1919 Colón Theater

Two doors south of the Paisano-El Paso St. intersection, at 507 S El Paso, is one of the most fascinating theater designs in town. Currently occupied by a retail store and in the heart of the very busy El Paso Street retail corridor, the Colón has turned heads with its interesting Art Deco/Art Moderne design. The architectural style of the building is frequently misrepresented as Streamline Moderne, however lacks the smooth curves and aerodynamic features that the Streamline style requires. The architect for the original 1919 build was Percy McGhee, who was serving as the City of El Paso Building Inspector at the time. McGhee went on to design some of El Paso's most iconic designs, including the 1935 Federal Courthouse and the 1930 Austin High School with Hugh Braunton.

The theater was originally built in 1919, with construction beginning in July (2) and the theater opening on Saturday, November 22, 1919. It opened with the opera "Rigoletto" by the Graziani-Castillo-Mondragon Italian Grand Opera Company (1). On Sunday the 23rd, they presented "Il Trovatore", Verdi's opera in four acts, followed by the Monday evening presentation of "Lucia de Lammermoor" (1).

After Lucia de Lammermoor, scheduled for production were the Operas Aida, Baile de Mascaras, Berbero de Sevilla, Carmen, Cavaleria Rusticana, Cuentos de Hoffman, Fausto, Fedora, Manon Lescaut, Navarraise, Payasos, Sonambula, and Trovator (2). Many historical sources name "Aida" as the opening opera, however it was not presented until Thursday evening, the 27th.

Interestingly, by December 12, the Italian Grand Opera Company moved on, and they were advertising "The Bell Family - The greatest single aggregation of vaudeville artists in the world -- Headliners in every big theatre in America and Europe. 40 people!" (3). From Opera to Vaudeville in less than a month? Says a lot about Vaudeville (we guess --)!

The theater managers when it opened were S. Lacoma and J.C. Quinn. Quinn was also manager of the Rialto (aka Wigwam or State) Theater. The fireproof structure could seat 1000 patrons, and had a 15-piece orchestra to boot (2)!

The original architectural design of the 1919 theater was in a Spanish Revival/Mission eclectic mix, with a large, tasteful Mission parapet and an overhanging Spanish Tile roof to either side. Palladian arched windows were present on both sides of the entryway, with a triplet of rectangular windows above the portico. The building was remodeled in 1950-ish into an Art Deco structure, with a decidedly "Moderne" sign, which remains today. The term "Streamline Moderne" has been frequently used by history enthusiasts when describing the property, however does not apply because, as mentioned above, the building lacks the rounded and "aerodynamic" features necessary for that style (Please see http://www.thewestologist.com/.../spot-a-style-streamline...).

The theater remains an enchanting piece of eye-candy along its block at 101 years of age. Opera, anyone?

Text and research provided to sketchclub.net by Mark Stone, citing the above referenced sources. Newspaper clippings accessed at the University of North Texas (Denton) digital repository at https://texashistory.unt.edu/

1 = El Paso Herald, Monday, November 24, 1919
2 = El Paso Herald, Thursday, November 20, 1919
3 = El Paso Herald, Friday, December 12, 1919

This 1940 image is courtesy of Alejandro Lomeli at the El Paso History Facebook page, via Cinema Treasures (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/3018/photos/90436)

Image courtesy of the El Paso History Alliance via Cinema Treasures (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/3018/photos/290612)

Otherwise uncredited image via Cinema Treasures (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/3018/photos/210114)