Odeon Theater up for spot on historic register

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

Tucumcari’s Odeon Theater, built in 1936, is one of six theaters from throughout the state to be considered for the State Register of Cultural Properties and the National Register of Historic Places, said an official of the

Department of Cultural Affairs Historic Preservation Division.
“This has been an effort that was kicked off by our office in January. An historian was hired by our office to go around the state and pick five to six theaters,” said John W. Murphey, state and national register coordinator with he the state’s Historic Preservation Division.

“We wanted to draw attention to the architectural and structural significance of these theaters as well as their sociological and entertainment importance to small towns.

Often as small town starts to shrivel if the theater goes away because there’s nothing to draw people downtown at night, ” said Murphey.

In his nomination of the theater, historian David Kammer of Albuquerque, wrote that the Odeon “retains a strong feeling of a pre-World War II motion picture theater.

“Its association with popular taste in theater design during the 1930s is particularly compelling with its modest but well-articulated use of Art Deco details, rendering it the best remaining example in New Mexico of a theater embodying that style.”

Behind the movies at the Odeon has been Ramon Martinez of Tucumcari, who purchased the theater from a member of the theater’s founding family. Milas Hurley added to his theater holdings and Kammer said the attraction at the time to the word “odeon” was its five letters and economy in constructing a neon sign.

About 30 years after the theater was built, Martinez began working at the Odeon as a teenager.

After serving in the military for three years, after high school graduation, Martinez said he begin working again at the Odeon, as a projectionist.

In the 1980s, he bought the theater from a descendant of the Hurley family.

And Martinez said the Odeon still offers a good ticket price as well as good popcorn. When he began working there the price of an adult ticket was $3.50, today it is $5.

A western movie buff, Martinez said he has a fondness for the old westerns, such as those that starring John Wayne.
It’s a challenge Martinez said to keep all the theater’s systems operating and to keep it spruced up. Martinez said he works, usually by himself, at keeping up the theater a little bit at time. For example, he will paint one small section at a time of the building’s exterior.

“I hope that the (historical) designation will help me get funds to fix it up,” Martinez said.

The six theaters, including the Odeon, will be considered by the new Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee in Santa Fe on Aug. 11, Murphey said.

The designation provides financial incentives and it does make it eligible for state and or federal income tax credits for certain work done on the theater.

Other theaters being considered for listing on the register are the: El Raton in Raton, the Luna in Clayton, the Lyceum and the State theaters in Clovis and the Lea Theater in Lovington.