The varieties of cinematic experience The history of Santa Fe’s movie theaters, 1900-1970
the history of Santa Fe’s movie theaters 1900-1970
There’s a bit of mystery here — it is theater after all. — Art Encinias, local historian
On the grand stage of Santa Fe movie-theater history in the 20th century, the figure of Col. Nathan Salmon looms epically, casting a long shadow down West San Francisco Street. Together with his sonin-law, E. John Greer, Salmon dominated the local movie-theater business for decades, beginning with his very first venture in 1914.
Although the remarkable story of Salmon and Greer’s Lensic Theater is often and well told, their other theater projects and clandestine business negotiations reveal a glamorous and cunning side of the emerging lucrative film business before the days of television and mass entertainment. By 1950, Salmon and Greer Enterprises would operate three major cinemas on San Francisco Street: the Lensic, El Paseo Theatre (built on the site of the former Paris Theater), and the Alley Theatre, while also expanding into the St. Anne’s Church neighborhood around Hickox Street with the Arco Theater.
THE EARLY HEYDAY OF CINEMA IN SANTA FE
Before Salmon opened the city’s first true cinema, 1914’s Paris Theater at 123 W. San Francisco St., Santa Fe traced a proven transition from the legendary “opry houses” of the Western frontier to the early experimental nickelodeon shows, traveling vaudeville acts, and five- and six-reelers of early silent-film productions. New Mexicans had marveled at the “moving pictures” quite early in cinematic history, flocking to shows of 30-second movie features such as Parisian Dance and Surf at Long Beach in a Storm at A.A. Grant’s Opera House in Albuquerque in 1898. With the invention and rapid deployment of the Lumière Cinématographe projector and Edison’s Vitascope after 1895, movie theaters and improvised screening auditoriums rapidly spread across the United States.
In the giddy years before statehood, community opera houses in New Mexico were equipped with film projectors, and a few communities such as Artesia and Silver City hosted movie events in air domes and tents before 1910. Among the earliest opera houses in Santa Fe was Motley’s Opera House on Galisteo Street, operating since 1882-1883 as a “saloon opera,” and hosting a variety of entertainments, including bare-knuckle-boxing matches. Both the Motley Opera House and the Santa Fe Opera House, opened about 1905 and operated by restaurateur and manager A.M. Dettlebach, offered movie entertainment in the experimental-cinema years after 1900.
The May 5, 1907, New Mexican reported that “Manager A.M. Dettlebach of the (Santa Fe) Opera House was busy today installing an extensive Edison moving picture machine which he received yesterday from the factory. It is of the very latest model and represents an investment of $175. Commencing with this evening, Manager Dettlebach will give two performances at the opera house every evening at 7:30 and 8:30 o’clock and a matinee on Saturday and Wednesday afternoons. Moving pictures and illustrated songs will furnish the amusement. ... The admission has been placed within reach of all, being 10 and 20 cents. The latter will include reserved seats.” By November and December 1907, the Santa Fe Opera House was offering a program of films and vaudeville acts, with “moving pictures becoming very popular ... and crowds are increasing nightly,” according to The New Mexican.
The Elks boasted elite and wealthy members who were able to build grand lodges and theaters during the statehood years. In 1909 Santa Fe, the Elks Opera House, located at 117 Lincoln Ave. (just north of the Palace of the Governors), hosted a variety of movie screenings, stage plays, and traveling vaudeville acts.
The Elks Opera House, designed by Rapp and Rapp Architects of Trinidad, Colorado, is significant for both its theatrical history and architectural design, with its elegant neoclassical facade. It was built in the years just before the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style (aka Santa Fe Style) would be unveiled to great acclaim in 1917 with the opening of the New Mexico Museum of Art, as it is now called.
Between 1910 and 1914, Sunday evenings became a popular time for showing movies at 8 or 8:30, with live performances staged during the week. In 1914, the Elks Theatre, as the opera house was now known,
screened serial productions. The June 26, 1914, edition of The New Mexican advertised The Quicksands, starring Lillian Gish, along with the last installment of The Adventures of Kathlyn.
With the imminent construction and opening of Salmon’s Paris Theater in 1914, the Elks sought professional management for their venue, and Tri-Kay Amusement Company, with partners Mssrs. Keefe, Kaune, and Koch, secured a contract to show movies. Changing the name to the Kays Theatre, the new company operated the Lincoln Avenue facility from July 1, 1914, to sometime in 1921. The opening show at the Kays was Judith of Bethulia, “a four part Biograph masterpiece.”
