The Lensic – Santa Fe’s Grande Dame
On June 24, 1931, alongside the beginning of the Great Depression, The Lensic motion picture “palace” opened in our fair city of just 11,000 souls.
Built by Nathan Salmon and John E. Greer, and named for Mr. Greer’s six grandchildren, the Lensic was an anagram of the first letter of each grandchild’s name. Built in the Spanish Baroque style, the Lensic’s distinct architecture has defined Santa Fe as much as John Gaw Meem’s Pueblo Revival style. She was the social center of town with her own ballroom and a stage for vaudeville acts, with a 6 musician orchestra pit.
By the 1990’s, the wear and tear of passing decades made her look worn down. Because of Bill Zeckendorf’s vision that Santa Fe could and would support a downtown performing arts center, his wife Nancy and other civic minded Santa Feans began the arduous task of raising $9,000,000 necessary for its expansion and historic preservation. Without the foresight and shared vision of Alexis Girard and her family, the Lensic Board would have never been able to eventually own the theater, a critical requirement for philanthropic support.
Throughout the years, this “wonder theater of the Southwest” hosted performers as diverse as Chet Grass and his Frontier Knights Orchestra to vaudeville shows with skimpily clad dancing girls like Maria Y Sable. When the Lensic premiered Santa Fe Trail in 1940, Roy Rogers Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan and Olivia de Haviland all were in attendance. In 1934, Claudette Colbert appeared at the premier of Cleopatra, a young Judy Garland performed here, Rudy Valle crooned, and for the 1982 film festival, Lillian Gish, Ray Bolger, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers smiled, blew kisses and danced across the stage.
With this sort of history, most of our citizens felt the Lensic had to be one of the finest performing arts centers in America. The Lensic Performing Arts Center opened on April 22, 2001 featuring violinist Pinchas Zuckerman, Marc Neikrug, David Grusin and Eddie Daniels among many others, including a hundred National Dance Institute students performing on stage.
The Lensic was off and running, creating in the past 20 years countless diverse community oriented programs including dance, voice, musical, theatrical performances and lecture series.
Santa Fe is a city whose citizens pine with love for all the performing arts, and the Lensic is one of the major pillars supporting our City Different’s unique position in our land. The foresight of Nathan Salmon and E. John Greer, along with the drive and determination of the Zeckendorfs and Alexis Greer Girard, plus countless donors, big and small, including the State of NM and the City of Santa Fe, gave us this bountiful gift. Any trip to Santa Fe should include a visit to the Lensic for a performance or two. Before your visit to the Inn on the Alameda, check out Lensic.org for a list of the coming attractions and get your tickets early. The Lensic is truly a gem in the crown of the Performing Arts in New Mexico, and is fortunately located right here in Santa Fe.
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