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Aztec Theatre

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1926, Kelwood Company. 104 N. St. Mary's St.

The first of the major downtown movie theaters to be built, the Aztec is deceptive on the exterior, for only the ornament of Aztec warriors' heads above the entrance and on the cornice indicates what waits inside. The ticket booth is modestly decorated with stucco relief figures and glyphs inspired by pre-Columbian art. The lobby is the theater's architectural tour de force. Here the architects Robert B. Kelly and Hannibal Pianta of the Kelwood Company took considerable liberty with their sources, for pre-Columbian culture never made use of columns in this fashion. The lobby is ringed by columns, each decorated with a mask of unknown source. San Antonio metalworker Theo Voss created the enormous chandelier. The stairs to the mezzanine pass some of the most literal decoration in the entire design, notably the two panels that are almost exact replicas of relief sculpture from the great Mayan city of Palenque. On the mezzanine are plaster figures copied from Mixtec art and a pair of delightful water fountains of Toltec inspiration. The most striking element in the auditorium is the original fire curtain painted by Howard Barnard illustrating the meeting of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and Aztec emperor Moctezuma. The stage is flanked by heavily decorated screens composed of gilded serpents for the organ pipes. Atop the proscenium arch is a copy of the Aztec Sun Stone, one of the most famous works of Aztec art. Sadly, the one element currently missing from this Mesoamerican extravaganza is a copy of the Eagle Stone of the Tizoc altar that originally sat in the middle of the lobby; it was supposedly touched up with red paint to resemble the blood of the human sacrifices for which the altar was used. Other contemporary theaters and movie houses across the state and the nation were encrusted with fantasy architectural elements but none matched the bizarre exoticism of the Aztec, perhaps all the more strange since the historical sources were closer to home.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.


What's Nearby


Gerald Moorhead et al., "Aztec Theatre", [San Antonio, Texas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Texas

Buildings of Texas: Central, South, and Gulf Coast, Gerald Moorhead and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, 151-151.

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