Aztec Theatre

104 N. St. Mary's Street,
San Antonio, TX 78205

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Aztec Theatre© San Antonio TX / Don Lewis / Billy Smith

The Aztec Theatre was designed by the firm of Meyer & Holler, best known for their set of theaters built for Sid Grauman in Hollywood, the Egyptian Theatre(1922) and the Chinese Theatre(1927).

The Aztec Theatre could originally seat 3,000 when it first opened on June 4, 1926. As its name implies, it was extravagantly and quite exoctically decorated in the Meso-American style (or at least a Hollywood version of it), both in its temple-like auditorium and collonaded lobby.

It cost just under $2 million to build, an outrageous amount in those days for a movie house. Meyer & Holler combined elements of ancient Aztec design with modern touches, creating a stylized ancient American look, complete with polychromed plasterwork, duplicating murals, massive columns and sculputre from ancient Mexican temples.

The centerpiece of the lobby was a three-ton chandelier, two stories tall and twelve feet wide, hailed as the largest in Texas.

In its early years, the Aztec Theatre featured stage shows, including chorus girls, a 26-piece orchestra, an 11-rank Robert Morton (restored by Ed Gaida in 1958), and motion picutres (not long after the theater opened, it switched to sound, starting with John Barrymore’s "Don Juan" in 1927.)

Though the theater remained highly popular for many decades, by the 1970’s, it was in decline. It was cut into three auditoriums as the Aztec Triplex, but this only slowed the eventual. In 1989, the Aztec Theatre was closed, and that same year, the theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places, which helped save it from demolition.

After sitting vacant and falling into disrepair for years, the theatre was acquired by the city of San Antonio in the late-1990’s, and plans were put in place to transform the former movie palace into a showplace along the city’s popular River Walk.

Now known as Aztec on the River, a mixed entertainment venue and retail/restaurant area, the theater was restored to its 1920’s appearance, the auditorium re-converted into a single screen.

Along the Commerce Street side of the building, rows of stores and eateries overlook the River Walk.

Aztec on the River opened to the public in 2007, however it closed on December 18, 2007, for construction work and anticipated reopening in Spring 2008. This date was put back to Spring 2009, and was further delayed, with a reopening in late-2009 with the San Antonio Rose Show, featuring Country music. This show was still playing in March 2010. The Aztec Theatre was closed by the summer of 2012, but had reopened by 2014.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, Ed Gaida

Recent comments (view all 66 comments)

mobilesworking on March 31, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Just chiming in to say that many of us in the city continue to keep our fingers crossed that someone with vision will purchase this building and put it to proper use.

Ripshin on September 5, 2013 at 11:40 am

New lessor will attempt to turn it into a House of Blues-style venue.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 8, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Here is the official web site of the Aztec Theatre. There are a few music events scheduled this month, but fewer for November and December. At least the place is open.

Ripshin on October 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Frankly, they need to turn this back into a film theater. With the increasing number of locals moving downtown, I think there would be an audience. Catering to the tourists just won’t work. There is already an IMAX downtown, although I think that this theater is equipped to show large films.

spectrum on January 4, 2015 at 7:09 pm

From their seating charts, it looks like a fair amount of the orchestra seating has been removed for standing room, tables and the bar.

Ripshin on January 4, 2015 at 10:53 pm

Alamo Drafthouse could make it one of their flagships.

Ripshin on February 7, 2015 at 9:43 am

The newspaper today, states that the company renting the theater, has bought it. Meaning more of the same performance/shows. Some acts are obscure. Apparently, it is doing well, or the renters wouldn’t have “gone for it.”

loveoldtheaters on March 3, 2015 at 6:20 pm

My Mom was from San Antonio and she spent many a happy Saturday watching movies at the Aztec. She talked about it’s spectacular interior. I thought she said it had a huge indian statue inside. Is that still there and is that true? I’ve seen a few old pics of the interior. I’m so glad it’s reopened. I wish I lived closer to come see it open!

Ripshin on March 4, 2015 at 4:46 pm

If you look at the current site, there is a photo of a large statue – more like an Aztec god, I think.

DavidZornig on May 14, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Wider, brighter version of the 1954 photo added. Courtesy of the AmeriCar The Beautiful Facebook page

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