Aztec Theatre

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

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

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, Ed Gaida

Recent comments (view all 61 comments)

LuisV
LuisV on May 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I can confirm that the Aztec is still open as of today and it is still showing the Country Music showcase. I couldn’t bring myself to sit through something like that even though I would have loved to have seen the auditorium. At least this spectacular theater (which is in a relatively rare style) was saved.

Ripshin
Ripshin on May 30, 2011 at 9:01 am

This site lists the Aztec as “showing movies”. It must not be a regular occurrence, as their web site makes no reference to films, of any type. The silent “Phantom” film showing, indicated in the photo above, must have been a one-shot deal. I think that the only way that the Aztec can actually make money, is to exhibit special films on a regular basis, and NOT “silent” pictures. San Antonio allowed Ripley’s to take over Alamo Plaza with a variety of questionable “venues”, and the last thing that the adjacent River Walk needs, is another gimmicky showcase. The nearby restored Majestic and Empire Theaters, are controlled by a single entity, and supported by the non-profit Las Casas Foundation. They host travelling shows, and various entertainment groups. The restored Aztec has never found “the proper footing,” and was initially promoted by the nearby flagship Drury Hotel property on the River Walk – for a while, anyway.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 26, 2012 at 12:43 am

The official web site still exists, but has no shows of any sort listed at all. Instead, it touts the shops and restaurant in the building. When was the last time any events took place in this theater?

The history section of the web site says that the house opened on June 4, 1926, not 1924. An article about the takeover of the Aztec by Publix, in the January 7, 1930, issue of Motion Picture Times, gives the same date, as does every other print source I’ve found.

Ripshin
Ripshin on March 30, 2012 at 10:54 am

I walked by The Aztec last week, and they still had the musical country show poster in the window, but there was no sign of life. Everyone in the tourist industry knew that the special effects/IMAX-ish set-up wouldn’t work after restoration, and neither would the country show that followed. A Mexican musical show, minus gimmicks, MIGHT work for a while. Or, a venue for comedians…….The Majestic Theater books a lot of big-name comedians, but it seats more people, as The Aztec lost half (?) of its seating during the restoration. I was surprised to read that it originally had 3,000 seats – seems a lot smaller than The Majestic, even back then.

Actually, “gimmicks” sometimes work with the type of tourist who comes to SA – just not what anybody has tried. Ripley’s has enough of that stuff downtown, anyway. It would take Disney or Universal to pull it off successfully….

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 3, 2012 at 8:27 am

Pictured in this 1973 showmanship report: Boxoffice

Ripshin
Ripshin on August 3, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Didn’t realize that they’d already converted the balcony to twin theaters that soon! Of course, it’s back to a single (empty) theater now – the restoration, however, removed a large percentage of the orchestra seats…

LuisV
LuisV on September 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm

The status of this theater needs to be changed to “Closed”. I just passed by the Aztec and the marquee says that it is available to lease. So sad as the theater has been completely and beautifully restored. This theater thrives on tourism yet their “programming” since restoration has been horrible. I’m not the least bit surprised that it failed. The good thing is that I have no fear that the theater has any chance at demolition as it is one the city’s true landmarks and one the country’s best and very few remaining theaters of this Indian style.

Ripshin
Ripshin on September 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm

No, the theater will never be demolished. San Antonio has a strict preservation mentality (for the most part). It’s only a matter of time until it’s sold, and put to use. As mentioned in my previous posts, I agree that the past few attempts at programming have been idiotic. It is currently owned by Drury Inns – a most unfortunate situation.

mobilesworking
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
Ripshin on September 5, 2013 at 11:40 am

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

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