Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The King of Albuquerque

As we drove through downtown Albuquerque on old Route 66 (Central Avnue), this beautiful building caught our eye.

It was the KiMo Theater, opened in 1927, the same year the first talkie "The Jazz Singer" opened. It was described as a "pueblo-deco picture palace" and was built in less than a year.

In a contest to name the theater, Pablo Abeita, Governor of Isleta Pueblo, earned $50 for submitting the name which was actually two Tewa (the Pueblo's language) words, liberally interpreted as "king of its kind."

The original lobby was small, ending at the pillars on the left. Its expansion, to comply with the present-day fire code, resulted in the removal of a few rows of seats in the theater.

At the landing of the stairway from the lobby to the mezzanine is one of the murals painted by Karl Von Hassler. He and a few of his students painted "The Seven Cities of Cibola" on the mezzanine level. The cities in the trompe l'oeil murals are some of the pueblos in and around New Mexico.

Oreste Bachecchi commissioned architect Carl Boller of Los Angeles to design and build the KiMo. Boller visited many of the pueblos during months of research, and his watercolor rendition of the interior was immediately accepted.

In the back of the theater, there were drawings meant to resemble sand paintings. As part of ceremonies performed by a tribe's medicine man, sand paintings were prepared. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the sand painting was erased so that the Spirit was freed.

Boller's design called for plaster ceiling beams to mimic actual wood logs. Photographing this colorful work of art while trying to steady a tripod with one of the legs on the floor and the other two balanced on two seats in front of my seat for a time exposure would have made an interesting picture in itself.

As we walked around the theater photographing the art work and drawings shown in these next two photos, Bill, our tour guide, mentioned the story of six-year-old Bobby Darnall. In 1951, Bobby had been sitting in the theatre balcony with some of his friends when something on the screen frightened him. He ran down the staircase to the lobby. Just as he arrived, the boiler exploded killing Bobby. It is the spirit of little Bobby who is said to continue to haunt the KiMo Theatre today.

According to legend, Bobby's impish spirit causes the performers problems by tripping them and creating a ruckus during performances. To appease the spirit, the cast used to hang doughnuts on the water pipe that runs along the back wall of the theatre behind the stage. Often, the treats were gone the next morning. Of those that were left, bite marks made by a little mouth, could sometimes be seen.

Today, Bill said that after each show the performers now leave one item for Bobby in a special alcove. We saw several small cars, a fireman's hat, and a skateboard among the many items in the alcove as we passed by.

Bill also told us a story that demonstrated some clever problem-solving by today's craftsmen. The stairway had quail forming the base for the handrail leading to the mezzanine. This same quail-railing extended across the mezzanine--until . . . the fire marshal determined that it was too low and, therefore, unsafe.

So, some welders performed "metal surgery" on the necks and legs of the quail, and "Voila" we had cranes holding up a now-safe railing on the mezzanine.

The City of Albuquerque purchased the KiMo in 1977, and the most recent preservation was completed in 2000. The theater seats 650.

Long Live the King!

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