Local Treasure: Plaza Theatre

Local Treasure

POSTED: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 - 5:45pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 - 5:47pm

Those in charge of revitalizing Downtown El Paso argue that The Plaza Theatre is the heart of the downtown area.

“The Plaza probably is the local treasure,” said Bill Blaziek, General Manager of the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When it opened its doors in September 1930, The Plaza Theatre was the go-to place for El Pasoans eager for entertainment.

People felt good about coming here. It was magical, but it was warm...it sort of lent itself as a really good place to hang out with your friends,” said Gary Williams, the Senior Program Officer for the El Paso Community Foundation.

“It was an early motion picture theater and was exclusively a movie house...today, it's a performing arts venue that can accommodate [virtually], any kind of entertainment,” said Blaziek.

El Pasoans are certainly seeing that this week, with the plaza hosting the Broadway blockbuster musical, Wicked; the plaza expects over 30,000 people to see the show, over 12 days.

Gary Williams said part of what makes the building such a treasure, is that it's restored, not renovated.

"All of the original light fixtures are intact, paint in the ceilings are intact, we might have added lights to showcase them a bit more,” said Williams.

The Plaza Theatre still displays an old intercom system in its lobby, that was used by ushers at the then-fledgling theatre.

“...little panels would light up and that's how the floor captains [on three levels], would communicate with the ushers about how many seats were in their section,” said Williams.

While the plaza was a vibrant place for decades, the building and the downtown area suffered an economic downturn that spanned 30 years.

"Shopping centers...opened up, the freeway came through town, the city began to grow physically, and as a result, downtown began a decline after experiencing nothing but just robust times for decades,” said Williams.
The Plaza Theater re-opened in 2006, after a $40 million restoration.

Bill Blaziek said Broadway musicals generally dominate the plaza's schedule.

"On an annual basis, there's usually 7 or 8 traveling Broadway musicals...Mamma Mia! was here...recently, Beauty and the Beast was here,” stated Blaziek.

With the current, wild success of Wicked, Blaziek added that businesses near the plaza have seen a boost, and that signals a glowing future for The Plaza Theater and the pulse it has on live entertainment and Downtown El Paso.

“Based on response of El Pasoans, they've demonstrated the ability to support major blockbusters, and in this case, 16 performances of Wicked...the message is loud and clear: El Paso will respond to quality entertainment,” said Blaziek.

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