National Theater

819 W. Commerce Street,
San Antonio, TX 78207

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Exterior as Cine Nacional (1938-39)

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Showed Spanish language films and vaudeville acts from Mexico. Located at West Commerce Street and North Santa Rosa Avenue in San Antonio. The Teatro Nacional was opened in 1917 with 1,000 seats. It exterior was stucco with painted filigree details. I was taken to this theatre when I was 9 or 10 years old by my aunt in the 1930’s. The Teatro Nacional was closed for three months for renovations, reopening in December 1939. The renovations, which also increased the seating capacity, were carried out to the plans of architect N. Straus Nayfach.

Near the corner of the theatre was a ice cream parlor and across the street was a famous botanica with Mexican silver pesos inlayed on the floor. The botanica moved down to the Market Square at the Mercado and it still exists on a smaller scale.

Contributed by Roberto Lozano Jr.

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on September 20, 2007 at 7:05 am

Here is a 1948 ad from the San Antoio Light:
http://tinyurl.com/ypkfkd

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 22, 2009 at 10:49 pm

This theater might be the one that was one of the subjects of an article in the March 3, 1945, issue of Boxoffice Magazine. The article, by Helen Kent, was about theater designs, and featured a San Antonio house called El Nacional along with a few Canadian movie theaters. There is a rather vague night photo which looks as though it is this theater, though it appears to have a different marquee than the one it sports in either the older or newer photos Lost Memory linked to, and the descriptions in the text of the article don’t entirely match the information about the National here.

The article says that the El Nacional was “…erected in 1940…,” and had 2000 seats. A photo of the auditorium shows a space large enough to accommodate far more than the 500 currently cited above, but even with a large balcony 2000 seems an exaggeration. Just going by the photo I’d have guessed a capacity of somewhere between 1200 and 1500. The article does say that the house was designed to serve the Spanish-speaking population of San Antonio, and presented Mexican and other Spanish language movies as well as American films.

See the Boxoffice article here.

Either there was another Nacional Theatre in San Antonio or Ms. Kent was mistaken about the house being built in 1940, and it was actually this older theater, and it was remodeled in 1940.

In any case, the article says that the architect of the El Nacional was N. Straus Neyfach (later to be the architect of the Alameda Theatre) and says that he was then preparing the designs for another large Latin American theater in San Antonio to be built after the war. So far I’ve been unable to discover if that project was ever carried out.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 22, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Well, in addition to correcting my misspelling of Nayfach, I should have done more searches before posting the comment above. The June 24, 1939, issue of Boxoffice says that N. Straus Nayfach was the architect of an addition and other work being done at the Nacional Theatre in San Antonio. Among planned improvements were a Spanish tile front, indirect lighting, and new auditorium equipment (by which I suppose they meant seats and such.)

In 1945, N. Straus Nayfach joined the advisory board of Boxoffice’s Modern Theatre Planning Institute. An item introducing him to Boxoffice readers was run in the February 3, 1945, issue, and it said that he had “…planned approximately 20 commercial and theater structures….” and that he was “…working on a very large postwar theatre program….” Though I’ve looked for other theater projects Nayfach designed, I’ve been unable to identify any.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 3, 2011 at 5:27 pm

The 1945 boxoffice article with the three small photos of the National Theatre, cited in one of my earlier comments, has been moved to this link. The photos of the National are at the lower right corner of the page.

There’s a discrepancy between the address of this theater and the description. The description places the National Theatre at the corner of Commerce Street and Santa Rosa Avenue, but that intersection marks the boundary between the 400 and 500 blocks of Commerce Street. But 819 Commerce is just east of Frio Street, four blocks west of Santa Rosa. Either the description is wrong or the address is wrong.

After looking at a 1955 aerial view of both intersections at Historic Aerials, I’m inclined to believe that it’s the address that is wrong. A building on the northeast corner of Commerce and Santa Rosa had a roof that could have covered a large auditorium, plus a decorative tower near the corner of the building on the Commerce Street side, which the theater had. The buildings at Commerce and Frio didn’t have these features.

kingfish
kingfish on August 23, 2012 at 8:34 am

The Nacional theater was indeed on the corner of W. Commerce and Santa Rosa streets. Over the years the street numbering has been altered a few times so the discrepancy lies there. Also, the Zaragoza theater was just a half block east of the Nacional. Over on Houston Street, between North Flores and Camaron, was the Joy Theater which also had vaudeville acts. Across the street was the Obrero Theater, which we kids used to affectionately call, the “O'Brien.”

kingfish
kingfish on August 23, 2012 at 8:57 am

Incidentally, one of the comedians who appeared in the vaudeville shows at the Nacional, billed himself as “ Ramirin.” Later, when he had an opportunity to appear on Groucho Marx’s television show, Marx was impressed by his comic antics and demeanor and suggested he should take a shot at Hollywood. John Wayne befriended him and re-christened him as Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez. He appeared in several Wayne films and others and lived out a successful life in California.

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