Press release from the National Trust for Historic Preservation below:
National Trust for Historic Preservation Presents Preservation Honor Award for the Plaza Theatre
in El Paso, Tex.
Showplace of the Southwest Reclaimed for Next Generation of Moviegoers
Nashville, Tenn. (October 15, 2009)—Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation presented its Preservation Honor Award to the El Paso Community Foundation for the rehabilitation of the Plaza Theatre in El Paso, Tex. The project was one of 23 award winners honored by the National Trust during its 2009 National Preservation Conference in Nashville, Tenn.
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.
The National Preservation Awards are bestowed on distinguished individuals, nonprofit organizations, public agencies and corporations whose skill and determination have given new meaning to their communities through preservation of our architectural and cultural heritage. These efforts include citizen attempts to save and maintain important landmarks; companies and craftsmen whose work restores the richness of the past; the vision of public officials who support preservation projects and legislation in their communities; and educators and journalists who help Americans understand the value of preservation. The winners of the National Preservation Awards will appear in the November/December issue of Preservation Magazine and online at www.PreservationNation.org/awards.