Plaza Theatre in El Paso, Tex.
El Paso, Texas
Award Type: Honor Award
In 1930, Fred Astaire, Clark Gable and Greta Garbo were the brightest stars on the silver screen, and the lavish, newly opened Plaza Theatre was the brightest star in El Paso, Tex. Billed as the largest theatre of its kind between Dallas and Los Angeles, the Plaza, in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, boasted intricately painted ceilings, mosaic-tiled floors and decorative metal railings and sconces. Perhaps most impressive of all was the mighty Wurlitzer organ, rising from the orchestra pit to accompany vaudeville shows and sing-a-longs and to entertain patrons before and after films.
In 1986, after years of decline, the theatre's owners announced that the Plaza would be demolished and replaced with a parking lot. Spurred by a groundswell of community support, the El Paso Community Foundation raised $1 million in six weeks to purchase the building and save it from demolition. In an innovative partnership, the Foundation teamed with the City of El Paso, and in May of 2004, work began on the Plaza's meticulous restoration. The 3-year, $41.5 million project included the rehabilitation of an adjoining building to house a smaller auditorium, roof garden and concession space, and the return of the Plaza's long-lost Wurlitzer organ. Today, the Plaza hosts an array of live performances, films and special events. Enthusiastic patrons have given the facility a 90% sell-out rate, and that success has sparked the renovation of other downtown buildings.
"In the 1930s, a ticket to the Plaza Theatre admitted patrons to a wonderland of plush seats in a Spanish courtyard under a star-studded ceiling – and 70 years later, it still does," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Thanks to the efforts of the City of El Paso and the El Paso Community Foundation, the restoration of the Plaza Theatre is the spark that has ignited an entire downtown."
Along with the El Paso Community Foundation, the City of El Paso was honored today as a co-recipient of the award.