National Register of Historic Places

Azteca Theater

Azteca Theater (1948)

836-840 F Street
Johnson & Moore Consulting Engineers, Builders
Art Deco


The Azteca Theater is a two-story brick masonry building that faces southwest onto F Street in Fresno's Chinatown. It is one of many commercial businesses dating from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries in this neighborhood and was constructed in 1948 in a late Art Deco style. The façade of the rectangular plan building is clad in stucco.

Character-defining features include the stepped parapet and the vertical fin "Azteca" neon sign that extends upward from a two-sided metal and wood marquee. Central to the building is a recessed foyer with canted walls with frames, two on each wall, for movie posters. The foyer serves as the building's main entrance. A hexagonal ceramic tile, glass, and plaster ticket booth with a stylized "A" in bright blue on the façade of the booth is located in the center of this outer foyer. To each side of the main entrance are identical recessed entryways that previously served small businesses attached to the theater. Four regularly placed casement windows of steel sash with multiple lights are located on the second floor of the building's façade.

The interior of the building includes a large auditorium open to the rafters. A two-story mezzanine on the southwest end of the building houses the projection room with original projector, an office, and bathrooms. A central aisle leads from the double doors to the proscenium stage on the northeast end of the auditorium. The auditorium floor has a gentle rake; there is no orchestra pit. The stage has a wood floor and is accessible from two sets of stairs, one on each side of the stage. Footlights are located along the edge. Dressing rooms on each side of the stage are accessed by steep narrow stairs. The walls of one of the dressing rooms are covered with graffiti from prior performers.

The overall integrity of the Azteca Theater is high. The theater remains unchanged since its construction other than the installation of a heavy security gate across the main entrance, and the boarded transoms and entrances on the side business wings. The original theater seats were removed after the building became vacant in the 1980s. New, vintage theater seats were installed in 2016.

Historical significance

The Azteca Theater, or Teatro Azteca, opened on November 30, 1948. It was constructed by Johnson and Moore Consulting Engineers for Gustavo A. Acosta. In 1956 Acosta leased the Teatro Azteca to his friend Arturo Tirado.

The Azteca, under the management of Tirado, provided a steady diet of films made during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, and was also a venue for personal appearances by many of the leading actors of Mexican film. From 1948 to 1980 the theater was the only venue to show Spanish-language films catering to the largely immigrant Mexican American community in this region.

The theater with its proscenium stage also hosted cultural events for the Latino community. When in March 1966 César Chavez led striking farmworkers on their march from Delano to Sacramento, they stopped in Fresno, met with Mayor Floyd Hyde at City Hall, and held a rally in the Azteca that featured Chavez and the striking farmworkers. Prior to rally, Tirado met with Mayor Floyd Hyde and the chief of police to provide an escort when the marchers came through Fresno. Due to Tirado's influence, Chavez and company did not meet with the hostility that earlier greeted them in some other Central Valley towns. The rally staged by Chavez and the marchers at the Azteca on March 24, 1966, drew more than 1,000 people. The all-Spanish language program that night included a reading of the "Plan of Delano," a statement calling for revolutionary changes in agriculture.

Adapted and abridged from the National Register of Historic Places nomination, originally prepared by Karana Hattersley-Drayton.