Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Kimo Theater in Albuquerque, NM

You might remember that when we went to Boulder for Valentines Day we visited the Boulder theater. We couldnt go inside because it wasnt open but I really wanna get back and check it out. I was looking up some old theaters online and discovered that this theater was built by the same architects that built the Kimo theater in Albuquerque, NM. This was interesting to me because thats my home town.

The Kimo theater was built in 1927 by the Boller Brothers, who were architects based out of Kansas City. It was built to be a vaudeville theater and was done in the Pueblo Deco style. The Boller Bros did extensive research into the Southwest culture and building style before drawing up plans for this theater.  

Early photo of the Kimo.

The fact that this theater has survived is a miracle in itself. The Kimo suffered a boiler explosion that destroyed the lobby and later a fire that destroyed its stage. Over time, it went out of style and slipped into a state of disrepair. Albuquerque famously tore down the bulk of its historical buildings in the 70s and 80s, including its most famous landmark, the Alvarado Hotel that was built in 1902. The Kimo was up for demolition in 1977 but was saved and restored to its original splendor and is still in use to this day.

There are some interesting tid bits about the Kimo. One of the most famous is that its haunted by the ghost of a little boy, Bobby Darnell, who died when the boiler exploded in 1951. He's a bit of a prankster who likes to trip the actors and make noise during the performance. To appease him they leave him doughnuts. There is also the ghost of an unknown woman who wanders the halls. She wears a bonnet and doesn't bother anyone.

The other interesting thing has to do with the interior of the Kimo. The theme is obviously Native American, incorporating log beams, Navajo rugs, pottery, canoes, and buffalo skulls. But what stands out the most is the use of the swastika.

Anyone growing up in the American Southwest will know how sacred this symbol is to Native Americans. It means balance and happiness, and is also used to represent the four directions. But for people who are not from this area, visiting the Kimo and seeing swastikas everywhere will be quite offensive. And confusing, I'm sure!

Albuquerque is currently trying to make up for its lack of foresight and is attempting to restore its downtown area. When the Alvarado was razed it destroyed a huge part of its history. The downtown fell out of use and in 1993 a fire destroyed the original train station that sat next to the Alvarado.

Alvarado Hotel and train station circa 1902

In 2002 they finally rebuilt the station and did so in the same style as the Alvarado. Though they can never rebuild the Alvarado at least they are trying to bring back the style. Another building that was saved was the original Albuquerque High School complex. I always loved this set of buildings because it was done in the Gothic style, which is starkly different from all the stucco buildings popular in NM. It sat abandoned for years as the powers that be debated its fate. It was finally saved and turned into lofts. What I was sad to see though during my last visit was the razing of most of the old motels that made up the Route 66 section of Albuquerque. In my opinion they are still going in the wrong direction.

What I love about Denver is its connection to its past. Whereas Albuquerque destroyed its architectural history, Denver has done a great job at retaining the buildings and homes that make this landscape so interesting. I could literally do dozens of posts about great architectural sites in Denver. There is such an abundance of it here! And not just Art Deco and Mid Mod, but many other styles as well.

 Doing this post about the Kimo makes me feel lucky to live here. Albuquerque can never get back all that its destroyed. Growing up there I always felt a void. Everything is earth toned and looks the same. There is no grass or water. Everything is generic. This isnt to say that there isnt a history there because there is a rich melting pot of Native American, Spanish and Mexican cultures. But if you are looking to experience this first hand, go to Santa Fe. Albuquerque lost its own personal history a long time ago.


  1. Ahh. My mom has a Native American bracelet with swastikas on it. I remember coming home in the 5th grade after learning about World War II and going to the Holocaust museum and being horrified by it, and she had to explain the same thing to me.


  2. I absolutely love your blog! it is great to see a woman post on vintage style and architecture!

    A great book about the NON OFFENSIVE history of the swastika, btw, is called "gentle swastika" by Man-Woman. This ancient symbol was used for centuries throughout the world before it was ever used as a symbol of hatred.

  3. That sounds like a really interesting book. I found a really great photo of a Navajo basketball team in 1908 wearing uniforms with the swastika on them. Its sad that its taken on such a negative meaning, being that around the world its usually stands for something really harmonious.


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