Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Preservation posturing

With news of the Lido Theater's pending demolition still ringing in peoples' ears like a barrage from a firing squad, it seems appropriate to administer the following mild sedative to help ease the pain. Very mild, actually. Truth be told, possibly a placebo.

The Sala Chalerm Thani Theater

In a recent revisit to the lone wooden cinema still standing in Bangkok - the Sala Chalerm Thani - a grand discovery was made. Tacked to bulletin boards flanking the ticket window are notices to the affect that the 92 years old structure will be undergoing complete renovations.

Photos depicting a team of architects and engineers surveying the barn-like movie theater accompanied the information. An appearance of intent on the part of the Crown Property Bureau - the financial arm of the monarchy - to preserve one of Bangkok's most historic entertainment venues.

Ticket window

"The Sala Chalerm Thani restoration project"

"The Crown Property Bureau, together with Home Renovation Center, a subsidiary of the Siam Cement Group, inspects the interior and exterior condition of the theater to determine an appropriate budget."

But after questioning locals about the notices, a less optimistic picture soon emerged.

"Those notices were put up over 2 years ago," said a nearby resident. "Nobody has even been back since they did the survey. I doubt they will ever do anything at all."

A local shopkeeper, slightly more hopeful, had this to say: "The Crown Property Bureau is investing in it. We don't know what plans they have, but it will definitely benefit the community if they can fix it up."

Replica old movie posters pinned to the wall of the Sala Chalerm Thani. In anticipation of its restoration?

While collecting data a few years back, I was told that the Sala Chalerm Thani Theater is owned by an absentee landlord who spends most of his time in the southern Thailand. A literature review later revealed that the theater was built by one of Bangkok's early theater chains, the Pathankorn Film Co., which in 1919 merged with rival Krungthep Cinematograph to form the largest theater chain in the country - the Siam Cinema Co.

Originally named the Nang Loerng Cinema after the trok neighborhood it stands in, the theater was reputedly a of low standing from the start. By the late 1920's the Siam Cinema Co. had fallen on hard times. Backed by royal financing, the newly-formed Siam Niramai Co. purchased Siam Cinema Co.'s entire stock of theaters to become the largest chain in the country. In so doing, each theater was renamed beginning with the honorific "Sala Chalerm," roughly translated "The celebrated pavilion." The Nang Loerng Theater, for instance, became the Sala Chalerm Thani; the Singapore became the Sala Chalerm Buri, and so on.

Anyhow, given that the Siam Niramai Co. was financed by the Crown, it's interesting that the CPB is now taking efforts to restore the historic old Sala Chalerm Thani. Or so their PR department would like us to believe.

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