Wednesday, July 25, 2012

There goes Cinema Row

Dismaying but predictable news has reached me that a number of theaters along Yangon's colorful "Cinema Row" are in the process of being torn down. The strip of theaters along the south side of Bogyoke Aung San Road, between Sule Pagoda and Pansodan roads in the former capital, has served as the city's entertainment center for more than 5 decades. Hence the nickname. 

Several of the theaters date back to as early as the 1920's.

The six movie theaters of Cinema Row represent the densest agglomeration of operating stand-alone movie theaters in Southeast Asia, if not the entire Far East. Aside from their entertainment function, they support an informal street economy comprised of hundreds of vendors, hawkers and crafts people of various types who earn a living from selling to movie patrons and other passersby. That buoyant street life will also be pushed aside to make way for the homogenous glass tower hotels said to be replacing Cinema Row. 

Below is collection of photo depicting the architecture and social life of Cinema Row taken in June 2010 and January 2011. They are in no particular order. If you want to read more about the Waziya, King, Thwin, Hsoo Htoo Pan, Myoma and Shwe Gon cinemas - the cinemas of Cinema Row - just click on their names.

If anybody has further details of developments going on there, please send an e-mail to

Looking west along Cinema Row from the Pansodan Bridge. 

Cinema Row with the Thwin Cinema in the foreground

The King Cinema

The Waziya Cinema

The Hsoo Htoo Pan Ciname

The Thwin Cinema

Hsoo Htoo Pan by night

In and out of the Shwe Gon

The children of street vendors

Loafing at the Hsoo Htoo Pan

Thwin's ticket window

Taking shelter under the Waziya's portico

Posters at the King Cinema

Longyi Strut

Waziya usher

Facade of the King

 Poster display beside the King Cinema

General street life on Cinema Row

Under the portico of the Hsoo Htoo Pan

Shwe Gon passersby 

The Thwin by night

In the realm of politics, change could not come fast enough for Burma. Too much too fast economic growth, however, will inevitably leave the country a gutted shell of itself. The loss of Cinema Row, long a defining characteristic of Yangon, is testament to that.

As a means of preempting an architectural apocalypse, the Association of Myanmar Architects has recently published a book advocating for the preservation of 30 significant buildings across Yangon. To my knowledge none of the listed structures are movie theaters. Regrettably, in Southeast Asia movie theaters are seldom considered worthy of preservation, despite the architectural and social value they embody. Indeed, there will be plenty of hands applauding the demolition of Cinema Row because of the perception of it being "dirty" or "out of date."

But make no mistake about it: the loss of Cinema Row will forever alter the face of Yangon. And probably not for the better.

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