Friday’s Friendship Walks will take you by two fantastic old movie theaters, now re-purposed for stage productions.
When it opened in 1929 the Majestic Theatre (224 E Houston, pictured above) was the second largest movie theater in the country and the first in Texas to be air conditioned, prompting some society women to wear their fur coats to the June opening. For may years it hosted a combination of movies and vaudeville acts; the grand opening featured the musical film, Follies of 1929 and live performances by Mexican Troubadour Don Galvan, “The Banjo Boy,” the “Seven Nelsons” acrobatic troupe, Eddie Sauer and his “Syncopaters,” and the Father of Country Music, Jimmie Rodgers, who received 18 curtain calls.
The decoration is a combination of Spanish Mission, Baroque, and Mediterranean architectural styles, giving the impression of being in a castle courtyard. The vaulted auditorium ceiling is painted blue with light bulbs for twinkling stars and moving clouds projected by a Viennese Brenograph machine to simulate a nighttime sky. National Geographic was consulted about the position of real stars before the theater opened. If you can look inside, take up the offer.
The theater was shut in 1974 and donated to a nonprofit, which continued to hold live performances. It was obtained by the City of San Antonio in 1988, and the Las Casas (the Foundation for Cultural Arts in San Antonio) was formed to restore the Majestic as close as possible to its original 1929 design. The San Antonio Symphony performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, “Ode to Joy” on September 14, 1989, as the first program in the restored theater. Rosemary Clooney and Johnny Mathis at the opening gala on September 19. The stage — only 14 feet deep — was too small for big productions but that was fixed in 1997 when an adjoining building was purchased and demolished, making it possible to extend the stage to accommodate big Broadway touring shows.
There are some great shows happening during the Texas Trail Roundup: Five Irish Tenors on Thursday, February 23; comedian Billy Crystal and a Mozart Extravaganza on on Friday and the JP Jofre Hard Tango Chamber Band on Saturday. Visit their web site for ticket information.
The Aztec Theatre, (104 N St Mary’s) which opened in 1926, is decorated with vibrantly-colored columns, sculptures, furnishings and murals, many of which are authentic reproductions of Meso-American artifacts. Hanging in front of the stage is the original fire screen, a painting depicting the meeting of the Aztec ruler Montezuma II and Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519. The interior of the theater is embellished with fixtures, furnishings, relief carvings, sculpture, plaques, painted symbols and architectural elements inspired by the Aztec, Mixtec, Zapotec, Toltec, and Mayan cultures.
By the 1970s, the Aztec was in decline. It was cut into three auditoriums as the Aztec Triplex but closed in 1989. The refurbished Aztec Theatre re-opened in August 2009 as a concert venue. On Friday, February 24 you can hear Yacht Rock Revue (a 70s light rock cover band) and on Sunday you can hear the rock band Jimmy Eat World. For tickets, visit their web site.
While you in the neighborhood, also check out the Alameda (318 W Houston.) Built in 1949, the Art Deco building with its 86 ft (26m) high marquee is younger than the Majestic or the Alameda but also has an interesting history.The Alameda was the largest movie palace ever dedicated to Spanish language films and the performing arts. Singing cowboy Gene Autry was a surprise guest at the opening and he sang a popular ballad in Spanish. This newscast describes some of the efforts to restore it: