The Mercury theater occupied a whole block from Trabajo St. to Maria Cristina and its side fronted Espana Boulevard. This movie-house was an integral part of my development when I was growing up in the Sampaloc district of Manila.
Being the bigger street, Trabajo, was where the lobby of theater was situated. Alongside Espana were four wide fire exit gates and on the Maria Cristina end were the exit doors of the toilets which were opened only during emergencies. As a young boy I would sneak in with the help of Ising, the “takilyera” who was a friend of my older sisters. There were times that I would be able to get in for free in what was referred to as “a la berde”, a free for all that happens when somebody shouts “fire!!!” causing movie goers to stream out of the emergency exits then back again when the furor died down. This happened at least once a week.
The movie-house was three houses away from our Maria Cristina residence. I remember as a child I could hear the sound track of all the movies that were being shown from my bed. There was gunfire as good guys and the bad guys get into a confrontation, the William Tell overture as the blue coats save the day for the westward settlers who have formed a circle of Conestoga wagons staving off Apache marauders. What was memorable was the music from Broadway shows like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Carousel, Oklahoma and other popular Broadway musicals.
The owner of the movie-house was Mr. Garchitorena, a Spaniard married to a Filipina. I have long forgotten how they look like. What has remained in my mind was they were a corporeal pair. They have three children the oldest was Henry, followed by Serafin and their youngest was Rose.
Henry was into designing lamps and had a shop in Ermita named Henry’s Art. Ermita was not yet the hell hole that it is now. The neighborhood boasted of some of the elegant houses with small but well manicured front lawns. You could still see vestiges of its past glory with well kept old houses in the Remedios circle and in the immediate environs. It’s proximity to Dewey Blvd. (now Roxaz Blvd.) made it popular to tourists and through the years of catering to all sorts of foreigners it deteriorated to become the red light district of Manila.
Henry had a beautiful daughter, Helen, who was popular with the younger set of Manila society. She graced the covers of magazines and would appear on television talk shows whenever Manila’s debutantes were featured. My last recollection of her was in my wife’s fashion house in the David Gan building in Shaw Blvd.
Mike Gan, a son of the owner of the building is married to Rose the youngest among the Garchitorenas. We were quite close and we used to go out for social occasions and for black jack sessions which Mike organized with his other friends. Mike was a likeable fellow. He was easy going and would sometimes get into naughty capers. My friend Bobby Kraut was his professor in de Lasalle in Marketing and Advertising referred to him good naturedly as a “son of a Gan”. Rose and my wife Alma got along famously and for a while stayed as close friends until she had to give up her businesses in the David Gan Bldg. after failing to recover from a fire that gutted her shop.
Serafin, nicknamed Egie was the middle child. He was my classmate in Instituto de Mujeres supposedly a school for girls but allowed young boys in kindergarten. Taking after his parents, Egie was big and tall. What was memorable about him was his mellifluous boy soprano voice. Even as a young child he would sing with much confidence and gusto the songs Amapola and Amor. Later on Egie would turn professional. The last I saw of him was when he performed on television as a guest of Pilita Corrales.
Their house was right beside ours. We were separated by a low concrete wall and a Macopa tree. They sold their Maria Cristina house and were among the first to leave the neighborhood. It has been a long while since I have seen any of the Garchitorenas.