DAWN OF THE PARIS THEATER Salmon’s rapid rise in Santa Fe’s business and realestate-development worlds had its beginnings in pushcart peddling in the 1880s and 1890s. Soon Salmon gained leaseholds at 429 and 243 W. San Francisco St., and in 1906 built the Big Dry Goods Store at 111 W. San Francisco St., with the name N. Salmon proudly displayed on the two-story Classical Revival facade over lovely curved storefront windows.
Just a few years later, Salmon shrewdly assessed the lucrative potential of the motion-picture business and made plans for the city’s first true cinema, the Paris Theater. Photographs of the original Paris building are rare. It was housed within a business-block model, a three-story building, graced with classical architectural details, that contained offices above an auditorium with 1,050 seats.
In the early-cinema era, narrow and small seats, the nonexistence of concession stands, and minimal lobbies enabled generous audience capacities. Movie refreshments were unknown to early film fans before the invention of refrigeration and commercial appliances. The lack of air conditioning in the auditoriums and brief five- and six-reel features meant that crowds moved in and out of the silent-picture cinemas efficiently.
The grand opening of the Paris Theater was on Saturday, August 15, 1914, and it featured The Wrath of the Gods, a 56-minute movie directed by Reginald Barker and with a Japanese cast portraying characters doomed by a cursed island volcano. The enormous success of the Paris Theater emboldened Salmon to consolidate his interests as the Roaring Twenties saw dramatic expansions in the Santa Fe amusement-house business.
For Salmon and for Santa Fe theaters, 1921 proved to be a watershed year. Salmon acquired the lease for the Kays Theatre and changed its name to the Rialto Theatre. He operated the Rialto until 1926, purchasing the building that year. After the Paris was spectacularly remodeled in 1926-1927, a community-theater company took over the Rialto, offering live performances, boxing, and wrestling matches. In 1939, the 117 Lincoln Ave. building was torn down.
MYSTERIES OF EL ON˜ ATE The big news of 1921, however, was the incredible construction of a monumental business-block complex at the northwest corner of the Plaza and Palace Avenue by James C. Cassell Jr., a leading automobile dealer. Nestled within a ring of assorted storefronts and Cassell’s car showrooms, the twin Spanish-Pueblo Revival style mission towers of the new El Oñate Theatre soared above the Plaza, rivaled only by St. Francis Cathedral and the Museum of Fine Arts across the street.
El Oñate opened as a Paramount studio affiliate on August 15, 1921, billed as the “Theatre Different,” probably because of its unique architectural style evoking the great mission church of Acoma Pueblo. The theater was leased to John McManus in its inaugural year of operation, but Salmon briefly took over the lease in 1922, before Cassell canceled it and awarded the facility to Carl Gilbert. Salmon, however, refused to vacate the building and shuttered its doors.
The next few years of El Oñate’s operations are shrouded in clandestine negotiations and acrimony: Apparently, Salmon closed the new venue to eliminate competition for the Paris and Rialto theaters. A lawsuit against him was filed in federal court on February 26, 1926, by the Rocky Mountain Theater Corporation, representing Gilbert and various other interests and seeking damages of $5,000.
Cassell stated in the February 16, 1926, edition of The New Mexican that he had signed an eightyear lease of El Oñate to the Rocky Mountain Theater Corporation, adding that “I had notified Mr. Salmon that I had considered the lease he took in April, 1922, had been cancelled because of violations of some of the provisions. I refused to accept the rental from Mr. Salmon pointing out that in my opinion his keeping El Oñate closed was in violation of both state and federal statutes by being in restraint of trade in an effort to keep out competition. I demanded possession of the theater but Mr. Salmon refused to give it.”
Salmon, however, had the last laugh. He prevailed in federal court, and the lawsuit against him was dismissed. On December 9, 1926, Salmon wrote in a personal letter to Miss Martha Abdou that “we won from A to Z, ...and the theater that had the suit against us will be turned into a garage instead of operating a picture theater. ... Thank God we had real attorneys to take care of the case. Old Judge Roberts sure shines, and he sure savvies his business. By the way, he wants to be remembered to you.”
Salmon’s letters in 1926 to friends, elected officials, family members, and business rivals reveal a master business strategist and charmer at work as the sixty-year-old tycoon was securing his legacy. On March 9, 1926, Salmon assured his “Dear Friend Sam [Bratton, Democratic U.S. senator from New Mexico, from 1925 to 1933]: It is true that I have sold out my business but by no means that I am leaving Santa Fe or the State either. My full intention, by selling the mercantile business, is to devote all my time to the new building which I expect to erect in the near future.” Was he referring to the new remodeling of the Paris Theater or to the Lensic Theater?
