Places that Matter

Teatro Puerto Rico (former)

Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Featured Mexican movies and Puerto Rican music
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Puerto Rican families in Mott Haven, Longwood and Hunts Point in the 1940s and 50s, flocked to the Teatro Puerto Rico. The theater was host to Spanish-language variety shows (variadades), always popular Mexican movies, and shows featuring la música jíbara--country music from the island that helped Puerto Ricans new to New York feel less isolated in the city. Audiences at El Teatro appreciated a little nostalgia, but they also wanted to stay in step. Latin music's greatest stars played here as well: Bobby Capó, Tito Rodríguez, Tito Puente, La Lupe, and others. Percussionist Benny Bonilla recalls the excitement: "We would come through the audience when they introduced us and walk to the stage wearing hats and rhumba shirts. I compare the place, in its enthusiasm, to the Paramount Theater in its heyday. There are spots that just seem to have a life in them." Teatro Puerto Rico also became the center of Spanish-language theatrical packaging called la farándula. The 2700-seat theater closed in the 1970s and then briefly reopened as a cinema in the 1980s before becoming a church.