Archive for the 'Architecture' Category

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Rio Grande Theatre – More History

The Rio Grande Theatre opened on July 29, 1926. The official announcment to the public was made in the July 24 issue of the Las Cruces Citizen newspaper:


At last we are privileged to announce the definite opening date of the new Rio Grande Theatre built by Seale and Dyne and operated by the Central Theatres Corporation of Denver as Thursday July 29th with the powerful Sea Drama “Mare Nostrum” as created by the masterful director, Rex Ingram with Alice Terry and Antonio Moreno in the leading roles. Mr. Ingram has directed such notable successes as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and may others. Mare Nostrum is conceded to be one of the outstanding successes of the year and the management was indeed fortunate in securing an attraction of this caliber as an opening production.

A treat indeed is in store for those who have anxiously awaited the opening of this truly wonderful institution which is a great credit to the Southwest, the builders who have had the foresight to visualize the future in their enterprise and the operators for the confidence they have placed in the community in the manner they have equipped the theatre.

Replacing the old style painted scenery, the stage is to be hung and decorated in a lavish manner with velvet drapes and curtains as is the Auditorium proper. The foyer and aisles are carpeted in a rich red and the lightning [lighting] is as modern as has yet been installed in even the larger theatres in the cities.

A washed air cooling system maintains any desired temperature with its clean pure air as distributed scientifically throughout the house, the mammoth organ will be operated by Miss Elsie Dean Bristol who comes direct from one of the corporation’s Denver theatres, which assures all lovers of accurately played pictures a treat in store for them.

— Las Cruces Citizen, July 24, 1926

The first advertisement for the theatre was published in the same issue of the newspaper:

The movie selected for the opening was the silent movie , directed by . The New York Times’ movie critic Mordaunt Hall had given the movie a mixed review on Feb 16, 1926. Even then, the movie critic’s basic stance of a haute attitude and a pseudo-intellectual tone is evident. Some quotes from that review:

“The German submarine and the Wilhelmstrasse spy system during the World War are the theme of Rex Ingram’s picturization of Blasco Ibanez’s “Mare Nostrum,” which was presented last night before an audience that appeared to be left slightly dazed by the weird delivery of the film. It is an effort that in the second half has its full quota of thrills, but in the end it reminds one of the Von Tirpitz edict—”Spurlos Versenkt!” The heroine and the hero have met their deaths and so have the villains; the comedian alone is left to drift back to his Spanish port aboard a flimsy raft.”

“Mr. Ingram goes about the unfolding of this narrative with a dislike of haste. He seems to tell you that you must gaze upon his story as he tells it or not at all, and therefore it is not until just before the first half has come to a close that interest in the picture is really awakened; that happens to be through a scene in which a stout German Frau Doktor of the German Secret Service, her faithful and beautiful aid, Freya Talberg, and a Spanish skipper, drink a toast to the Emperor Josef.”

Alice Terry and Antonio Moreno in Mare Nostrum

“The first sequence dealing with the sinking of a British vessel by a submarine is graphically filmed. The Mediterranean is a tame stretch of blue to a wireless operator. He had just said “Hello” to his colleague aboard the Californian. Then one perceives the submersible sneaking after its prey, and subsequently the Californian receives her death blow in an explosion of spray and fire. Aboard the other vessel all is tranquil; then the wireless operator gets the S. O. S., but gradually the sinking ship is covered by water. The commander of the submarine pushes his cap back over his shorn head and checks off the British steamship as having been sunk.”

“Freya is arrested as a spy and taken from Marseilles to the St. Lazare prison, in Paris. In the course of usual motion picture events Freya would have been saved at the last minute. One awaits it in this film. She is taken to Vincennes in the early morning, and the soldiers line up. The buglers sound “Taps” after making a flourish with their brass instruments. Freya had made a petition to be shot in furs, feathers and expensive clothes; it was granted. She had walked proudly to the white stake against which she rests. Her hands had been tied with rope. An officer winces before the order is given to fire. When that order comes the rifles blaze and nothing more is seen of Freya until a weird idea or nebulous figures under the sea is portrayed at the end of the picture.”

“Alice Terry is fair, but unconvincing in the rôle of the German spy. She is too phlegmatic for the part. Antonio Moreno figures as the susceptible Ferragut. Mr. Moreno has plenty of character in his countenance, but he does seem to be a ready victim to a pair of blue eyes.”

“Aside from the effective photography in Spain, Italy and France and the dramatic sequences concerned with the submarine’s deadly work and the shooting of a woman spy, this production does not do justice to the talent of the man who made “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and “Scaramouche.” His last production, “The Arab,” was lovely but a slow story that did not boast of much in the way of drama.”

Mare Nostrum Movie Poster

” is Latin for “Our Sea.” Beginning in Roman times it referred to the Mediterranean Sea. During World War I, it was common shorthand for the fight for control of the Mediterranean between the two sides.

Probably no one in Las Cruces at the time read the New York Times’ review. The opening was a big success:


W. L. Gullett, manager of the new Rio Grande Theater got off to a good start Thursday night when he opened this fine new playhouse because the house was packed and the play was up to expectations, and then some.

It is needless to say that he will continue to have full houses as it is Mr. Gullett’s intention to bring only the best plays.

M. B. Stevens, the popular realty man, made an address that took big. If “Mo” decides to throw his old chapeau into the political ring, the La Estella will get right behind his candidacy.