I LOVE PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME
By July 9, Salmon hired famed theater architect Carl Boller of Los Angeles to remodel the Paris, promising him “a nice Navajo blanket ... for all the seats you can (give me) ... over the thousand mark.” The new Paris Theater featured a “candy shop room and Shoe Shining Parlor in the lobby” and a floating box office surrounded by an entrance foyer flush with the sidewalk on the north side of West San Francisco Street.
Patrons enjoyed a modern cooling and heating system at the 1927 Paris, along with Tennessee marble floors in the lobby. An iron-and-glass-canopy awning protected ticket buyers from the elements. Perhaps the most extravagant accent was the horizontal-lighted marquee with the five letters P-A-R-I-S that reached above San Francisco’s brick street for at least two decades before fire destroyed the theater in 1945. The Paris was reopened on Jan. 6, 1927. In 1929, it premiered Santa Fe’s first talkie, Universal
Studio’s Broadway, a pioneering technical innovation that featured a technicolor sequence at the end.
A poignant June 1945 photograph of the Paris Theater in the Museum of New Mexico’s collection shows a line of (mostly) children at a matinee feature. The facade of the building has been stuccoed over to conform to the Santa Fe Style that transformed the historic downtown. A contemporary marquee has replaced the cast-iron canopy. This matinee was an innocent prelude to the fire that would destroy the beloved Paris before the year’s end.
GLORIES OF THE LENSIC
Salmon emerged from the El Oñate legal entanglement and the Paris remodeling in 1927 as the dominant player in the Santa Fe movie market. The next five years in America would witness the crash of the stock market on Wall Street and the construction of movie palaces nationwide, epitomized by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, which opened in 1927, and Atlanta’s Fox Theatre in Atlanta, which opened in 1929.
New Mexico followed the movie-theater mania enthusiastically, as Albuquerque unveiled the KiMo Theatre in 1927, commissioned by entrepreneur Oreste Bachechi and designed by Carl Boller. Boller was also responsible for Gallup’s El Morro Theatre, built in 1928.
Joined by son-in-law E. John Greer, Salmon announced plans for a spectacular new “Spanish Style” theater on March 27, 1930. With Boller as architect, the design development progressed swiftly. Ground was broken on Sept. 26, and the new Lensic Theater, a name submitted in a contest using the initials of
Salmon’s six grandchildren, was ready for its opening on June 24, 1931.
The magnificent Spanish Colonial Revival style architecture of the Lensic features a deep foyer that dramatically opens into an ample, double-height lobby. The auditorium expressed the “atmospheric” ambience of great movie auditoriums built about 1930, with a simulated sky above a backlit architectural fantasy meant to completely transport the audience away from the humdrum of daily life and into a world of romance, adventure, or comedy. With its Moorish accents and Spanish Baroque splendor, the Lensic sings a melody of Andalucía.
The night of June 24 was unusually warm, as Santa Fe was blistering from a heat wave. The modern refrigeration system was an incentive for elegant women in evening gowns and men in tuxedos to attend the gala. Newspaper accounts would recall the grand opening “featuring so many luxuries it was hard to enumerate them all.”
Contributing to Salmon’s vision, the Lensic hosted separate clubs on the mezzanine level, one for ladies to play cards and another where gentlemen smoked cigars. A rooftop garden offered an escape for intimate conversations and fresh air on summer nights. Small light bulbs in the ceiling gave guests the impression they were gazing up into a clear, starry night.
The Lensic instantly became the main attraction of Santa Fe’s social, cultural, and entertainment scenes. Its heavy programming of new Hollywood releases — up to four per week, shown three times daily — reflected the public’s ravenous appetite for movie entertainment in the 1930s.
The Lensic stage has, of course, welcomed many great performers and celebrities over the years, including Claudette Colbert, Judy Garland, and Rudy Vallee, but perhaps the greatest movie event in its celebrated history was the 1940 premiere of Santa Fe Trail.
An estimated 60,000 people clogged West San Francisco Street for the occasion and for a glimpse of stars Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, and Olivia de Havilland. Those fans most probably noticed a new theater across the street from the Lensic — another Salmon and Greer triumph called the Alley Theatre but often referred to as the Burro Alley Theatre — a more modest cinema of 500-seat capacity that began construction in March 1939 and was open before Flynn came to town.
