Teatro Carmen in Barrio Viejo has taken many names over the years, but now it’s returning to its former glory a performing arts space set to re-open in 2025 or 2026.
Since the property switched to county hands in 2021, Stratford Art Works has taken the lead on the restoration of the 1915 building.
The first phase is the exterior.
“It is Tucson’s oldest performing arts venue. It predates the Rialto by four years and the Fox by 14 years,” said Herb Stratford, president of Stratford Artworks and lead project developer.
“So it’s really the oldest piece of Tucson performing arts history.
Most Tucsonans today know the theater to be yellow, but the Stratford team has been scraping away layers of wall to expose the original brick.
The team will also cover up the non-historical mural painted in the 90s for the movie “Boys on the Side,” starring Whoopi Goldberg and Drew Barrymore.
Originally a center for Spanish performing arts, Teatro Carmen has gone through many phases.
It was a Black Elks Club during the segregation era and transitioned to a myriad of other small businesses like an auto repair shop; the word “garage” can now be made out on the top of the building.
Stratford says they’ve found “tidbits of history” throughout the process, bringing on historians and archaeologists to log all artifacts.
During the interview with KGUN 9, he pointed out a part of the brick wall facing Meyer Avenue that was riddled with horse shoe nails.
These nails used to hold up posters that promoted the theater’s upcoming shows and pieces of paper still stuck to them when the team unveiled the brick.
“We could actually look them up on the list we created of different productions that took place here,” Stratford said. “We were like, “Oh, this was for this production, it took place in 1917 and it was here for three nights.” And so it was really cool.”
Other phases of the project include revamping the stage, fixing up the lobby and extending the property for a restaurant and patio, which is expected to open by fall 2024.
“We’re trying to…bring the community along with us as we do this project,” Stratford said. “So doing the facade lets people see what we’re doing, and then continuing to show them progress to help us get over the finish line.”