Casco Antiguo is the second most visited destination in the country after the Panama Canal, which is why more and more iconic buildings in the area are being renovated every day to be incorporated into the area’s tourist and commercial offer. However, the renovation zone has been expanding towards the Santa Ana area, a sector where the famous Teatro Variedades is located.
The People’s Theater
Since its inauguration in 1912, Teatro Variedades was a place where quality shows were offered at more affordable prices, which is why it was considered the people’s theater.
This building, built at the beginning of the 20th century, reached its heyday when it was the scene of “Vaudevilles”, a comedy theater style that was born in France until the 1930s.
Variedades was conceived at a time of theatrical boom, in which many cities on the continent were engaged in the construction of buildings for this purpose. In 1908, Teatro Colon was inaugurated in Argentina. In 1909, the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro. In 1913, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, in Ontario, Canada. Panama had a great investment boom and economic strength generated by the construction of the Panama Canal.
A Multi Purpose Theater
As the film industry boomed, theaters became multipurpose rooms, where it was possible to show a movie or perform shows of various kinds, even a boxing match.
This idea inspired businessman and real estate owner Tomas Arias to build a theater on a land he owned. For the architectural design Paul Chatagnon was hired, a French that had lived in Panama since the time of the Universal Company of the Interoceanic Canal of Panama, back in the 1880s. An architect with some reputation for having designed buildings such as the Colon Government building and some private residences.
Eclectic Style Imported from France
For the design of the theater, the architect imported a new style from France called “Eclecticism”, a mixture of elements from different eras of the history of art and architecture. A change to the usual Neoclassical design applied in the construction of buildings during the Republican era.
The façade was made with a mixture of Renaissance, Romanesque and Gothic elements that made the imposing building one of the most admired by the inhabitants of Panama City.
Construction began in 1910 and was completed in 1912 costing $100,000. The theater had a capacity for 800 spectators, was three stories high, and had a performance hall, orchestra section, stalls, amphitheater, gallery, balcony, sanitary facilities on each floor, and was fireproof. The lobby had space for tickets sale and treats, as well as access to the audience through two central stairs and a side staircase to go up to the upper floors.
The Second Most Important Theater in Panama
During the first thirty years, Teatro Variedades became the second most important theater after National Theater. It was a center for variety shows performed by theater companies, musicals, and orchestras from all corners of the world.
The works of international artists were premiered at the National Theater, however, later they were transferred to Teatro Variedades at more affordable prices for the rest of the population.
Teatro Variedades began its period of decline in the 1940s. At that time, the costs of live entertainment companies were very high compared to the cheaper prices offered by cinema. However, in the 1950s and 1960s, real estate investments expanded towards the Bella Vista area, caused Santa Ana sector to loose its attractiveness. The theater survived during this time with the projection of Mexican and adult films.
Currently, Teatro Variedades building is waiting to be renovated to once again become an art and culture center for Panamanians and Foreign Visitors.