Salmon lived to see his dreams made manifest for the city that so amply rewarded his talents and vision. With his death in 1941, a true showman and bold entrepreneur left the Santa Fe stage, but his masterpiece, the Lensic Theater, lives on.
NEW AUDIENCES AT THE ALLEY
In contrast to the expansive auditoriums of the Lensic and Paris, the compact size of the Alley Theatre enabled more diversified entertainment programming. Built in a conventional interpretation of the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style, with decorative vigas on the street facade, the Alley Theatre was the poor relation of the regal Lensic directly across the street.
Local historian and retired judge Art Encinias recalled in an interview that the Alley Theatre was rented occasionally by spiritualist Edna Ballard in the 1940s and ’50s for readings interpreting the I AM school of philosophy. In 1938, I AM had more than a million followers worldwide, enjoying a cultlike status.
Encinias reported in his blog “Slouching Towards Santa Fe” on Feb. 3, 2009, that by 1951 the “members of the I AM sect ... were a familiar part of the Santa Fe scene ... and wore different colors for each day of the week; Saturday for example was a day for violet or purple colors. The colors red and black, however, were evil and never worn.”
By 1950, the Alley Theatre had begun screening Spanish-language films. A November 1950 ad for the Alley announced “Comenzando Hoy [Starting Today] Esther Fernández y Antonio Badú en Solo Veracruz es Bello [Only Veracruz Is Beautiful],” a Mexican film feature distributed by Azteca Films. Santa Feans crowded the Alley to enjoy the latest Mexican features starring Cantinflas, María Félix, Jorge Negrete, and Antonio Aguilar. These features proved to be reliable money makers for Greer Enterprises, more than enough to encourage market expansion into the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods near St. Anne’s Catholic Church around Hickox and Alicia streets.
GIBRALTAR THEATERS AND THE POST-WWII BOOM
The death of Salmon in 1941 symbolized the passing of an era in many ways. He had enjoyed great success as an independent theater owner, locking up the Santa Fe market and resisting the power of the Hollywood production and distribution system. By the 1940s, great studios such as Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox not only owned their movies, but theaters and movie stars as well (signed to long-term contracts and required to perform in film productions at the studios’ discretion).
In 1940, only 13 of New Mexico’s 71 theaters were affiliated with Hollywood’s five major studios, yet
the independents were at a disadvantage, having to wait for hit movies after their runs in bigger cities. To challenge the disparity, several New Mexico theaters, including Salmon and Greer’s Santa Fe houses, joined a cooperative called Gibraltar Enterprises, which also included independent theater owners in Colorado, Nebraska, and Utah. After the landmark decision in the United States v.
Paramount Pictures Supreme Court antitrust case in 1948, movie studios were forced to sell their theaters and reform their practice of block-booking feature films. Gibraltar Enterprises survived until the 1960s and, along with Salmon and Greer Enterprises, maintained control of Santa Fe, their local power unchallenged until Don Beers opened the Santa Fe Theater.
1948 — IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR
In 1948, Greer’s son Nathan joined the business and helped prepare for a major expansion. There was a flurry of movie-theater activity in and around Santa Fe at the time, as new operators and locations reflected the growth of the city, new business opportunities, and leisure-lifestyle choices. In post-World War II’s booming economy, automobiles were more affordable than before. This meant that movie fans were able to travel farther distances to theaters. Drivein theaters, first unveiled in Camden, New Jersey, in 1933, were on their way to New Mexico.
After the demise of the Paris by fire in 1945, the property was dormant for three years until it would be rebuilt by Salmon and Greer Enterprises as El Paseo Theatre. An article in the May 1, 1948, edition of
The New Mexican announced the project at a cost of $50,000 and a floor plan that “follows a new treatment which connects the balcony to the main floor with a stadium arrangement of seating.” Just one month later, on June 6, Santa Fe Motors owner Don Beers announced in the paper his plans to build a cinema next to his auto dealership at 521 Cerrillos Road.
Meanwhile, Cristo Rey Church had received a $10,000 grant in January from the Catholic bishops committee of the Southwest to help retire debt incurred in the building of the new parish hall. Father Smith’s plan to raise money was announced in the Jan. 16, 1948, issue of The New Mexican: “putting on movies in a commercial way on Saturdays and Sundays beginning tomorrow. His program is Spanish films for three weeks, then a Western or something else for variety on the fourth week.” Santa Fe’s theater wars raged anew in earnest, as they had done in 1922 — with similar results.
