that appalled my mom. Love. But the damage it can do to your pinky fingers is unforgettable.

Still can’t guess? Here’s a more familiar looking photo:

Yup, these are typewriters. And the reason why I can’t help but sound like I’m pounding on my laptop keyboard. The habit of barbarically dealing with those hard keys got carried over into the computer age.

On the right is Crown’s facade. That was where we came from. It houses both the sleazy bits and the beautiful typewriters. We went on to see several other former movie theaters…and found that many of them have been turned into seedy love hotels.

I was amazed at some of the posters, though. They’re so old school! Hand-drawn. Like in the provinces. Oh, and check out that pillar. It had nice carvings on it. Some other old school buildings also have artistic facades. I was just too chicken to take photos, since a few people around us would get tense whenever someone whipped out a camera (Julienne even brought a dSLR).

We paid about P75 for a movie. We wanted to see what the interiors and the people were like. We even got to interview the caretaker, who told us that second-run movies are predominant in Quiapo because first-runs are too expensive. (Ah! So that’s why theaters in the provinces show months-old films!) I was surprised at his technical know-how and he even gave us a brief historical account of projectors and films.

The poster of some unknown movie. I know the actor, though. He’s the talented Sid Lucero. He actually starred in this? Anyway, this particular corridor led to the “hotel” area. Rod jokingly said that cinema houses in Quiapo are “multi-purpose”. The photos on my hard drive can attest to that!

Anyway, the caretaker complained about globalization (was it because we told him we were from the University of the Philippines?) and how it’s eating away at our local productions. The flick we saw seemed artistic enough but I think the film maker thought (correctly) that art films wouldn’t sell. This was evident in how they inserted unnecessary stuff — I called them “commercial breaks” — in between serious scenes.

Though he also complained about SM’s move in banning sexy movies, I actually am thankful that SM did that. I am not in favor of censorship, but I dislike unnecessary scenes as well. At least our artists and directors can concentrate on their craft now.

Ok, banyo shot. I couldn’t help it. The place may be a bit dated, but the washrooms are astonishingly clean!

I wanted to take photos of the theater’s interiors. It was quite cool, had a very high ceiling and comfortable. There was just a certain weird scent that hung in the air.

After that, we found ourselves in a vintage shop. The ukay-ukay stuff caught Rod’s eye, but it was the books that reeled me in. I only saw the books (which was situated at the far end of the shop) through my peripheral vision but that was enough to make me halt in my tracks.

I did not expect the place to be so huge! There were shelves and shelves and shelves of books. Most of them old, some of them new. The walls are lined with paintings.Β  There was even one framed work of my favorite black and white photographer, Ansel Adams.

I was in heaven.

The collection made me wonder, though, if the owners of these items were still breathing? I just know that I can’t imagine selling any of my books. At least not while I’m still alive. These beauties were dirt cheap, but boy, do they smell precious. I didn’t want to get out of there without buying anything.

My finds:

Do they still draw book covers these days?

The Norma Jean hardcover (Norma Jean is Marilyn Monroe’s real name) costs about P100. The Elizabeth Blackwell biography, on the other hand, is P35. Now can you see why I couldn’t get out of there without buying anything??

The trip was exhausting, but educational and entertaining. We processed our trip while having a midday snack at Chowking.

Top: Nina and Chitchat
Middle: Julienne and Jenny
Bottom: Doc Joey and Rod


  1. skysenshi

    August 15, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Sana pala sumama ka but you weren't in BF eh.

  2. ~ Molly

    August 15, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    OMG an Ansel Adams photograph <3 You should've gotten it miss πŸ˜€

  3. skysenshi

    August 15, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    It was going to be too bulky for me πŸ™
    If I had a car siguro…

  4. Ronald Gebilaguin

    August 15, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Astig trip! gagayahin ko to! πŸ˜€

  5. skysenshi

    August 15, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    punta ka, pero magsama ka ng friends kasi baka bigla ka magka-booking ng hindi mo nalalaman. hahaha!

  6. bleubug

    August 16, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I really enjoyed this tour immensely. The loss of historic fabric in Manila is such a shame. So much early to mid-20th century architecture was lost during WWII that seeing the rest destroyed slowly is heartbreaking.

    On a totally different topic I got the idea what the seedier places were about and found reading the little bit about that fascinating. Not sure what that says about me.

    The bargain hunting looked like so much fun. Ansel Adams is also one of my favs and I've been privileged to see some of his originals at various museums.

  7. skysenshi

    August 16, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    What's even sadder than war-torn architecture is that modern-day people are tearing down the places without thought to their historical value.

    re: the seedier places. Believe me, we were all so fasicanted. Haha!

  8. Ronald Gebilaguin

    September 28, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Astig trip! gagayahin ko to! πŸ˜€

  9. Oceanlint

    January 6, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Hi where is the vintage shop located? I really enjoyed your post. Made me want to go an a Quiapo adventure with my friends. Cheers!

  10. skysenshi

    January 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Hallo~! Thanks for dropping by. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember where exactly this was located. We passed it on the way to the theaters. I guess that's what's fun about touring Quiapo, getting lost and finding surprising treasures in the process. Hehe. πŸ˜€

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