Teatro Carmen, like many theaters in the Southwestern United States, offered the opportunity for Mexican artists to present a positive image of the Mexican-American culture.

–Armando Miguelez, El Teatro Carmen 1915-1923

The Vasquez family bought the land for the theatre in 1853 from local landowner Leopoldo Carrillo, and in 1914 family patriarch Ramon Vasquez passed it on to his wife, Carmen Soto de Vasquez. She designed the theatre as a dedicated Spanish and Mexican cultural center. It opened on May 20, 1915, with the play “Cerebro y Corazon” (Head and Heart) by Farias Isassi. This event changed the cultural life of Tucson, as other contemporary performing arts facilities either focused on silent films (El Royal) or minor dramatic productions (El Clifton). The popular Elysian Grove outdoor theatre and the Opera House occasionally featured Mexican dramas or operas, but these productions were presented in an alternating calendar with English productions. Teatro Carmen was a truly unique regular location for companies producing theatrical works in Spanish. Theatre critic “El Cronista” of the Spanish language newspaper “El Tucsonense” described the theatre as having “comfortable, roomy seating, good lighting and magnificent artistic décor accompanied by the high level of artistic performance with which it was inaugurated provide a new note to our art and society.”

Carmen Soto Vasquez

Teatro Carmen & Elks-Pilgrim Rest Lodge #601 Timeline

The Elks-Pilgrim’s Rest Lodge #601 occupied the Teatro Carmen property from the 1930s through the mid-1980s. While they used the property for their social events during this time, it was also rented out to other groups on occasion. While photographs and other ephemera have been difficult to find, one source at the University of Arizona Special Collections was identified. A group of photographs by press photographer Jack Sheaffer. Sheaffer freelanced for the Arizona Daily Star and attended several events at the Elks Lodge which he photographed in the late 1950s and early1960s. Thank you to UA Special Collections for assisting with these photographs.

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