Padua Hills Theatre

Image of Pergola, Padua Hills Theatre.
Pergola, Padua Hills Theatre
Claremont, California

California Office of Historic Preservation

For over 40 years, the Padua Hills Theatre Complex and the theatrical group, the Mexican Players, served Southern California as an educational experience on the rich and diverse culture of Mexico. Padua Hills is located north of Claremont, the cultural center of the Pomona Valley. In 1928, a group of over 20 Claremont residents, led by Mr. Herman H. Garner, formed a corporation to manage 2,000 acres of land in the Mt. San Antonio foothills. They envisioned the foothill land as an ideal location for an arts community of homes and a central theatre and dining room. Although the theatre originally held performances of traditional British and American plays when it first opened in 1930, by 1935 the Mexican Players were the theatre's full-time performers. At this time, the principle investors, the Garners, established the Padua Institute, a non-profit corporation, to foster positive relations between Americans and Mexican-Americans. The Mexican Players became the key to this vision through community education and support of young Mexican-Americans. The Padua Hills Theatre successfully accomplished the Garners' vision by producing six or seven plays a year and holding fiestas. The Padua Institute enhanced its guests' understanding of Mexico by featuring a large painted map of Mexico on the curtain so that the audience could gain a sense of the country's size and geography. Also, to preserve authenticity, a continuing schedule of guest teachers from Mexico were brought in and a synopsis of the play was written in the playbill so that the performers could perform in Spanish.

Image of Indian maiden sculpture by Albert Stewart, Padua Hills Theatre. Indian maiden sculpture, Padua Hills Theatre
Claremont, California

National Register of Historic Places

The Padua Hills Theatre Complex represents one of the most distinctive regional architectural trends of the 20th century in its Spanish Colonial buildings, its olive tree-lined patios, and its still peaceful and serene setting. The complex is situated on six acres of land and includes three buildings--a theater and restaurant building, an adjacent apartment, and a studio/residence--grouped around a central courtyard. The landscaping of olive trees and rock walls and curbing, along with an outdoor stage structure are contributing site features. A "Padua Hills Theatre" sign with a pair of Mexican folk dancers and a life-sized statue of an Indian maiden add to the mood of the setting.

The Padua Hills Theatre and the Mexican players attracted thousands of visitors and did much to educate Americans on the rich and diverse culture of Mexico. The complex may have been the central building in Padua Hills, but its influence fostered a unique culture in the hillside community. Many artisans were attracted to the area. Original, hand-crafted works of pottery, glass, and iron decorated the community and were sold in the art craft shop near the theatre. In 1973, a year before the theatre closed, Governor Ronald Reagan wrote "the unique service the Mexican players of Padua Hills Theatre has rendered in preserving and presenting the musical and dramatic arts of Mexico, which underlies California's cultural heritage, deserves the appreciation of us all."

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