An Art Deco Theater in Puerto Rico Finds New Life

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Rebecca Gale (National Trust for Historic Preservation) writes about the rehabilitation process of the former Teatro Argel, an Art Deco building in Ponce, Puerto Rico. [Article accessed via Critical.Caribbean.Art.]

For Carlos Colón and his family, rehabilitating a former Art Deco theater building in downtown Ponce, Puerto Rico, has been the very definition of a labor of love. Committed to revitalizing their hometown by restoring its beautiful historic buildings, the Colóns spent four years and $400,000 of their own money transforming the vacant building into an airy community bakery that pays homage to its past.

Since the building’s genesis in 1940 as El Teatro Argel, it had been used as a movie theater, a disco, a storage space, and a church. The artful structure was the work of Pedro Mendez Mercado, a native of Ponce who received his BA in architecture from Syracuse University and went on to design many of the multitude of Art Deco-style theaters around Ponce, in addition to his most famous work, the Miami Building in Condado, Puerto Rico. However, in 1990, a fire so powerful it melted some of the iron beams that held up the ceiling left the grand theater vacant and lifeless for two decades until Ponce businessman Carlos Colón moved in across the street.

In 2008, Colón started La Nueva Victoria bakery on the street that was once the main avenue for business in the city. Another project quickly caught his eye: The empty shell of a 1940 movie theater that sat vacant across the street. “Everyday when we opened the doors to our bakery at 5am, as we saw the old theater in front of us,” Colón’s daughter Tatiana explained, “[My father] could feel that the building was screaming to be saved. That it deserved a new life.”

[Photo above by Carlos Colón.]

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