Monday, March 4, 2013

Historic Santa Fe Movie Theatres

I am still ferreting out old movie theatres as I travel. Latest stop: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Santa Fe doesn’t have many historic movie theatres. In the movie palace heyday, Santa Fe only had a population of around 20,000 people. It was only 30,000 by 1940, so it was difficult to support many movie theatres, particularly the grand movie palaces found in Hollywood and other places.

The Lensic, 211 W. San Francisco Street, was/is the closest Santa Fe came. Built in 1931, in the ‘Spanish-Moorish style’ (similar to that of Denver’s Mayan) with 1,000 seats and ornate decoration in the lobby and auditorium, the theatre served as a movie theatre – and vaudeville house in the thirties - until 1999. Since, it has been remodeled (with an expansion of the stage area and the building of a scene house to accommodate flying scenery) and is now the Lensic Performing Arts Center specializing in a variety of live performances including theatre, music and dance. The old triangular marquee has also been replaced by a ‘boxier’ one.

The name? Nathan Salman, the original builder of the theatre offered a prize for a name for the new theatre, one that might incorporate the initials of his grandchildren. The grandchildren’s names? Lila, Elias, Nathan, Sarah, Mary Irene, and Charles.

El Onate, at the corner of Palace and Lincoln, predates the Lensic, opening in 1921. It was built on the site of the old Capitol Hotel, in the Pueblo style with the distinctive twin church bell towers. The building, now housing a bank, looks much as it did when it was built, though the bell towers are gone.

Paris Theatre, 123 W. San Francisco. There were two theatres at one time or another at 123 W San Francisco. Initially the site was occupied by the Paris Theatre, also owned by Nathan Salman. Built in 1914, and showing silent films it eventually converted to sound, showing the first ‘talkie’ to be screened in Santa Fe, Carl Laemmle's Universal Picture’s Broadway in 1929. It also featured a Wurlitzer organ. Unfortunately it burned down in 1948. It was replaced by El Paseo.

El Paseo, also at 123 W. San Francisco was built in 1948. This was not a remodel of the Paris, but was brand new construction as a result of the fire. The theatre closed in the 1980s. The building now houses a Coldwater Creek retail store.

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