Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Cherry Lwin Cinema - Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay Division, Myanmar

Hands down, Pyin Oo Lwin's Cherry Lwin Cinema is one of the classiest movie theaters I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. Architecturally speaking, it is a jewel box. The exterior is done in stoic 1920's neo-classical style, while the interior boasts an auditorium of hard-wood paneled walls and colorful wall upholstering along the balcony's edge. A relatively low seating capacity in such a plush, intimate setting gives the impression of being in a private lounge, with a comfort factor that's on the level. But aesthetics and comfort are just half the appeal of the Cherry Lwin Cinema. Historical considerations comprise an equally important part of the building's prestige.

Evergreen trees obscure the Cherry Lwin's neo-classical architecture from plain view.

A movie hoarding hangs from the Cherry Lwin's portico, as one enters the building.

Pyin Oo Lwin, formerly known as Maymyo, was a British hill station during the colonial era. As a vacation destination for colonial administrators, its population would swell with British bureaucrats during the Burmese hot season between March and May, when the lowlands became too much to bear for those of Anglo-Saxon origins. British-colonial subjects of Nepali and Indian descent followed on the heels of the colonials themselves, settling down as permanent residents of the newly built town on the edge of the Shan Plateau. Most earned their living as petty traders, or in various cottage industries, while others served as soldiers in the British army, residing in the barracks just outside of town.

Along with the Nepali and Indian settlers, a handful of perennial British colonials lived in the town, running various trading enterprises based on the extraction of raw materials from the Shan hinterland. The Cherry Lwin Cinema's first incarnation was as an office for one such company.

The name of the enterprise differed according to the sources I asked. A 90 year old man of Nepali decent and proud veteran of the famed Burma Rifles during World War II, born and raised in Maymyo/Pyin Oo Lwin, claimed the Cherry Lwin was originally a trading house called "White House Trading." A second source, an antique dealer likewise native to the town, claimed the more jingoistic "White Way" as the name of the trading company that commissioned the building. Whether "White Way" or "White House," it's obvious that the company invested a nice chunk of money in building their office/warehouse.

Two Buddhist nuns wait beneath the portico for the rains to stop, following a mid-day screening at the Cherry Lwin Cinema.

With the Japanese interregnum of World War II, the trading house was abandoned by its British staff as the Japanese military moved in. What function it served the Japanese is not clear, but they were not responsible for its ultimate conversion to one of Burma's most comfortable movie theaters.

A handsome ticket booth....

...staffed by two lovely ticket sellers.

Elegant curved staircase leading to balcony seating.

Iron work on the banister.

Auditorium exit

View from the balcony during previews. Notice the square shape of the balcony cut-out.

After the war, the White Way/House Trading Co. did not return to their offices in Pwin Oo Lwin. The age of European imperialism was on the wane. In 1947 the British set up a transitional government headed by Aung San and by '48 independence was granted. At the same time, the neo-classical former trading company office/warehouse was converted into the Cherry Lwin Cinema. It has been entertaining movie fans ever since.

LCD projector bolted to the balcony facade.

I was the beneficiary of unequivocal hospitality by the Cherry Lwin staff and management. Free access to document whatever I wanted. As you can hopefully tell from these photos, the Cherry Lwin has design and decorative qualities which would place it in the tradition of "boutique" theaters in other parts of the world. It's small, snug, well appointed and loaded with ambiance. Add to it its long and multi-tiered history, dating back almost a century, and you've got a genuine heritage site, if ever I've seen one.



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