Las Cruces Citizen, July 31, 1926

As was standard in those days, the Rio Grande Theatre changed its movies every week. Here’s the showing for the second week, July 31, 1926:

Here’s the newspaper ad for week three, Aug 7, 1926:

See Also:
Screen With A Voice – A History of Moving Pictures in Las Cruces, New Mexico
Las Cruces Gets Talkies.

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Friday, October 19th, 2007

Mission Theatre – El Paso

was designed by Otto H. Thorman, an El Paso architech.

That was not his only theatre project. He also designed the Mission Theatre in El Paso.

The theatre, at 3031 Alameda, was built in 1940 for the El Paso Amusement Company. It is now a bar.

The Spanish mission theme is obvious. The bell is still in the bell space.

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Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Rio Grande Theatre

Rio Grande Theatre, Main Street, Las Cruces.

In 1925, the Hacker Hotel was torn down to provide a site for The Rio Grande Theatre. An El Paso architect, , was hired to design the theatre, which is built of adobe. A “washed air” cooling system was installed — which must have been very rare in New Mexico then.

The theatre opened on July 29, 1926 with the film (a silent film), directed by and staring and .

Prices for movies were 40 cents for the main floor, 30 cents for the balcony, and 15 cents for children.

In 1933, the theatre burned, but it was rebuilt and restored, even though it was the .

The theatre remained in operation until 1997, when it was closed as no longer economically viable. It was feared it would be destroyed or put to another use.

The theatre was saved by the generosity of the descendents of one of the original owners, who donated the portion they owned (thank you!), and the , which raised the money to purchase the rest and to restore the theater.

The restoration process began in 2001 and the was completed sufficiently by 2005 for a grand opening.

The , restored to its original look.

The original facade was covered some time in the 50s. When the new front was removed, the original decorations, although damaged, were discovered. In a 1933 newspaper article, the decorations are described as “color combinations of reds, yellows, and blues.” They are almost completely restored, except for these few:

Here’s the restored ticket booth:

The beautifully restored interior now seats 422:

Notice the “.” (A “ghost light” is a single bulb burning on a dark stage, an old English tradition.)

Some photos of the restored ceiling:

(Historial information provided by the Dona Ana Arts Council.)

See Also
Screen With A Voice – A History of Moving Pictures in Las Cruces, New Mexico
Rio Grande Theatre – More History.
Las Cruces Gets Talkies.

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Friday, February 16th, 2007

Las Cruces’ Worst Mistake

The hands-down worst mistake in Las Cruces history was the destruction of Main Street under the guise of “urban renewal.”

“Urban renewal” was federal policy in the 60s, part of the big government social engineering mindset that began its rule then and is with us still. In the case of Las Cruces, the Federal Government was willing to pay two thirds of the cost of “renewing” the downtown area.

Here are a couple of post card images of Main Street, Las Cruces from the 1940s.

The justifications for the “renewal” of Main Street and surrounding area were the usual ones:

The businesses there were not doing that well,

The buildings were old and unattractive, some dating to the late 1800s,

And, of course, a wonderful urban utopia could be put in its place with businesses that would pay more taxes.

But the truth of “urban renewal” was never an urban utopia.

Instead, businesses that social planners didn’t like, but had historical and organic roots, were replaced by businesses they “favored” and were willing to subsidize. Whether the new businesses would make money was a gamble — the only firms that were certain to profit were those involved in the destruction of the “old” and the construction of the “new.”

The plan that was adopted involved closing 7 blocks of Main Street and turning it into a “shaded” walking mall. The blocks on both sides of the mall would be cleared of all buildings to make that space available for new construction. Businesses and home owners that did not voluntarily sell in the cleared areas, or agree to renovations in the walking mall, would be removed by eminent domain.

Implementation of the plan began in 1968 and was finished in 1974.

The “renewal” area contained 160 businesses. 38 agreed to make the required remodeling changes and were permitted to stay. 122 did not and moved or went out of business.

A total of 84 families and 52 individuals lived in the cleared area and were forced to relocate.

Here you can see the “urban renewal” area shortly after its completion. Main Street has been closed and the streets on both sides now loop around it. The extensive empty areas, including the swath to the right of the loop (east), are “cleared” areas.

Here’s a better view of the “front” (south end) of the mall:

As the photo makes clear, this was an extremely ugly design with very serious problems. There was absolutely nothing that was attractive to people driving by in cars. All you could see from the loop were the backs of the businesses, and in the walking mall itself, the low “shades” covered anything attractive in the buildings — not that there was much that was attactive left, because the forced renovations had resulted in the historical storefronts being destroyed or covered with “modern” facades.

The mall was and is a failure.

It destroyed Las Cruces’ historical downtown heritage and replaced it with an ugly public space that no one wanted to visit.

Here’s what the front entrance looks like today:

Here’s what the inside of the mall looks like:

Recognizing what a horrible mistake the project was, the city is now removing the mall and restoring Main Street. But it’s impossible to recover what was destroyed.

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Saturday, October 7th, 2006

St. Genevieve’s Today

Here’s the new St. Genevieve’s Church.



Thursday, October 5th, 2006

St. Genevieve’s Church

The first St. Genevieve’s Church was built in 1859. In 1886, the church’s adobe structure was replaced by a brick cathedral, which was fronted by two 44-foot bell towers.

In 1967, this structure was demolished and a new church built at a new location — a huge historical loss.

In 1998, a monument to the old cathedral was constructed at the church’s original location.

Here’s a drawing of the old church from the monument’s plaque:

The monument: