A conceptual rendering of the lobby inside the restored Alameda Theater.
A conceptual rendering shows the lobby inside the restored Alameda Theater. Credit: Courtesy / OTJ Architects

The designs for the planned restoration of Alameda Theater are three months away from completion, according to the public and private organizations that are partnering to improve and reopen the historic performing arts venue.

Representatives from those project partners led an open house Monday night at the Guadalupe Theater, showing more than 60 attendees designs that focus on preserving much of the 70-year-old theater and enhancing it for a new generation of performances and art displays.

But some of the attending residents said they want to see more from the project partners regarding programming, which they hope will emphasize participation from area Latino organizations, and about affordability for people of all backgrounds.

The project partners – City of San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas Public Radio (TPR) and La Familia Cortez – have held several open houses and meetings about the planned restoration of the Alameda.

The city’s Historic and Design Review Commission last month approved Washington, D.C.-based firm OTJ Architects’ conceptual design for the theatrical performance portion of the building.

The design includes a passageway, in the building’s southwestern side, that will permit easy access to the backstage for crews loading and unloading material for live productions.

The passageway lies between the theatrical portion of the building and the backside structure that will house TPR’s corporate and broadcasting operations. Construction on that structure is due for completion by the end of this year.

Gary Martinez, partner and studio director at OTJ, said the project partners are working with a seating manufacturer to match the design of theater seats with that of the seats that were inside the theater when it first opened in 1949.

The designs of other things inside the theater, such as the curtains above the stage and ornamental elements in the lobby, will reflect the designs of those same things from the theater’s early years.

Martinez said the project partners are working to preserve much of the theater’s interior.

A sound and light lock on the first floor will minimize noise and light intrusion into the main performance area.

The balcony will have three types of seating: traditional theater seating, an area for small groups, and a more space for larger groups toward the very back.

Martinez said the theater’s capacity will end up between 1,000 and 1,500. The project partners commissioned a study to determine what seating capacity will not only make the Alameda fiscally viable but help to fill a gap in San Antonio’s portfolio of performing arts venues.

OTJ is also envisioning a space in the theater’s interior to accommodate tile murals depicting a range of Latino artists and their creations to honor Latino heritage.

“Our goal is to bring the theater back in its original form, in its original grandeur, but to make it a performance center for the 21st century,” Martinez added.

A conceptual rendering of new seating and a restored stage area inside the Alameda Theater.
A conceptual rendering of new seating and a restored stage area inside the Alameda Theater Credit: Courtesy / OTJ Architects

Pete Cortez, chief operating officer for his family’s line of restaurants, said it’s vital that project partners get as much community feedback as possible about rehabilitating and programming the Alameda.

“We’re all going to benefit from this beautiful theater once it’s restored to its original glory,” he said.

Some residents in the audience said they generally like the designs, but they asked for more details programming and ticket prices.

Chicana writer and teatrista Marisela Barrera said it’s great the Alameda Theater Conservancy, which will oversee programming, is focusing on attracting diverse audiences to the new theater. However, she added, there must be efforts to make sure productions and their presenting organizations are just as diverse.

“The City of San Antonio should do a better job at cultivating the Latino and Latina performing arts community here in San Antonio rather than serve as an obstacle to Latino performance and creation itself,” Barrera said.

Creating a facility reimbursement program, Barrera added, would allow access to the Alameda for smaller performance and artistic groups.

Two other attendees who recalled the Alameda’s early years said they are pleased with the planned improvements, but they, too, hope productions are varied and lure people of all backgrounds.

Local artist George Cisneros said determining whether the backstage is to be led by a unionized crew will factor greatly toward operating costs and, by extension, ticket prices.

Esperanza Center Executive Director Graciela Sanchez lamented what she described as an absence of details addressing seating capacity and envisioned ticket pricing.

Chicano studies scholar Tomás Ybarra-Frausto expressed disappointment that Michael Kaiser, interim theater executive director, has not attended recent open houses and meetings about the Alameda’s restoration.

He also said TPR’s officials should be more forthcoming about how they could help to tell the Mexican-American story not only through theater programming but the radio network’s own programming.

“You build trust when you come to us and actually answer the questions that people have asked in a more specific way than in a broad way,” Ybarra-Frausto said.

Construction on the theater is to start in 2020 and last 14 months, project partners said. There are plans to temporarily relocate the Henry Ford Academy’s staff and students during theater construction.

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.