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 theater 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 New York Philharmonic Orchestra, with Leonard Bernstein in 1958, and with Zubin Mehta in 1978, the Beriozka Ballet of Russia and the Ballet Clásico de Madrid of Spain. The Bolivar Theater had only been open for two years after a complete restoration when a fire broke out in August 1999, destroying large portions of the roof and upper seating areas, prompting the closure of most of the theater. Following the disaster, the Fundación Teatro Bolivar, established to restore the theater, became the new owner of the site and set out to raise money to return the theater to use.
How We Helped
Since the fire, damage to the theater had been compounded by rain, snow, and volcanic ash that permeated the temporary roof structure, further damaging the interior. Looting was also a problem as scavengers removed chandeliers and decorative elements. Fundación Teatro Bolivar has since been working to stabilize and restore the building, a tedious work made possible only when funds are made available. In 2006, following the inclusion on the 2004 World Monuments Watch, WMF assisted with the conservation of the Bolivar Theater through the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage. WMF contributed to the creation of a rehabilitation plan and the restoration of the theater’s foyer. Funds from the local Fondo de Salvamento del Patrimonio Cultural, as well as the government of the Federal Republic of Germany, have been used for the rehabilitation of the stage, wall stabilization, the installation of fire safety systems, thermal and acoustic insulation, as well as mural conservation in the main hall. Funding is scarce and much work still remains for this cultural landmark to return to its former glory.
Why It Matters
The Bolivar Theater exemplifies the reach of the art deco movement and the romance of American movie palaces. It is one of the few surviving examples of the work ofacclaimed theater design firm of Hoffman & Henon, who was responsible for as many as 100 movie palaces and theaters in the United States. Located in the heart of Quito, a historic center inscribed on the World Heritage list, the theater, albeit damaged by the fire, has an important place in the city’s cultural life.