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The Shuler Theater

The Shuler Theater
131 N. 2nd Street

A History of the Shuler Theater

Officially opening April 27, 1915, the Shuler Theater was cause enough to send city commissioners fleeing over the state line to Trinidad, Colorado, for safety.

Such a cause for dispute? Yes -- theater was a "hot topic" in the old days. A railroad and 40 billion tons of coal made Raton one of the fastest growing settlements in New Mexico and would later put it on a major "theater circuit". As early as the 1880s, Raton boasted a theater that attracted regular road shows. By 1882, an opera house known as the Old Rink had been erected. Serving as both opera house and a community meeting place, the Old Rink was said to have "held social sway on Second Street." The Old Rink was soon overshadowed by Hugo Seaburg's Garden Coliseum. The largest theater in New Mexico at the time, this enormous wooden theater could seat 5,000 patrons, roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Raton at one time.

The coliseum burned down shortly after the turn of the century, but by that time Raton already had at least four other theaters and opera houses including the Lyric, the Grand, and the Princess. The Lyric featured a three piece orchestra to accompany its early silent movies, and the Grand continued to bring in concerts, stock companies, boxing, wrestling, and lectures, while the Princess catered to the film industry. Of these only the municipal auditorium, which eventually came to be known as The Shuler survives unto this day.

The Shuler Auditorium was the product of remarkable personal and community energy, and the person principally responsible was Dr. James Jackson Shuler, early Raton resident who twice served as mayor from 1899-1902 and 1910-1919. Dr. Shuler undertook a number of impressive projects, including the construction of a municipal auditorium. The initial plan was to build a modest city hall with $25,000 that had been voted on by the taxpayers fror that purpose, but the destruction of Seaburg's coliseum left Raton without a large theater. The plan was enlarged to include an auditorium. The city fathers decided to include a fire station, extra office space, a heating plant, and a jail.

Architect William Rapp, of Trinidad, Colorado, was commissioned to design the new buildings. The interior was to conform to the classic opera house formula, including opera boxes. The interior decorations by desiner F. Mayer were a rough approximation of the 18th century ornate rococo style so much in vogue in Europe during the 1800s. Early support for the construction wavered and at one point the entire city council had to flee to Trinidad to escape arrest. Despite political hardships, the cornerstone was finally laid on August 20, 1914, and was completed by 1915 at a final cost of $55,000.

When Dr. Shuler died in 1919, the city council passed the resolution:
Whereas the erection and completion of the municipal auditorium, which has been a source of such delight to the inhabitants of this city, is a monument to the forethought, idealsim, zeal, and energy of the late mayor, J.J. Shuler, under whose leadership the purpose of the people was accomplished; Now, therefore, in recognition of such services, be it resolved that the said municipal auditorium be hereafter known and designated on the records of the city as the Shuler Auditorium.
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