Sunken Garden Theater

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San Antonio, TX
United States
Sunken Garden Theater

Landscape Information

Situated in Brackenridge Park, southwest of the Japanese Tea Garden, this theater was designed by architect Harvey P. Smith, Sr., in 1930. The theater was originally the site of a limestone quarry operated by the Alamo Roman and Portland Cement Company (later known as the Alamo Cement Company) until 1908. Located adjacent to the park’s initial boundary, the quarry sat abandoned until 1915 when Park Commissioner Ray Lambert transformed the site into a civic space. He initially had the Japanese Tea Garden built on the north side of the quarry and the Texas Star Garden installed to the south. It was on this latter site that construction of the theater began in February 1930. It was completed and dedicated on July 14, 1930. The site was further renovated by Smith, Sr., in 1937 with the assistance of architects George Willes and Charles T. Boelhauwe and the Works Progress Administration.  

The theater’s most prominent feature is an excavated limestone ridge that forms the rear wall of the stage. Nestled among surrounding woodlands, rocky outcroppings and stone steps protrude from the face of the ridge, lending to its rugged appearance. This natural terrain gives way to the smooth concrete of an elevated stage flanked on either side by the classical colonnades of two ancillary structures. The stage transitions to a ground-level, concrete hardscape, which fans out into a large open area with movable seats capable of accommodating nearly 5,000 people. The rows of seating ascend on a gentle incline to meet a concession stand and a pair of stone staircases that descend outside the theater. Trees encircle the site, providing a buffer to the McAllister Freeway. The Sunken Garden Theater is a contributing feature to Brackenridge Park, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.