When the iconic Woodlawn Theatre opened on Aug.17, 1946, in the Deco District of San Antonio, no one anticipated that it would eventually become the home of a non-profit organization directed toward the preservation of theatre and the arts.
Now owned by Kurt and Sherry Wehner, the Woodlawn Theatre is on its way to being declared a state landmark by the Historic and Design Review Commission. According to Sherry Wehner, the theater is in the process of becoming an official state landmark by as of November 2012. After that, the new goal is to become a national landmark.
In 2006, Jonathan Pennington leased the theatre under Amphisphere Productions and restored the theatre to stage popular plays and musicals, such as “Rent” and “Sweeney Todd.” Earlier this year, Kurt and Sherry Wehner bought the theatre.
Since March 2012, they’ve been operating the theatre as a non-profit organization, Woodlawn Theatre, Inc. Through obtaining 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, the theatre is allowed to receive donations to fund its programs.
Sherry Wehner says, “It was impossible for us to provide quality shows and educational programs on the funds provided by ticket sales alone.”
One of the programs includes the Woodlawn Academy for the Performing Arts, a children’s program which promises to “enrich, entertain and enlighten” participating children, whether they enjoy working in front of or behind the curtain.
Since the theatre has come under new ownership, many improvements and renovations have been made to restore it. In addition to the interior being painted, the lobby has been remodeled, the space next to the theatre has been converted into a blackbox theatre for more intimate shows, and the dressing rooms have been restructured. In addition, the exterior is getting a much-needed boost.
“The entire outside of the building will be repainted and new signage and awnings will be installed. All the faÃ§ade improvements will attract more businesses to the area,” says Sherry Wehner. In addition, one of the most noticeable restorations will be the marquis, which hasn’t been running in over 40 years.
The deco-style theatre was designed by renowned architect John Eberson, who also designed San Antonio’s Majestic Theatre. When the Woodlawn Theatre first opened, it was used to screen Hollywood movies in a single auditorium. Since then, it has had a very rich and diverse history of events and owners.
In 1960, country western star John Wayne hosted the world premiere of his film, “The Alamo” at the Woodlawn. The theatre had been closed until John Santikos, owner of Santikos Theaters, spruced up the theatre in the early ’70s by making much needed repairs and converting the balcony into a second theatre for more movie screenings.
The Woodlawn Theatre was also the premiere location for Paramount’s famous Laser Spectacular show in 1986, which featured a colorful laser light show choreographed to the music of Pink Floyd. In the ’80s, the theatre was mostly used to as a concert venue for jazz and blues bands, as well as touring rock bands such as Sonic Youth, the Butthole Surfers and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
November has been hectic for the Woodlawn Theatre. Sarah Ruhl, a Pulitzer-nominee, is running a month-long rendition of “Eurydice.” The show includes Ruhl’s take on the legend of Eurydice and her relationship with Orpheus. Woodlawn’s last showing of “Eurydice” will be on Friday, Nov. 23.