San Juan’s Oldest Freestanding Theatre- Teatro Tapia

If you are a theatre buff, you simply have to take in a performance at the Teatro Tapia. Located on Fortaleza Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this stunning theatre is possibly the oldest freestanding theatre stage building that is still in use in the United States. The building was erected in 1824 and takes the form of a horseshoe-shaped opera house. There are three tiers of original or replicated wooden seats and the building has a distinct Italian flair that gives it a special ambience. The three levels of seating provide enough space for about 700 people and it has served as a cultural center for the city ever since being opened to the public.

Today the 19th century theatre continues past traditions by serving as a venue for ballets, concerts, operas, theatrical performances and cultural events. It is also used for meetings and presentations. Despite the fact that it has seen the likes of singers and performers such as Adelina Patti and Anna Pavlova, it fell into a period of neglect during the forties that nearly resulted in the demolition of this beautiful and historical building. Fortunately Felisa Rincón, who then served as the mayor of San Juan, saw the need to preserve this Puerto Rican cultural treasure. After a period of pushing for the restoration of the theatre, the decision was eventually made to preserve the building and efforts where made to restore it to its former glory. This included making copies of the original wooden chairs that were an integral part of the theatre’s 19th century charm since many of the old ones had been broken or become rotten. The restorations were made near the end of the 40s and soon the theatre was in full use once again.

Today this gracious old theatre bears the name of a local playwright, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera. It has once again become a cultural stalwart in Puerto Rico and sees a lot of activity by hosting both local and international acts. The balconies, lobby and interior are simply breathtaking and one gets the feeling that they really need to dress up to give this old building the respect it deserves. The Teatro Tapia is surrounded by a number of great attractions and is the perfect place to take in a performance when in Puerto Rico. So don’t overlook this historic treasure when you next visit Puerto Rico.

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