Arts & Leisure

By Nickky F. P. de Guzman

QC’s New Frontier Theater reopens

Posted on July 22, 2015

IT WAS the biggest cinema in Asia when it was built in 1965 and its heyday lasted into the late 1980s, back when moviegoers could still watch a film in limitless run. But the New Frontier Theater in Cubao saw its fortunes decline with the growing popularity of home entertainment and the opening of more sophisticated mall-based cinemas.

Today the New Frontier Theater is being resurrected. The 2,385-seat theater -- which is bigger than Solaire’s The Theater (1,760 seats) and Resorts World Manila’s Newport Performing Arts Theater (1,500 seats) -- is reopening in September as a venue for live shows, with a brand new name and interior design.

It will now be known as the Kia Theater, after a five-year agreement was signed between the Araneta Group and the Columbian Autocar Corp. (CAC), the distributor and assembler of Kia motors. CAC will put the Kia Motor’s logo on the theater and will be setting up a 304.96-sq.m. showroom inside.

“Why a theater? Because it’s an opportunity to reach the people who are into the arts. It’s lending our name to an established brand, a legacy,” said CAC president Ginia Domingo when asked why a car company dabbled in the art scene.

She said the CAC people frequent the nearby Smart Araneta Coliseum because they have a team in the Philippine Basketball Association, and would see the New Frontier. She mentioned that it will be like the Microsoft Theater (formerly known as the Nokia Theater) in Los Angeles, California, which is a theater and events place.

The theater is undergoing a major facelift.

“[We are renovating] all, except for the shell, which is a classic. My father built it in 1965. The renovation costs about P500 million,” said Araneta Group, Inc. CEO, Chairman, and President Jorge Araneta during the naming rights deal signing event on July 15.

The Kia Theater will have refurbished orchestra, mezzanine, and balcony levels. Mr. Araneta said that the orchestra section will have removable seats “for car shows, discos, concerts, and plays. Whatever you can think of.”

The Kia Theater will have an al fresco dining area, coffee shops, and retail shops in the hopes of reviving its glory days.

The Disney Live! Mickey’s Music Festival, set to run on Sept. 1-6, will be the theater’s first show. A local play by the Quezon City government headed by Vice-Mayor Joy Belmonte will follow.

Mr. Araneta said the theater is for everyone. “Whoever wants entertainment, that’s our target market, [but] particularly the Quezon City market, which has three million residents.”

He added that it won’t compete with the Smart Araneta Coliseum but will complement it.

“It’s another entertainment feature, which we don’t have now especially in this part of town. For example, [if] we have a show that’s too small for the Coliseum, we have nowhere to put there, we usually just say sorry. Now we can put shows that need an audience of 2,500 in the theater,” said the 79-year-old tycoon.

World-class theaters like Resorts World Manila and Solaire have mushroomed in the metropolis over the last decade. But there is no rivalry said Mr. Araneta.

“We’re not competing with them because they are in different location,” he said, adding, “It’s a different market. In fact, we will cooperate. We will bring in some of the shows that we can play there and also here. People who live here [in Quezon City] don’t want to go there [Pasay City] because it’s far and vice versa. I think it will complement rather than compete.”

Rather than wage a war, Mr. Araneta -- Forbes magazine’s 29th richest man in the Philippines in 2014 -- is too busy redeveloping the empire imagined and developed by his father, J. Amado Araneta.

According to reports, the planning expansion in the Araneta complex includes new malls, hotels like Novotel which is set to open in October, outsourcing offices, and residential towers.

“There are many middle class people now, especially tourists, both domestic and foreign. Our tourism and economy are both growing,” said Mr. Araneta.

Nostalgia trip: old theaters

SINCE the late 20th century, Metro Manila’s celebrated theaters and cinemas -- once homes to vaudeville acts, opera performances, and both Hollywood and local movies -- entered into a steep decline. With the advent of modern home entertainment and cinemas conveniently located in shopping malls, people no longer frequent the once-vibrant movie houses.

While one of Quezon City’s premier theaters in town until the 1980s, the New Frontier Theater in Cubao, is reopening in September after a long hibernation, most of its contemporaries don’t share the same fairy-tale ending. Most of the classic cinemas in Manila, Makati, and Quezon City have been demolished, abandoned, or occupied by other establishments. Some of the surviving small theaters have been turned into prostitution dens.

The New Frontier Theater and the Nation Cinerama, both located in Cubao’s Araneta Center, opened in the late 1960s. Other theaters in Quezon City sprouted in the 1970s: Quezon, Alta, Remar, Sampaguita, Ali, Maya, Cubao Cinema, and Coronet, among others.

But long before Quezon City enjoyed the spotlight, Manila was the center with its bevy of cinemas along Avenida Rizal, Claro M. Rectro (formerly Azcarraga), Escolta, and Herran. Cinemas like the Galaxy, Scala, the Manila Theater, Avenue Theater, and Capitol, to name a few, were always jampacked and lively. Moviegoers back then dressed to the nines. Movie posters and ads were handpainted.

The cinemas in the 1950s and ’60s were specialized -- some showed movies only by certain Hollywood studios -- Ideal carried only MGM movies, Avenue showed Paramount movies, Lyric specialized in Warner Bros. flicks -- and local studios -- Life showed films by Sampaguita Pictures, Dalisay was for LVN Pictures.

Unlike today where all movie seats have the same price tag, the classic theaters had three levels: orchestra, balcony, and loge, all with different prices. Seat prices at the innaugural show of the Nation Cinemarama, the first building in the country to feature an escalator, were P1.50 (orchestra), P2.50 (balcony), and P3.50 (loge). Double features -- two films shown one after the other -- were the trend. People could enter the cinema at any point during a screening and were allowed to watch the film over and over again.

Then came Betamax and VHS and Blue-Ray machines, and giant malls started sprouting up, anchored by multiplexes. The old-time theaters did not stand a chance.

There’s barely a trace of the vintage cinemas today. Many of the former theaters have been torn down.

Makati’s elegant Rizal Theater -- which saw everything from Disney movies to musicals by Repertory Philippines -- was demolished to make way for the Makati Shangri-La, which named its Rizal Ballroom in its honor. The Sampaguita Theater in Cubao’s Araneta Center is now a Eurotel hotel; and where the Avenue Theater in Avenida once stood, one finds a parking lot and a bar. -- NFPDG