Throwback Thursday: Woodlawn history and why theater hosted 'The Alamo' world premiere

SAN ANTONIO – The Woodlawn opened in August of 1945 as a movie theater in San Antonio’s famed Deco District.

Architect John Eberson designed the venue, which was the first of its kind. 

It was a neighborhood theater with lavish, elegant fixtures and an iconic marquee. 

The Woodlawn enjoyed early success but made its mark on the national stage in 1960 when it was chosen to host the premiere of John Wayne’s film, “The Alamo.”

“The owners believed in the movie and they were able to purchase a new film projector for the actual filming of the movie,” said Chris Rodriguez, Woodlawn Theatre Executive Artistic Director. “We had John Wayne, a lot of movie stars. The mayor was out here, so it was a big event for the city of San Antonio.” 

The theater showed movies throughout the decades and was a beacon of the community.

It hit rough times in the late 1970s and shut down, but that was not the case for long.

Various acting groups began performing at the Woodlawn. It also held a series of concerts.

In 2006, it officially became a performing arts venue and in 2012, a non-profit organization.

“We are still entertaining the city of San Antonio. We’re not doing it with movies anymore, but doing it with live performing arts for the community,” said Rodriguez.

The theater now hosts six main stage musicals per year. A diverse group of volunteer actors, performers, musicians and stage technicians work to bring the Woodlawn to life.

“They’re all teachers, lawyers, doctors, families that have normal day jobs,” said Rodriguez. “In the evening, they come and do what’s passionate for them and put on a show for the community.” 

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There is also a performance youth academy where children and teens put on full stage musicals and can be a part of main stage productions. 

“Any exposure to arts education to our kids is something that we really value at the Woodlawn,” said Rodriguez. 

Now a designated historical landmark, the Woodlawn has bridged the gap from its early days as a prestigious movie house to San Antonio’s community theater. 

“There’s so many memories here from the city of San Antonio, and for them to walk into the space and say, ‘Oh, I remember that. Oh, that’s new. Oh, what do you have coming up on the schedule?’ It’s just creating a lot of great buzz and memories,” said Rodriguez.

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.

Andrew Wilson is a digital journalist and social media producer at KSAT.