Thursday, October 11, 2012

Early Spanish-Language Theater Programs from Boyle Heights, 1929

Though there is a great deal of printed and digital information about downtown Los Angeles theaters, the vast majority cover those centered in the theater district on Broadway and nearby streets and concern those that featured English-language films and live entertainment.  Material on theaters that catered to Spanish-speaking audiences is much harder to come by.

A broadside advertising the January 9, 1929 program for entertainment at the Teatro Principal at 423 N. Main St., Los Angeles and which was printed by Jalisco Press in Boyle Heights.  Click on the images to see them in separate windows and in a larger format.  Courtesy of Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

Here, however, are two programs from the Teatro Principal (Main Theater), which was at 423 North Main Street, just southwest of the historic Plaza, where the Pico House hotel, Merced Theater, and Masonic Lodge structures stand nearby and the proprietor of which was Dionisio Acosta, while the artistic director was Hilario Altamirano and the concert master was José de Léon Paniagua.

The broadsides, though, were printed by the Jalisco Press, located at 1605 Brooklyn Avenue, now César E. Chávez Avenue, in Boyle Heights.  The location is on the north side of Chavez, just slightly east of Echeandia and there is a one-story brick structure with two storefronts with the street numbers 1601 and 1605 that could well be the same building that housed the press over eighty years ago.

These January 9 and 10, 1929 flyers are filled with information about the entertainment offered at the theater, with the live performances in the vaudeville format embracing comedy, music and variety show elements.  For example, on the 9th, there was the variety performance of El Cabaret del Amor (Love Cabaret) and the comedy Agencia Matrimonial (The Wedding Agency), while the following day was offered ther comedia de risa loca (comedy of crazy laughter) called La Casa de Baños (House of Bathrooms).  Among the performers of note on both days was baritone singer Gilberto Soria, who was given an especially prominent credit on the flyer for the 10th. 

Soria may have been more prominent than his fellow entertainers as he did record some sides for Victor Records just a few months after.  On March 30 and April 11, he did solo and duet performances with an instrumental quartet (two violins, a cello, and piano) recording what were marketed as "Spanish" songs.  The first, "Escúchame Siquiera," was written by José de Léon Paniagua, the Teatro Principal concert master.

The January 10, 1929 program for Teatro Principal.
As for Paniagua, he had two of his compositions recorded by Victor in 1924 and then eleven more in 1929.  Meantime, Soria and another featured vocalist on the January 9 program, Josefina Rivas, did record together in Los Angeles for Columbia Records in September 1927 on a song called Mañana Triste credited to the duo of Elena Ramirez y David Valles.

Other listed performers included the singing ensembles Cancioneros Tapatios and Cancioneros Yucatecos, and individual entertainers Rafael Trova (a tenor who recorded for Columbia), Natalia Rubio, Pedro Valdez, Eloisa Valdealde (an actress by that name did perform in a 1937 Mexican film, The Obligation to Assassinate!), Hilda Espinosa, Consuelo Melendez (who may have done voice over as a singer in a 1934 Warner Brothers production called La Buenaventura as well as a low-budget 1940 movie called Mad World in which a Consuelo Melendez was an opera singer associated with La Golondrina Cafe, the famed Olvera Street eatery and which was the last movie of former silent film ingenue Betty Compson), and Hugo Ivanoff (one wonders if he was part-Latino, part-Russian!) and these joined Rivas and Soria in the presentation of El Cabaret del Amor.  And, there were the debuts of Carlos Altamirano and Delfina Rivas, perhaps related to the artistic director and performers listed above.

Finally, there were several references to the mimados del público (darlings of the public) Don y Doña Chema, a comedic duo who provided risa disbordante (boundless laughter) and mucha alegria (much happiness or joy.)  The theater was sure to remind its patrons: No Olvide que el Teatro Principal es el Preferido (Don't Forget that the Main Theater is the Favorite.)  Notably, there were no admission prices for the flyer of the 9th, but for the 10th, tickets were 15 and 35 cents.  Finally, there was one advertisement on the latter broadside, this for the Salazar Pharmacy, located next door to the theatre, one building to the north, and operated by Dr. Hidalgo y Terán.

These flyers are rare examples of broadsides for Spanish-language theaters in Los Angeles and the fact that they were printed by a Boyle Heights print shop makes them an interesting footnote to the history of the community.  These objects are courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

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