Monthly Archives: February 2014

On Location in Santa Fe: The Lensic Theatre

The Lensic Performing Arts Center Offers a World of Entertainment

by G G Collins      (Copyright 2014)

In Lemurian Medium, reporter Rachel Blackstone is assigned a story about the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet. She visits The Lensic PAC to interview the artistic director and discuss the ballet’s first performance of the New Year.
The Lensic PAC copyright G G Collins

The Lensic PAC
copyright G G Collins

The Lensic Performing Arts Center began life in 1931 as a theatre. The city of Santa Fe owes it all to a young immigrant from Syria. In July 1866, Na’aman Soleiman arrived in New York. He was only twenty-one and hailed from Biskinta, Syria. He began his life in his adopted country as Nathan Salmon a cart peddler. While selling goods throughout the Southwest he found himself stranded in Santa Fe during a snow storm.

Salmon prospered despite the Great Depression and soon was buying land in Santa Fe. On March 27, 1930 he and his son-in-law, E. John Greer, announced plans to build a grand theatre for the city’s 11,000 residents. Yes, “talkies” were coming to Santa Fe.

But there was the problem of giving it a name. Salmon offered a contests prize of $25 for the best name. There were two stipulations: It would be a Spanish name or an acronym using the initials of his grandchildren’s names (Lisa, Elias John, Nathan, Sara, Mary Irene and Charles). Mrs. P. J. Smithwick came up with the winning name. The Lensic suggested both the projector lens and made reference to the theatre’s grand interior.

In June of 1931 the theatre opened. Cinema was the pick-me-up to a beleaguered population during the Depression and the world war that followed. Tickets cost 25 to 75 cents. Everything from vaudeville to first-run movies was showcased.

But during the management days of United Artists the majestic Lensic fell on hard times. It closed in 1999.

Lensic PAC Notice Detail copyright G G Collins

Lensic PAC Notice Detail
copyright G G Collins

It was in danger of becoming permanently dark when far-thinking people (Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf ) raised the funds turning it into the swank PAC it is today. There was a multi-story addition to the rear of the building and the interior was carefully restored to its stunning ornate decor. The Lensic found its groove once again.

The 800-seat theatre hosts some 200 events each year. It is the performance venue for the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet. The ballet company began in Aspen in 1996 and became a hybrid model in 2000 when Santa Fe was added to the shingle. The company cultivated the careers of new choreographers and mixed it up with greats such as Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp and William Forsythe. Their reputation grew and invitations from Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap followed as did guest performances in Canada, France, Israel, Brazil among other countries.

The Lensic PAC Lush Exterior

The Lensic PAC Lush Exterior Copyright G G Collins

Other groups that regularly perform at the Lensic include the Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Santa Fe Concert Association, Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe Pro Musica and Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. The Lensic also hosts diverse performances from international artists and eclectic programs from around the planet.

Classic movies, the New Mexico Jazz Festival and a creative series called Under Construction that gives writers and actors a chance to perfect their evolving creativity.

Although The Lensic has been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, you can go to gape at the grandeur both inside and out while enjoying your favorite entertainment.

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