Frank Ruttenberg

All great communities are ultimately defined not by their profits or product, but by their contributions to society, in culture, art and creativity—these are the things that transcend time.

There is a direct tie between the growth and success of the cultural arts and economic development of a community. It is no accident that the best and brightest companies in our country are the heaviest contributors to the cultural arts. It is also no accident that in every city that sees a growth in its economic fortunes, so grow the cultural arts. Every major study which reflects on the impact that cultural arts have on a community confirms that the investment in cultural arts positively impacts the local economy, enhances educational opportunities for its youth, promotes innovative and collaborative thought and furthers cultural understanding. More than any other investment a community can make, the arts inspire, and can transform neighborhoods, communities, minds, hearts and lives.

Construction of the Majestic/Empire theaters circa 1929. Photo courtesy of The Majestic/Empire.
Construction of the Majestic/Empire theaters circa 1929. Photo courtesy of The Majestic/Empire.

Las Casas Foundation was originally formed in 1988 as part of a community wide revitalization effort which included the restoration and preservation of two of our community’s architectural treasures, the Majestic and Charline McCombs Empire Theatres.  Las Casas undertook its role to not only restore these invaluable assets, but also to assure these theaters would be used for the continued advancement of the performing arts in our community.

Thanks to support from businesses, corporations and concerned citizens, the efforts of Las Casas resulted in a resounding success, allowing these polished gems to serve as a downtown home for performing arts. The theaters’ renovations also sparked the revitalization of Houston Street, where today you’ll find residences, restaurants, coffee shops, stores and hotels. Arts continue to pump energy into downtown—more than 250,000 theater goers venture onto Houston Street each year to enjoy performances at the Majestic and Empire theaters. Annually, these theatres generate economic expenditures of well over $50 million in our City, as well as adding hundreds of well-paying jobs in our community.

View from the Majestic Tower Apt, looking East down Houston Street. Photo by Kara Gomez.
View from the Majestic Tower Apt, looking East down Houston Street. Photo by Kara Gomez.

While the renovation of these two magnificent theatres has created an indelible impact on the surrounding neighborhood, what happens inside these theaters is what is truly significant to San Antonio. Once inside, the architecture alone is transforming, raising comment and compliment from both theater guests and entertainers of all walks of life.  When we add to the breathtaking atmosphere, the best in quality entertainment, from Broadway to stand-up comedy, symphony to ballet, this umbrella for the performing arts provides color to our world, stretches our imaginations and awakens us to new experiences, pleasures and questions. The art that transpires on these stages makes our city better.

With its great success preserving and restoring the Majestic and Charline McCombs Empire Theatres, and the establishment of an incomparable and historic performing arts center for San Antonio, Las Casas decided it could do more. In recent years Las Casas expanded its mission to reach deeper into our community, creating the Las Casas Performing Arts Scholarship Competition which provides direct support and scholarships to students who have an interest and desire to pursue their education in the performing arts.

Each year more than 100 high school students compete for scholarship funds. The final determinations are made, in dramatic fashion, when the top students perform live on stage at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre before a select panel of world-class members of the performing arts industry.  The performance concludes with the judges’ announcement of the winners and the award of the scholarship funds.  Since its inception in 2009, the annual competition has awarded almost $300,000 in scholarship money to graduating San Antonio-area high school seniors in the disciplines of theatre acting and musical theatre singing and dancing.

This year’s competition takes place this Sunday, May 19, at the Empire Theatre. Following the competition, $85,500 in scholarships will be awarded.

Through the scholarship program, Las Casas is elevating what is good in our community, putting it on stage and celebrating it. Vibrant arts are essential to the health of a city. Great drama, comedy, music and dance also enrich the lives of every citizen. By nurturing future artists, Las Casas is feeding the future of San Antonio, fueling dreams and keeping outstanding performances and artists available to us all.

For more information, visit

Frank Ruttenberg is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Las Casas Foundation, a San Antonio non-profit organization, and Shareholder at Winstead PC. A San Antonio native whose family once owned a business on Alamo Plaza, Ruttenberg grew up enjoying downtown and has a passion for historic preservation. He has been involved with the Las Casas Foundation since it was created in 1988 and helped create the organization’s scholarship program. Ruttenberg’s community service includes serving on the San Antonio Zoo Board of Directors and helping create the San Antonio Children’s Museum.

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