KiMo Theatre and Art Gallery
Perhaps the city of Albuquerque's most famous downtown building, the KiMo Theatre was built in 1927. The name "KiMo" was selected from many suggestions and can mean either Mountain Lion or leader in the Tiwa language, which is still spoken by the Pueblo people of New Mexico. The building design combines stucco with modern art deco styles, a blending that was meant to symbolize the ideal future of New Mexico as a blending of old and new. This short-lived architectural style is known as “Pueblo Deco.” A large fire in the early 1960s nearly destroyed the stage while urban sprawl eroded the nightlife in the city's core-- a common trend in urban history throughout the United States. The theater fell into disrepair in the 1970s and was nearly demolished until community activists raised awareness of the building's historic significance and beauty. Several renovations have made the theater the center of Albuquerque's downtown once again.
Backstory and Context
The KiMo Theater is one of only a handful of theaters and downtown buildings that still stand and exhibit deep influence by Native American art and architecture. Among the designs in the interior can be found several swastika designs that are woven into the rest of the artwork Long before this design was used by the German government, the swastika was a Navajo symbol that represented freedom and happiness.
Carl Boller designed the theatre based on extensive research of Native American design and culture. He travelled through New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, visiting the Pueblos of Acoma and Isleta. Boller carefully chose Native American symbolism to use in the theatre. In addition to using traditional Navajo symbols, such as the swastika, Boller employed the Navajo’s symbolic use of color, with yellow representing the life-giving power of the sun, white representing the dawn, red the setting sun, and black the dark clouds from the north.
Many famous actors and actresses of the day performed at KiMo, including Vivian Vance, of I Love Lucy fame, Sally Rand, Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix, and Ginger Rogers. The centerpiece of the theatre are the nine wall murals by Carl Von Hassler that depict the mythical Seven Cities of Gold that conquistadors, including Francisco Coronado, searched for in New Mexico during the sixteenth century.