[graphic] Cine El Rey

[photo] Cine El Rey, McAllen, Texas
Photograph courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission
The Cine El Rey ("The King Cinema") symbolizes the significance of the Spanish language Film Theater (Mexican Theatres) in the Hispanic-American culture. Opened as a theater in downtown McAllen, Texas, in 1947, the "El Rey" served the city's Hispanic community for 40 years. Although it is understated in design and ornamentation, it is a good example of a small-town, downtown movie theater in Texas in the 1940s and was important in the life of McAllen's Hispanic community during its four decades of operation. The theater is important in local history as a cultural focal point for entertainment and Hispanic heritage as a "Mexican Theatre" built to capitalize on the demand for Spanish-language entertainment created by the influx of Mexican Braceros into the United States during the 1940s. The Braceros were named after the U.S.-Mexican Bracero program established at the end of World War II that was created to help with a shortage of agricultural workers in the United States by recruiting more than 4.9 million Mexican workers to work on U.S. farms. In June 2001, the National Trust for Historic Preservation identified the Caminos del Rio Heritage Corridor and historic American movie theaters among "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places." Fortunately, through its rehabilitation the theater will once again play a role in the city's history and in the revitalization of the 33-block downtown district. The facility will serve as a performing arts center and will be used for smaller theatrical tours, concerts, film festivals, historical films, lectures, and meetings will house the local community college's Hispanic theater company.

[photo] Historic image of Cine El Rey, 1948
Photograph from collection of Tony Balderas, McAllen, Texas, from National Register collection

McAllen, Texas, was a largely rural town that was incorporated on February 20, 1911. It was established on the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railroad rail line eight miles north of the Mexican border. The town grew, and by World War II it had a sizable Mexican population, many who came north to work in agriculture in the Bracero program. In Texas, some of the larger towns and towns with a large Spanish-speaking population had theaters where Spanish-language films were shown. These operated mostly in the southern part of the State and the theaters were mostly small, poorly ventilated and used third-rate equipment. After World War II, however, major investment began in Spanish-language movie theaters. El Rey opened in McAllen on May 1, 1947. According to Noe Mendoza, a lifelong resident of 17th Street, the opening night was fue el evento del a˝o (the event of the year). The ushers dressed in Mexican folk costumes and the star of the opening night film, German Valdes ("Tin Tan") was a Mexican comic actor of mythic proportions, often playing the streetwise pachuco (Zoot Suiter). Valdes appeared in 103 films between 1944 and 1977. He was the first of many of Mexico's greatest actors and actresses who made personal appearances on the El Rey stage. Some of these included El Trio Los Panchos, Pedro Infante, Pedro Armendariz, Sara Garcia, Antonio Aguilar, Tito Guizar and Lucha Villa. The theater continued to serve as the entertainment center for the city's Hispanic community for the next 40 years, but the Mexican motion picture industry had slowed down and by the mid-1980s the theater turned to showing second-run American features. Finally closing in 1988, the former theater was used as a religious outreach center from 1996 to 1998.

[photo] Historic image of Cine El Rey, late 1950s
Photograph from collection of Tony Balderas, McAllen, Texas, from National Register collection
The 1947 Cine El Rey is a rectangular three-story commercial building. The building features a projecting neon marquee, neon and metal canopy, bold colors, geometric patterns and enamel panels on the lower part of the front fašade, all of which contribute to its Moderne design. Except for later paint schemes, some water-damaged ceilings and plumbing and electrical upgrades to meet city requirements, the Cine El Rey retains its original appearance. For more information visit www.cineelrey.com

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