SAN ANTONIO – Generations of San Antonians witnessed the Golden Age of Mexican cinema at the iconic Alameda Theater downtown.
Legendary performers such as Antonio Aguilar, Lola Beltran, Pedro Infante and Vicente Fernandez performed at the Alameda during its heyday.
The Alameda opened in 1949 and catered primarily to San Antonio’s Spanish-speaking audience on the city’s West Side. And unlike other theaters, it offered desegregated seating.
“This theater was very significantly built on the West Bank of San Pedro Creek. This is a theater that was built for the whole community, so if you were Latino, you could walk in that front door and you could sit in the front row and see the stars,” said Pete Cortez, La Familia Cortez.
The theater closed in the late 1980′s, but a $37 million renovation project is underway to restore the Alameda and give it back its shine.
“The theater is being converted from a cinema to a performing arts center, but it’s ultimately being restored back to its original glory from when it opened in the 1940s,” said Trey Jacobson, Alameda project consultant.
After a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, phase two of the project is set to begin after the City of San Antonio and Bexar County approved a combined $14 million to complete funding for the restoration project, which is now targeted to be done in early 2024.
“The theater, performance halls, amenities, marquee, neon lights, those are all going to be restored,” said Jacobson.
The project also includes keeping some of the original art that made the Alameda so unique, a movie palace dedicated to Spanish language films and the performing arts.
“All the original design elements and amenities that were part of this project are being preserved and restored, including some of the blacklight murals that are in the theater itself,” said Jacobson.
Cortez, a board member for the Alameda Theater Conservancy with the La Familia Cortez, is assisting in development efforts and hoping to bridge the past with the future.
“It’s important that we restore this theater to its rightful beauty and place in downtown San Antonio, and begin to recreate those connections, especially for younger generations,” said Cortez.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to bring groups that are focused on Latino arts, whether it’s dance or music or plays,” said Jacobson. “This venue is also going to be used for civic meetings, educational groups. It’s going to service the entire community.”
Cortez believes when the restoration is complete, the Alameda will once again take its place as one of the premiere live performance destinations, not only in South Texas, but across the country.
“Our goal is to make this the best Latino performing art theater in the United States,” Cortez said.