Majestic Theatre History
Recognized as one of the most ornate facilities in the country, the Majestic has long held a special place in the archives of Texas theatrical and architectural history. Located at 224 E. Houston Street in the heart of downtown San Antonio, the Majestic was designed and built in 1929 by John Eberson for Karl Hoblitzelle's Interstate Theatres, and stood proudly for many years as the largest theatre in Texas and the second largest motion picture theatre in the country. It was intended to be the most modern and ornate building in South Texas - complete with new sound and projection equipment - and was the first theatre in the state to be totally air-conditioned.
The Majestic remains one of the finest atmospheric theatres ever built. Inspired by Spanish Mission, Baroque, and Mediterranean architectural traditions, theatre patrons are transported to a fantasy villa. Walls become towers with windows of colorful glass. A rare white peacock perches on a balcony railing as doves are caught in mid-flight. Grape vines creep along the walls and luscious foliage flourishes. The vaulted "sky" comes to life as stars twinkle while drifting clouds pass by overhead. Balconies, tile roofs, arches, and columns, railings, elaborate ornamentation, statues, and a bell tower all aid in the transformation of the theatre into a mystical village.
On December 31, 1974, changing entertainment habits forced the Majestic Theatre to close its doors "forever." The next year, the theatre was listed on the National Register of Historical Places, and in 1976 was donated by the Hoblitzelle Interests to the newly formed Majestic Foundation. For the next decade, a wide variety of concerts, performing arts events, and touring Broadway productions continued to entertain South Texans from the Majestic stage.
Las Casas Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of historic buildings for cultural use, ensured that the Majestic would continue to flourish. Las Casas raised $4.5 million to restore the 2,311 seat theatre. Sixty years of dust and dirt were removed to reclaim the extensive, hand crafted, decorative plaster, statuary, and other ornate carvings. Upholstery and carpeting were woven to recreate the original 1929 design. New production sound systems and acoustical enhancements were installed. The Majestic reopened in 1989 as the home of the San Antonio Symphony, as well as a venue for Broadway touring attractions, performing arts events and concerts of all types. In 1993, the Majestic Theatre was designated a National Historic Landmark.
In 1995, with the acquisition of the Little Brady Building, located at 208 E. Houston Street, a 3.5 million dollar expansion of the Majestic stage house was undertaken. This expansion was completed in the fall of 1996, giving the Majestic a new 40 foot-deep stage, modernized theatrical rigging, a state-of-the-art orchestra shell, expanded dressing room facilities, and enlarged storage space, allowing the Majestic Theatre to continue to meet the changing needs of symphonic and theatrical productions. This expansion has allowed the theatre to hold mega-musicals, including Miss Saigon, Show Boat, The Phantom of the Opera, and Lion King.
Charline McCombs Empire Theatre History
The land that the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre sits on has been devoted to the arts since 1879. The Turner Verein Association built the Turner Opera House, which operated as Rische's Opera, the Houston Street Theatre, the Alhambra Theatre and the Empire Opera House. The Empire has been used as a venue for vaudeville, silent and talking motion pictures, concerts and live theatre.
Thomas Brady bought, restored and reopened the theatre in 1890 as a family theatre. He operated it in its same condition until 1899 (in 1913, Brady built the Empire Theatre on the same site, housed in the Brady building). It was built as a European palazzo and designed by architects Mauran, Russell & Crow of St. Louis.
The "new" Empire was considered to be the most modern steel-constructed building and the largest theatre in San Antonio at that time -- boasting an electric lighting system, excellent acoustics, electric fans, and stage equipment for vaudeville, stock theatre, and motion pictures. The theatre was fully carpeted and showcased grand draperies throughout its gilded interior.
Atop the canopied entrance of the theatre a copper eagle once soared with wings outspread, beckoning patrons to one of San Antonio's most charming theatres. The walls of the Empire's interior were heavily adorned with decorative plaster moldings, ornamental medallions, free form leaves, maidens, masks, and floral detail intricately painted with metallic powders or gilded with 23 carat gold leafing.
During the flood of 1921, the magnificence of the Empire was threatened when nine feet of water poured into the theatre causing significant damage to its gilded interior. Rather than restoring the ornamentation to its original color palette, the damage was camouflaged by layers of thick, white paint. After years of varied usage, the exquisite artistry of the Empire's interior had been sadly forgotten.
After a long, slow decline, the Empire finally closed its doors in 1978. Ten years later, the City of San Antonio bought the decaying theatre, and through the efforts of Las Casas Foundation, funds were raised to restore the Empire to its original luster.
No one knew what beauty lay beneath the layers of thick, white paint. Slowly, the rich color palette of the theatre began to resurface after the paint was peeled away and restoration experts began to meticulously duplicate the theatre's original grandeur. Six pounds of gold leafing and precise metallic detailing again embellishes the remarkable plasterwork. Refinished mahogany warms the theatre, and maidens float proudly upon the radiant proscenium. Carpets once again pad the floors, and draperies grandly complement the stage. The copper eagle, originally mounted atop the marquee and feared lost, was found and restored. Layers of paint and years of dirt were painstakingly removed, allowing him to soar triumphantly, once again, above the Empire entrance.
Reopened in April 1998, as the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, San Antonio's grandest intimate theatre resumes its prestigious position as one of our most beautiful live entertainment and special events venues. In 1999, the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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