Salmon and Greer had found a huge new audience for Spanish-language films featured primarily at the Alley Theater in the 1940s and ’50s. In 1948, Greer Enterprises opened a new neighborhood theater in a spanned-arch construction, or Quonset hut, on a lot at the corner of Hickox and Errett streets. A contest to name the theater yielded the winning entry, Arco, which in Spanish means “arch.”
Billed as Santa Fe’s “First and Finest Neighborhood Theater,” the Arco promised comfort and convenience at affordable prices. The Homestretch, with Cornel Wilde and Maureen O’Hara, opened on Oct. 10, 1948. Tickets were 35 cents for adults, 16 cents for children, and 45 cents for loge seats — special box seating. The Arco’s features policy was touted as second-run major studio attractions on Sundays and Mondays; the best Spanish features available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; and action-packed hits and Westerns on Fridays and Saturdays.
December 1948 brought two lavish Christmas presents to Santa Fe — new cinemas that opened the same week. On Dec. 12, The New Mexican noted, “Never a city to do things by halves, Santa Fe this week will have two theater openings.”
Beers’ new Santa Fe Theater opened on Wednesday, Dec. 15, with The Smugglers, a British film starring Michael Redgrave, which suggests that the theater was already struggling to book popular Hollywood fare. With 877 seats, the Santa Fe Theater topped its rival El Paseo, which opened the next night with 672 seats.
E. John Greer’s aggressively competitive tactics were already engaged for El Paseo’s opening, as patrons of the Lensic and Alley theaters were given free tickets to El Paseo in advance, thus assuring a sellout crowd. For Love of Mary, a comedy starring Deanna Durbin, was the feature. Thus a fierce rivalry between Greer Enterprises and Don Beers began and would rage on for years, to the benefit of movie patrons, as free holiday matinees and other promotions vied for audiences.
Encinias and local-history buff Richard Montoya remember those days fondly. Growing up near the Santa Fe Theater meant that weekend matinees were highly anticipated. “The Santa Fe Theater used to have lots of cartoons and give away prizes like bikes and BB guns,” Encinias recalled. “One time I won a silver dollar.”
LET’S DRIVE IN
In 1949 and 1950, Santa Fe kids had new entertainment adventures to dream about as the Yucca Drive-In opened on Cerrillos Road and Greer Enterprises built the Pueblo Drive-In on the north side of Tesuque, on the Old Taos Highway. Built at a cost of $100,000, the 400-car-capacity Pueblo Drive-In opened on June 9, 1950, with John Ford’s classic Western She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, starring John Wayne.
The Pueblo Drive-In was remarkable for its magnificent Spanish-Pueblo Revival style screen structure, which featured a monumental mural by famed Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma (1920-1956) of a warrior on a rearing horse spooked by a skunk. Stephen Earnest posted on the website Voces de Santa Fé, “I remember only one movie Treasure Island, only because it scared me when that little creature bounded down the hill. ... The strongest memory for me [of the Pueblo Drive-In] is the pungent smell of Russian olives [trees] and the sound of bull frogs across the road.”
One of the mysteries of the Pueblo Drive-In in Tesuque is why it was torn down in 1955, after only five years of operation, and relocated to Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe. It is probably that competition from the Yucca, opened one year earlier by Wiles Enterprises and closer to the city, may have been a factor.
Located on 13 acres on the outskirts of Cerrillos Road, the Yucca Drive-In, with more than a 500-car capacity, proved popular with families until its final season in 1994. Many Santa Feans remember the $15-per-carload admission price in later years.
The Yucca opened in 1948 with Sitting Pretty, a comedy from that year starring Clifton Webb, Robert Young, and Maureen O’Hara, and closed with Forrest Gump and Sitting Pretty on October 31, 1994. Longtime Yucca owner Richard Wiles gave the property to Concordia College of Moorhead, Minnesota, in a charitable trust in the mid-1980s, and the property netted more than $3 million when it was sold in the mid-1990s, as the Cerrillos Road commercial corridor expanded south toward Airport Road.
The Pueblo Drive-In met a similar fate in 1985; it was torn down to make way for a new Wal-Mart. Drive-in theaters everywhere declined as television and multiplex cinemas commanded the entertainment industry after 1970. Today, only the Fort Union Drive-In in Las Vegas and the Fiesta Drive-In in Carlsbad survive in New Mexico.
END OF AN ERA
The early baby-boom years of the 1950s offered Santa Fe movie fans a dazzling variety of venues and programming before independent features and foreign films became popular.
