The stretch of South El Paso Street from Mills Street, where the Plaza Theatre opened in 1930, to the Paso del Norte International Bridge housed as many as 18 different type of theaters — from vaudeville to opera — in the early part of the 20th Century. That history, and how it encompassed the evolution of “moving pictures,” is the subject of our third annual collaborative exhibition with the El Paso Museum of History.
South El Paso Street: Broadway of the Southwest takes its name from the nickname for what was once El Paso’s cultural center. The exhibition, up through Oct. 1 on the museum’s second floor, uses archival photographs, explanatory text, a handful of artifacts, QR code enhancements and a computerized map to tell the story of how those theaters evolved from saloons, opera houses and vaudeville theaters into forerunners of the modern movie theater.
Highlighted in the exhibition are a handful of theaters, including what’s now Tricky Falls nightclub, which opened in 1914 as the Alhambra, a silent movie theater later known as The Palace. Teatro Colon, now a retail store, was the city’s main Spanish-language theater and the place to see the latest movies from Mexico. The Capri was the city’s only theater to use Cinerama technology, but it opened as the Ellanay — the frieze of the Seven Muses that hung over its entrance now adorns the El Paso Community Foundation Room, and inspired our logo.
Melissa Hutson, granddaughter of the former Colon Theatre owners Jose and Rafael Calderon, will give a free lecture, Legacy of the Calderon Family, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10, at the history museum.
The exhibition will be enhanced by free walking tours of the South El Paso Street theaters and locations at 6 p.m. Thursdays, July 27, Aug. 31 and Sept. 28.
A Plaza Theatre tour is planned for noon Tuesday, Aug. 15. Related gallery talks will be at the museum at noon Friday, Aug. 4; Tuesday, Aug. 8; Friday, Aug. 11; and Saturday, Aug. 12.