Santa Fe Lensic Theatre History

The Lensic is one of Santa Fe’s oldest theatres, and has long been the centrepiece of downtown's performance art scene. An extremely versatile venue, The Lensic has been host to films, theatre, all genres of music, lectures, burlesque shows, ballet, and just about any other form of expression that a theatre can house. Like nearly every building in Santa Fe, The Lensic has a long and colorful history with plenty of ups and downs. It has survived through it all, and it continues to thrive and contribute to Santa Fe’s cultural history and heritage.

The Lensic’s origins are rooted in an accident. Nathan Salmon was a traveling salesman who immigrated to New York who made a modest living by selling various goods out of a wagon. He would travel throughout The Southwest selling a variety of products. He was passing through Santa Fe on his way to Durango, Colorado when a snowstorm impeded his travel. He had only a quarter to his name and had no way to survive the hostile winter. He pawned his watch and asked his friend in New York to wire him some money. He was able to get his business back up and running, and began to do quite well in Santa Fe. He eventually decided to abandon the wagon (which he was often ridiculed for doing business out of), and bought a dried goods store on San Francisco St. Rumour has it that he was able to complete the down payment with the winnings from a pool game.

As his business expanded, Salmon began to develop a passion for buying valuable plots of land and converting them into theatres. He was clever enough to anticipate the need for entertainment during the devastation of the great depression. His son-in-law E. John Greer assisted him in building the new Lensic Theatre (an acronym derived from the initials of his grandchildren). It’s doors opened in 1931. It was extremely luxurious and well-equipped for the time and it quickly became one of the finest and most attended theatres and dance halls in The Southwest.

By the time the 1950’s rolled around, Santa Fe began growing in size, and the need for more entertainment grew with it. Drive-In movie theatres, other performing arts spaces, multiplex theatres and the rise of home-entertainment began to eat away at The Lensic’s place as the central hub for entertainment in The Southwest. It managed to survive the decades with several renovations, and was managed by United Artists throughout the 1990’s as a first-run movie theatre. However, it struggled to remain profitable and was shut down by the end of that decade.

Santa Feans are very attached to their town’s history and the failure of The Lensic was not easily accepted. In an interesting twist of fate, Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, who were also from New York, moved to Santa Fe and decided that downtown Santa Fe still needed The Lensic as a performance space. They were able to raise nine-million dollars to re-open, re-purpose and renovate it. It was also designated a historic landmark by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The renovations were painstakingly envisioned from original blueprints, and many of the components used are exact replicas of original parts of the theatre using period-correct materials. The hall’s functionality as a performance space was vastly improved with the advent of additional performance space, an orchestra pit, a crystal chandelier from New York’s Roxy Theatre, and updated sound-projection equipment. A system was installed throughout the theatre that could actively and dynamically control the theatre’s acoustic properties. Because of this, The Lensic is ideal for nearly any kind of performance. Having seen many performances there myself, I can attest to the fact that that the sound is perfect almost every time I’ve attended.

The Lensic is a classic “Santa Fe” story. It began in the beginning of the century as a shining cultural beacon that struggled to keep up with America’s, and therefore Santa Fe’s, growing needs and modernization. However because it is such a strong archetype of South-western culture, it has been preserved and revered throughout the decades as another example of exactly what makes “The City Different” so different. It is a fine example of how the magic of the past has been updated and modernized to enhance and serve the culture while still preserving the building’s original intentions.

Author Bio: Neeraj is a writer specializing in Travel blog post for His current goal is to create the best content on the web and also work with a group of other bloggers in Santa Fe, NM and other Latin American Countries to raise money to help the underprivileged children throughout this region.  He hopes by making people aware of the great need of these children, we  can make a difference in the world.

See. Things to See and Do in Albuquerque
Interesting places to visit in New Mexico