The Santa Fe Theater premiered the city’s first 3-D movie on May 5, 1953, Man in the Dark, but it was a fleeting triumph in a market still dominated by Greer Enterprises. By 1957, apparently unable to license popular first-run film products, Beers threw in the towel and leased the cinema to his rival “Greer interests,” according to the September 29, 1957, edition of The New Mexican. The same article noted that Spanish-language features at the Alley Theatre would only screen on Saturdays and Sundays. The Alley remained dark during weekdays.
For Beers, the Greer lease was a bitter pill to swallow. He filed a $483,000 lawsuit in federal court against a group of the nation’s leading film distributors on Nov. 20, 1958. After Salmon and Greer Enterprises leased the theater, Beers closed it down and converted into an automobile showroom. The lawsuit claimed that Loew’s, Inc., 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, United Artists, Buena Vista Films (Disney), Paramount, Gibraltar Enterprises, and others “monopolized the trade ... in such a way as to prevent the Santa Fe Theater from obtaining desirable feature films on first run,” according to The New Mexican. The demise of the Santa Fe Theater exposed some of the harsh realities of the cinema business as the industry was maturing into a mass-entertainment market increasingly affected by television.
The 1950s, socially conformist in many ways, had dawned brilliantly and boldly on the Santa Fe theater scene as three new cinemas and two drive-ins vied for patrons. By the decade’s end, the Arco and Santa Fe theaters had become memories for a generation of baby boomers. Santa Fe had managed to remain a family-business movie town, but that would change in the 1960s.
The cinema market remained stable through the 1960s, though by the dawn of the ’70s it was clear that the fortunes of the Alley Theatre were waning. In 1968, Commonwealth Theaters of Kansas City had entered Santa Fe, striking a deal with Greer Enterprises to operate the Alley, Pueblo, and Lensic theaters. By 1971, Commonwealth had built a new twin cinema at the Coronado Shopping Center on Cordova Road in Santa Fe.
Except for the Lensic Theater, completely rehabilitated from 1999 to 2001 in a community effort led by Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, the fabulous showbiz legacy of Nathan Salmon and his family partners has faded into memory and the West San Francisco streetscape. The site of the Paris Theater, where Salmon’s dreams and movie-business empire arose 101 years ago, still preserves the walls of the El Paseo Theater and so much more.
Elmo Baca is an author and movie-theater historian who grew up in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and enjoyed many B films at the Kiva Theater on Bridge Street. His is also active in the New Mexico Economic Development Department and New Mexico Main Street’s historic theater initiative. Research assistance was provided by J. West, Art Encinias, Richard Montoya, and Tomas Jaehn.
Santa Fe theater entrepreneurs E. John Greer (left) and Nathan Salmon (second from right) dominated Santa Fe’s cinema industry for half a century. Here they are joined by Raymond Shayla (second from left) and Justice Clarence J. Roberts, circa 1935. Above, built in 1909, the Elks Opera House on Lincoln Avenue, behind the Palace of the Governors, offered vaudeville entertainment, silent-movie features, and sporting events for three decades; left, El Oñate Theatre opened in 1921 on the northwest corner of Santa Fe’s Plaza. It was impressive for its Spanish-Pueblo Revival architecture inspired by the Acoma Pueblo Mission Church. It closed a mere five years later after a business dispute.
Above and left, the interior and facade of the Alley Theatre on West San Francisco Street. The theater, which opened in 1939, was a favorite venue for the latest Mexican movie releases, and featured a whimsical neon burro over the marquee. Far left, children line up for a summer matinee at the Paris Theater in June 1945, just months before a fire would destroy the beloved cinema. Bottom, West San Francisco Street, with a view toward St. Francis Cathedral, shows the newly opened Paris Theater on the left and the distinctive marquee bridging the street, circa 1928.
The regal Lensic Theater opened in 1931 with an “atmospheric” auditorium, parlors for men and women, and a rooftop garden. Below, Gibraltar Enterprises represented movie-theater owners in four states and was organized to resist the block-booking power of the Hollywood studio system. Among its leaders was E. John Greer, shown here at the extreme left, at a meeting for managers in Denver, August 1936.
El Paseo Theatre, seen here in 1959, was built on the site of the destroyed Paris Theater. It featured an innovative auditorium design with a stadium-inspired seating plan. Below, street promotions for coming movie attractions at the Lensic Theater represent the lost art of showmanship from Hollywood’s golden years.
Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma’s magnificent painted mural of a warrior on horseback spooked by a skunk greeted patrons of Tesuque’s shortlived Pueblo Drive-In, circa 1950.