A small crowd of more than 20 people gathered outside the Alameda Theater on West Houston Street recently to view the unveiling of a new, five-part mural project by local artist Alan Calvo. The piece, titled “Amor Eterno,” will run the entire length of the front outer wall of the Alameda, a historic Latino performing arts center and theater, which has been closed since the 1980s.
“Amor Eterno” is the result of a partnership between Centro San Antonio’s Art Everywhere initiative and the Alameda Theater Conservancy (ATC), which was formed by the city in 2017 to restore and ultimately reopen the Alameda Theater, which opened in 1949, as a performing arts venue.
“Hopefully this will get the city to invest even more into this theater,” Calvo said to the crowd on Oct. 8.
When it was open, the Alameda was as a bastion of Spanish-language art and music, one of the largest venues of its kind. It featured local acts as well as legendary stars such as Maria Felix and Cantinflas. Though there have been multiple attempts to revive the theater since its closing in the late 1980s, this latest effort seemed the most promising until, in March 2020, the restoration was paused because of funding shortfalls caused by the pandemic. Now, the project may be back on track, with a combined $14 million being considered by the city and county to help finish the restoration.
The City of San Antonio acquired the Alameda in 1994, and in 2017 entered a master lease agreement with the conservancy. That year, the city and Bexar County each approved $5.2 million for the restoration project, along with another $200,000 each for the conservancy’s operations during a two-year planning period. In 2019, the city approved another $1.4 million from the Houston Street Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) for environmental remediation, treatment, and monitoring, along with $550,000 from the city and county each for operational costs for another two years.
In January 2020, Phase 1 of the two-phase project began and included environmental work, setting up connections to utilities, updating electrical panels, reconstructing the theater floor for ADA compliance, and constructing new elevator shafts. The first phase was completed in April 2020. The second and final phase, which will include major construction like the replacement of the entire roof, doors, and stage rigging systems, is expected to cost $27 million—$10 million of which was to be raised via private fundraising.
However, in March 2020 the Alameda Theater Conservancy announced that Phase 2 would not begin immediately after the completion of Phase 1 as planned, because of the Covid-19 pandemic impeding their ability to raise the $10 million in private funds. No private funds were raised for the theater’s construction, but the San Antonio Area Foundation donated $100,000 dollars towards the conservancy’s operational costs.
Now, the project is seeing new life.
On Aug. 27, the Houston Street TIRZ board approved $7 million to go toward the Alameda, which has yet to be approved by City Council. The county has committed an additional $7 million in funding that has yet to be identified. The funding will be complemented by an additional $12 million in state and federal historic tax credits, providing enough funding for the completion of Phase 2.
Construction would recommence in Spring 2022 and be completed in Fall 2023. If all goes according to plan, the Alameda Theater could fully reopen around Jan. 1, 2024, according to conservancy consultant Trey Jacobson.
At the unveiling of the new mural installation, the five large panels were displayed across the front entrance, under the Alameda’s iconic blue and orange sign. The pieces feature depictions of notable Spanish-language artists on a colorful purple and orange backdrop, in an homage to the Alameda’s history of elevating the Latino-American story through art and music.
“We saw Centro’s program as a perfect opportunity to draw attention to the theater and its future,” Pete Cortez, a member of the conservancy’s board of directors, said in a press release. “The art should really enhance the street experience for the community during this pause in the restoration project.”
Included on the mural panels are iconic performers Antonio Aguilar, Vicente Fernandez, and Lola Beltran, all of whom performed at the Alameda during its heyday. The rightmost panel depicts 18-year-old local Tejano singer Isabel Marie Sanchez, who attended the unveiling event.
Calvo’s own father, whose fans knew him as Alberto Alegre, worked at the Alameda as a Spanish-language radio personality before it closed. Calvo said he only recently discovered how deep his father’s love for the Alameda ran in 2018, when he found pictures of the theater’s distinctive facade that his father had painted. His grandmother would also perform at the venue, singing at the theater’s amateur nights. When he saw Centro’s call for an artist to make a piece for the theater, Calvo jumped on the opportunity to share his own family’s history and boost the importance of the theater to the San Antonio community.
Remarking on the crowd that had gathered to see the unveiling, Calvo told the Heron that the community wasn’t just there for the art, but for the stories that the theater contains, both to his family and to countless others across the city.
“Who knows how many other families there are out there that care about this theater reopening?” Calvo said. “I’m doing this for our culture, and I’m doing this for our city… Let’s get this theater open.”
Benjamin Gonzalez is a freelance journalist in San Antonio, and graduated from Trinity University with a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology in May 2020. Follow him at @BennyCruzG on Twitter.
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