Built in 1933 in the historic center of Quito, the 2,200-seat Bolivar Theater became the city’s most opulent movie palace and premier performance venue. The building was designed by the famous American theater architects Hoffman and Henon in a lavish eclectic style, combining art deco, Spanish, and classical motifs. Throughout its 72-year history, it played host to luminaries from the world of music and ballet including the Beriozka Ballet of Russia, the Ballet Clásico de Madrid of Spain, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with Leonard Bernstein in 1958 and Zubin Mehta in 1978. In August 1999 a fire severely damaged the theater, only two years after it had been completely restored. The fire destroyed large portions of the roof and upper seating areas, prompting the closure of most of the building. Following the disaster, the Fundación Teatro Bolivar was established to restore the theater. The organization became the new owner of the site and began raising money to return it to use.
Theater is reopened after determined advocacy and conservation efforts
After the fire, Teatro Bolivar’s interiors were damaged by rain, snow, and volcanic ash that permeated the temporary roof structure. In addition, chandeliers and decorative elements were removed from the building by looters. Fundación Teatro Bolivar has since been working to stabilize and restore the theater, but progress is only possible as funds become available. The building was included on the 2004 World Monuments Watch, and in 2006 funds from the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage facilitated the restoration of the foyer and the creation of a rehabilitation plan for the structure. Resources from the local Fondo de Salvamento del Patrimonio Cultural and the government of the Federal Republic of Germany were used for wall stabilization, the rehabilitation of the stage, the installation of fire safety systems, thermal and acoustic insulation, and mural conservation in the main hall.
While machinery and electrics of the Bolivar Theater are now up to code and parts of the building have been restored, much work is still required in order to return this cultural landmark to its former glory. The Bolivar Theater was reopened to the public in early 2016 after being closed for three years by the former Mayor of Quito. During its period of closure the building played host to private performances, but advocates are hopeful that the restoration process will be easier with the increased visitors and funding that public access could bring to the site.
The Bolivar Theater occupies an important place in the cultural life of Quito, while also exemplifying the reach of the art deco movement and the romance of American movie palaces. Its conservation history is an inspiring example of the impact that persistent local advocates can have in the preservation process.