Petition to preserve historic Philam Life Theater revived

August 19, 2020 - 10:22 AM
A photo of the historic Philam Life Theater by architect Gerard Lico on Facebook

Calls to preserve the Philam Life Theater Building in Manila were recently revived online following photos of it seemingly being torn down circulated online.

The seven-story building, located along the United Nations Avenue in Ermita, Manila, housed a 780-seat theater which was designed by distinguished architect Carlos Arguelles and built in 1961.

The Facebook page Icomos 20th Century Heritage Philippines was the first to share photos of the ongoing development last week in two separate posts, on August 4 and 5.

The photos, shared by a concerned citizen to the Facebook page, showed parts of the theater, which is located along United Nations Avenue in Ermita, Manila, being dismantled slowly. These were captioned with: “Goodbye, Philamlife.”

Goodbye, Philamlife Building. It was good while it lasted. Monday, August 3, 2020 photo of ongoing dismantling shared by a concerned citizen.

Posted by Icomos 20th Century Heritage Philippines on Monday, August 3, 2020

GOODBYE, PHILAMLIFE. The dismantling of a Manila architectural icon continues today on United Nations Avenue. Photographs taken by Gregory Dorris on Wednesday, August 5, 2020.

Posted by Icomos 20th Century Heritage Philippines on Wednesday, August 5, 2020


Based on its profile, the page is handled by the Philippine branch of the International Scientific Committee on Twentieth Century Heritage, which is then part of the International Council of Monuments and Sites.

In the same week, on August 5, Christopher Knight, an art critic from Los Angeles Times, in a tweet called such construction “tragic.” He also attached old photos of the theater in its heyday.

“Seems Manila is about to lose one of its greatest modern buildings to a developers’ wrecking ball—the Philamlife Auditorium (1961) by Carlos Arguelles. Tragic,” Knight said.


On the same day, architect Gerard Lico also bid goodbye to the historic theater and shared photos of it on Facebook.

“I had the rare privilege to have the last look at the iconic Philam Life Building, a mid-century opus by Carlos Arguelles, prior to its ongoing transformation,” Lico said.

I had the rare privilege to have the last look at the iconic Philam Life Building, a mid-century opus by Carlos…

Posted by Gerard Lico on Wednesday, August 5, 2020


He also reminded the public that the real-estate developer SM Development Corporation (SMDC) bought the property back in 2012 and planned to build a condominium on the site.

“SMDC plans to construct on the site a condominium complex that includes a world-class, state-of-the-art theater that will serve the cultural needs of the vicinity,” Lico said.

The theater, which was once known as Philam Life Auditorium, was popular for its acoustic performances by Bolt, Beranek & Newman, the same group behind the acoustics of the Sydney Opera House.

It also once became the home of the Manila Symphony Orchestra, the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Philippine Educational Theater Association. It also hosted performances from international artists such as Italian lirico-spinto soprano Renata Tebaldi, American contralto Marian Anderson, Israeli-American violinist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman.

Revived petition

Following these posts, Olivier Ochanine, music director and chief conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, revived the online petition he launched in 2013 to convince SMDC to preserve the old theater via

In his new online petition published two weeks ago, Ochanine recalled that with the signatures and various meetings with SMDC’s representatives, they agreed with preserving the “only acoustically-strong theater in Manila.”

In April 2013, SMDC vowed to preserve “the complete theater, including all its elements and most especially its acoustics” after its consultation with music acoustics and design experts.

“We are fully aware of our responsibility as corporate citizens. In envisioning a progressive, convenient, upscale yet affordable lifestyle for Filipinos, we also value our cultural heritage especially in communities where we operate,” Henry Sy Jr., then vice-chair of SMDC said.

Sy is now the chair of SMDC.

This time, Ochanine once again expressed fears that the real-estate developer might not keep its vow to them after all.

“Please sign this petition to remind the SMDC group of their promise, and LET’S HOPE they honor their agreement of preserving the hall and relocating it as originally promised,” he said.

Interaksyon sought for SMDC group’s comment on the renewed petition. The developer has yet to respond on the matter.