"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Monday, July 18, 2011

Building that housed the Wigwam/State Theatre Burns

Former Wigwam/State Theatre Building Burns

The El Paso Times reported today that the Alamo Shooters building burned. Probably does not ring a bell to many, but this building was once the location of the Wigwam Saloon, later converted into the Wigwam Theatre. Just a pace down San Antonio Ave from the Camino Real, the saloon was converted to a theatre in 1907 and according to Cynthia Haines, in her book Showtime! From Opera Houses to Picture Palaces in El Paso, it may have been the first theatre dedicated exclusively to showing films.

Farah writes that the theatre was purchased by Edgar E. Campbell and Will R. Winch in 1913. When it opened, it was next to the alleyway as it is today and had a Chinese restaurant next to it. 

In 1912, a new building was erected, being designed by famed El Paso architect Henry Trost. It is described as having an elegant lobby with tile mosaic. It was considered one of the most modern theatres in the West when it opened.

According to Farah, other events were also staged at the Wigwam including church services. After a short time under the name Rialto in 1921, it changed back to the Wigwam and by the 1940s, was sold to Interstate Theatres, who later owned the Texas Grand, the Palace, the Plaza, and the Pershing Theatres. It was also in 1948 that the theatre saw some major remodeling and its name change to the State Theatre (1949), the name it held until 1981.

Farah writes that television became stiff competition for theatres and theatre owners tried to draw people to their theatres. The State began showing thrill movies using a technique called thrillarama. The State was purchased by Movie One in 1975 and according to Farah, began showing "thrillers and children's movies" (59).

Wigwam opened in 1907 (Aultman Collection, El Paso Public Library)

As the 1960s and 70s saw malls and shopping centers spring up, fewer crowds went to Downtown El Paso for movies. In 1981, they began using the theatre to show X-rated films. According to Farah, this didn't bother Movie One so much. They still ran family films at their other theaters particularly the new Montwood Theatre 3 and the Lomaland Drive In. Farah states the theatre closed in November 1981 due to "'rising costs and dwindling receipts.'" (quoting the El Paso Herald-Post, Nov. 5, 1981).


Fire damages building that housed Wigwam Saloon, John Wesley Hardin was part owner

Downtown El Paso uniform, ammo store burns

 State Theatre entry on Cinematour.com 

Is the Plaza Theatre Enough (Deep Inside El Paso)

2011 Plaza Classic Film Festival Schedule 



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1 comment:

Raymundo Eli Rojas said...

Drove by today and the building was open for business. The old theatre had been subdivided so I wonder if the only damages was to the westside of the building. who knows?