This is the story of how the award-winning actress and singer Rita Moreno had a hand in helping to save and restore The Plaza Theatre.

AFI Awards Luncheon - Red Carpet
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Rita Moreno heads back to El Paso as one of the special guests for the 15th annual Plaza Classic Film Festival this summer. As we anticipate her return, we are sharing a brief recap of how the legendary actress Rita Moreno helped save El Paso's iconic Plaza Theatre.

According to Jay Duncan, Founder, and Director of the Sunset Film Society, The Plaza Theatre was once considered the largest theater of its kind between Los Angeles and Dallas. It was so modern for its day that it also was the first theatre in all of the United States to feature air conditioning.

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The owner, Louis L. Dent, had initially purchased the property on Pioneer Plaza in 1927 with the hope of giving back to the community and hired W. Scott Dunne to design the Plaza and H. T. Ponsford and Sons to build it.

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Finally built on September 12, 1930, the Plaza was known for its elegant and ornate 18th-century interior décor and Spanish Colonial exterior style. Because of its grand interior, The Plaza Theatre was nicknamed "The Showplace of the Southwest."

The first movie to premiere at the Plaza Theatre was the 1930 musical rom-com Follow Through, which drew in about 2,400 spectators on opening night. Two decades later, the advent of technology, new suburban communities, and drive-in movie theatres drew audiences away, almost pushing the once lavish theater into extinction.

Enter the formation of the El Paso Community Foundation and EGOT winner Rita Moreno. (EGOT is the designation given to actors who have won all four: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards for outstanding achievements in television, recording, film, and theatre. As of 2022, Rita Moreno is one of just 17 artists that have won all four.)

Austin Hargrave
Austin Hargrave
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In 1986, The El Paso Community Foundation invited Moreno to headline a fundraising concert that raised $1 million to purchase and preserve The Plaza Theatre.

Thanks to Moreno and the Community Foundation's efforts, The Plaza Theatre was designated as a National Historical Building of Significance, fully restored to its original atmospheric theater splendor in 2006.

Jay Duncan
Jay Duncan
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In 2007, Moreno was invited back to perform at the newly restored theatre and headlined the Plaza Classic Film Festival in 2013.

Rita Moreno, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the fiery Anita in West Side Story (1961), was also featured in Steven Speilberg's 2021 remake. And now, the actress will return to the Sun City, appearing as one of the featured special guests on the same stage she helped save and restore.

"West Side Story" New York Premiere
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For anyone who has never been inside one of El Paso's most beautiful gems, the 15th annual Plaza Classic Film Festival will be the perfect opportunity to check out the historic Plaza Theatre and see Rita Morena live and in person.

For more details, schedule, and ticket information, visit plazaclassic.com.

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