Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Siam Rama - Chanthaburi, Thailand

At the height of its cinemania, Chanthaburi City had six active stand-alone movie theaters serving its citizens. That's six theaters in a town that can be crossed on foot in about 20 minutes. Around almost every corner in Chanthaburi of the 1980's one would invariably come across a movie theater; its neon hues casting a soft glow on the asphalt streets below. 

Of those six theaters, five are still standing, and four are still in recognizable condition. One of them can be found just around the corner from the central traffic circle in the heart of town. That one would be the Siam Rama. While not the most ornate of the quartet, it does have a noteworthy feature. If approached from said traffic circle, the Siam Rama creates a quintessential terminated vista. That is, it stands at the head of a perpendicular street, causing the view to have a definitive end point.

In the nomenclature of New Urbanism, a terminated vista is a desirable city attribute. It gives a street a destination point for pedestrians to gravitate towards. A street terminating in a movie theater is a dream come true from any pious New Urbanist.

This theater, lamentably, has long been closed. In its second life it serves a function most antithetical to New Urbanist theory - a parking garage. 

Nonetheless, it stands. That in itself is winning state of affairs.

The Siam Rama, Chanthaburi's most famous terminated vista

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Sri Burapha Theater - Chanthaburi, Thailand

Chanthaburi's topography lends itself to dramatic building settings. Near its center, the land swells upwards into a sizable hill, texturing the otherwise flatland monotony that spreads west from the Chanthaburi River. In pre-modern times it would be easy to imagine a townscape capped by a mansion of Golden Teak, home to the local noble family, perched stoically upon said hill; a regal view of yonder domain below.

The modern equivalent to the lord's manor came in the form of a temple of cinema, which - though not exactly the most extravagant piece of architecture in this case - must have been quite a site when all aglow in neon, and up wrapped in colorful movie billboards. The Sri Burapha Theater was its name. 

The Sri Burapha Theater at the highest point in Chanthaburi.

The Sri Burapha has all the elements of a Thai movie theater from the 1970's; a concrete frame topped by dimensional rooftop signage; a large, sloping auditorium that probably had a seating capacity of near one thousand; and an open air lobby area, now taken over by food carts and folding metal tables.

Word on the street had it that the dilapidated theater had been out of business for more than 20 years. Now it's little more than a trash pit.

Let there be light beams

A poster case hangs from the wall in the outdoor lobby of the Sri Burapha Theater.

Classic dimensional signage 

Chances are slim to nil that the Sri Burapha will ever find new life as a cultural center or cinema hall. In all likelihood it will meet the wrecking ball as Chanthaburi begins its slow road to revival. But for the time being it continues to serve as a reminder to the people of Chanthaburi that movie theaters were once an integral part of the urban geography.