An emblematic 120-year-old theater in Guanajuato city is getting a makeover in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary edition of the International Cervantino Festival (FIC), the largest performing arts festival in the Americas.
The refurbishment of Teatro Juárez began in March and is now 20% complete, according to the state government. Work is not expected to conclude until late 2023 but the first stage of the project is slated for completion in October, to coincide with the staging of the FIC, which attracts performers and spectators from around the world. The theater is the principal venue for the festival, which is inspired by the literary work of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, best known for the early 17th century novel Don Quixote.
Funded by the state government, the approximately 160-million-peso (US $8 million) refurbishment – carried out under the watchful eyes of National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) officials – will ensure that the historical building can continue hosting the FIC and other events for many years to come.
The theater’s fire protection system is being upgraded, improvements are being made to its facade, its lighting system and mechanics are being modernized, original paintwork is being restored and an emergency exit staircase has already been repaired. Work to make the theater more accessible for people with disabilities and the elderly is also being undertaken. Ramps and a new elevator will make it easier for those who are less mobile to access the different parts of the building, and theatergoers in wheelchairs will have a designated section from which they can watch the action on stage.
Built between 1872 and 1903 and officially opened in the latter year by then president Porfirio Díaz, Teatro Juárez is certainly in need of the makeover. Cracks have been found in some of its walls and other signs of wear and tear have been detected, according to the state Infrastructure Ministry. If the refurbishment hadn’t begun when it did, the theater would have sustained even greater damage, said Infrastructure Minister Tarcisio Rodríguez Martínez. It’s the first time in almost 20 years that the building has had any significant restoration and modernization work.
Amalia Velázquez de León Collins, a restorer working on the project, said that some interesting discoveries have been made during the refurbishment process. One was the uncovering of an original European floor covering in one of the theater’s rooms.
Velázquez told the news website Zona Franca that when carpet was removed in the Salón Tocador, the original German-made linoleum floor covering – still in reasonable condition – was found.
“It’s a great discovery for the city of Guanajuato, the state and heritage in Mexico. We aren’t aware of [any other] cases of such large 19th century floor coverings [being found],” she said. “… It’s a representation of modernity at the end of the 19th century.”