Monday, June 4, 2012

When the Magnate was Young

In 1954, an ambitious young entrepreneur from the Thonburi section of Bangkok was invited to be a partner in a palatial, modern movie theater being constructed on a prominent corner of the Wong Wiang Yai roundabout. He was the last and least seasoned of five investors. The theater was named the Chalerm Kiad, roughly translated as "Great Prestige." 

Despite the theater's success, it turned out to be a short lived partnership for the novice theater man, who was cajoled by the senior partners into selling his portion to them at a loss. But the lessons learned were soon recycled. Within a year, the young upstart had financed his own movie theater at nearby Plu Market, the first of what would evolve into a family-operated empire of movie theaters throughout Bangkok and its suburbs. 

The young man's name was Charoen Poonworaluk, later known by the moniker Sia Charoen, or "millionaire Charoen." The theater chain he founded, which he put under the management of his three younger brothers, was called Co Brothers. 

Two of Sia Charoen's sons, along with two of his nephews went on to found the EGV and Major cineplex chains, respectively. Today, EGV and Major are merged into a single entity, the largest entertainment conglomerate in Thailand, with branches in every region of the country.

As of this 2009 photograph, the Chalerm Kiad Theater was a worn and weathered adult theater.

Signage and marquee

As of my prior visit in 2009, the Chalerm Kiad had been lingering on  as an X-rated flop house. While passing the theater this past February, I noticed that it was out of business, with the sidewalk around it cordoned off as if it was being demolished. 

Lest we forget, the Chalerm Kiad was where Sia Charoen cut his teeth in the movie exhibition business. Historically speaking, it was ground-zero of the Poonworaluk theater empire.