Aztec Theatre Renovation Collection
Frank Whitney built the original Aztec Theatre in 1927 as a counterpart to his Ritz Theatre, further south on Main Street. As noted in the Albany News, Jun 24, 1927,
"The new theatre is to be a stucco building of Spanish design...The new show building will feature western pictures and the Ritz will show only the very latest and best pictures on the market."
Although the Aztec was originally built as a working class theatre, it quickly became a community center. Movies changed as often as four times a week. Young people found employment there; harried mothers found an inexpensive pastime for their children while they shopped downtown; young couples courted there; and adults found a cool place to relax after a hot day's work.
After Frank Whitney's untimely death in 1931, Whitney's wife continued as an employee of the theatre, even after leasing, then selling the theatre to H.S. Leon of Haskell, Texas. Dorsey Looney was manager from 1933-1943.
In 1939, Leon decided to extensively renovate the theatre, creating essentially the theatre seen today. The interior of the theatre changed from a simple shoebox design to a West Texas Vernacular version of a Spanish courtyard. Evaporative coolers were added, and cool air blew through the newly added "castles" to either side of the stage.
A concession lobby was added by building a wall and doors behind the ticket booth. A "ladies lounge" was added behind the gift shop. The archways to left and right of the three main archways were filled with glass doors and windows. Brightly colored carpet was added in the standee and the aisles, and even up the stairway to the "colored balcony". Shades of very dark maroon, pale sand, deep royal blue and silver trim added an elegant feel to the theatre.
The new theatre imitated larger theatres, such as the Paramount in Abilene. Its interior was designed to appear as though the moviegoer were in an outside courtyard. Glitter covered "stars," sparkled overhead. Scenes of desert life could be seen through "windows" on the walls. Murals of western scenes adorned the walls of the standee.
The newly remodeled Aztec opened with great fanfare. A keepsake souvenir program printed to commemorate the reopening of the Aztec reflects civic and regional pride through the variety of goods and services advertised, from Dr. Pepper Bottling Company, which donated the refreshments for the opening, to Sherwin Williams, which proudly announced the use of its paint on the project.
The Aztec continued to be a community center. It opened from 2:00 to 4:00 afternoons, again in the evening for two shows, and often again for night owl specials. Four new programs were advertised weekly.
Advertising keepsakes were produced for special shows and playbills were printed weekly. Ticket stubs were used as raffle tickets. Many townsfolk offered memories of the "beautiful Dorothy Whitney" raffling small gift items and War Bonds during World War Two.
In the 1950s, the Aztec began its slow decline. Drive-in movies and television began to compete and soon the Aztec was only open on weekends. The theatre changed hands several times during the 1960s and in 1969 looked like it would close for good.
However, in 1971, Albany demonstrated its volunteer spirit when a group purchased new equipment and scraped, swept, painted, and installed new chairs. And then,
"After many months of hard work, the association opened the theatre again in May of 1971, with the picture, 'True Grit,' starring John Wayne."
The theatre opened every weekend at first, then only on Saturday. In 1977, the Aztec was again forced to close.
In 1985, the Aztec was offered for sale. Concerned with the possibility of losing an Albany landmark so important to the history of the town, Sally Wallace and Dotsie Brittingham purchased the Aztec. They significantly slowed the deterioration of the building by adding a new roof. Then another group f citizens formed the Aztec of Albany Foundation, to explore potential uses for the theatre, and costs of restoration. The Aztec of Albany Foundation hired an architectural intern under the volunteered supervision of Bill Booziotis, FAIA, for a summer project to document the current building, to develop proposals for short and long range development, and help with the generation of a proposal.
Content for this history was taken from "Appendix B - History" of the general grant request created by the Aztec of Albany Foundation (Box 1, Folder 4)
Construction plans, architectural plans, grant request records, correspondence, meeting minutes, meeting agendas, legal records, operational documents, financial records, fundraising records, photographs, publicity, building maintenance records, biographical information, ephemera, and subject files make up this collection, divided into two series: Renovation Records and General Records.
Restrictions on Access
Open to the Public
Acquisitions within this collection: AR.2006.002
Aztec Theatre Renovation Collection - Raw XML
Detailed Description of the Collection