Save the Soleri Santa Fe Theater!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Santa Fe authorities and the All Indian Pueblo Council are battling over the fate of the "Paolo," as Soleri's 1964 amphitheater is known. (Photography by Raffaele Elba )

An earth-formed concrete amphitheater designed by Paolo Soleri may be demolished later this summer. One of only a handful of structures built by Soleri, the open-air theater (known as the “Paolo”) is on the campus of the Santa Fe Indian School, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The school commissioned Soleri to design the theater in 1964, and though it has been used for graduations and concerts since that time, the school now believes that it costs too much to maintain, and says it brings drunken crowds onto the campus during events.

Built using student labor from the school, the structure was designed to “frame the sun and the moon,” and operate like an Elizabethan theater with bridges and ramps that allow performers to access various levels above, below, and behind the stage. A dramatically arched form over the stage covers the principal performance area, and according to Soleri was created of “trenched earth that captures the shape and consistency of the earth itself.”

On June 11, New Mexico’s Cultural Properties Review Committee urged the school to rethink its plans to raze the structure, and the Santa Fe City Council has also called for the theater’s salvation. Soleri, who will turn 91 on June 21, has been rallying admirers of the earthen structure, noting in a statement, “I am willing to do anything to support the preservation of the theater.” His Cosanti Foundation is working with a variety of organizations to prevent its demolition, as well as raising funds to help the theater continue to serve the Santa Fe Indian School students and the broader Santa Fe community.

Update: Soleri advocate Conrad Skinner sends this note:

The Paolo received a reprieve July 19 when Everett Chavez, SFIS Superintendent responded positively to an offer of help by New Mexico Senators Udall and Bingaman.  A core of preservation advocates, including Indian School alumni, have worked out the petition linked below in the belief that we must not sit on our hands but urge the stakeholders and the purse-holders to join in establishing funding and a working relationship to ensure this unique venue’s future. Funding is crucial;  the Paolo lies on sovereign Indian land where most monies come through Federal appropriations.

Please read our online petition and, if you agree with our position, add your signature and send the link to your friends, colleagues and students.

The space opens onto the wide New Mexico sky.

Behind the stage.

16 Responses to “Save the Soleri Santa Fe Theater!”

  1. Melanie Shelor says:

    Dry air, burnt sky, storm clouds and twilight, surrounded by great music and otherworldly forms: attending a concert here is a sensational experience. This venue is a place, not one to behold but one to be in and to be used and abused and loved again. I can’t think of many places with those qualities.

  2. Bill says:

    I visited the amphitheater several years ago and found it a unique and exciting place to be in-even when it was not being used as a theater. It must be saved, preserved and used by the school and community.

  3. J. Spencer says:

    Definitely worth saving. There are many lessons to be learned .

  4. D. Covert says:

    Here is the Latest video from the Cosanti Foundation 6/17/10

  5. Conrad Skinner says:

    Here’s a brief article on the history of the Paolo with a suggestion for its resurrection.

    Please visit the Save the Santa Fe Indian School Paolo Soleri Facebook page and show your support for the Indian School alumni and friends working to save this building which should have landmark status.

  6. Modern Phoenix says:

    We at Modern Phoenix find this suggestion to be antithetical to everything Soleri and the green movement stands for. Please visit for a total portal of recent news, photos, videos, whom to write to, and activism graphics.

  7. Bill says:

    Modern Phoenix,

    What “suggestion is antithetical to everything Solari stands for?”

  8. D. Covert says:

    Why not save the the theater and build it into the new design. If anyone knows what their plans are for the property please post. It seems to be a big dark secret.

  9. J says:

    why is the theater being blamed for drunks? Obviously, logic is not taught at the school.

  10. J says:

    why is the theater being blamed for drunks? Obviously, logic is not taught there

  11. J says:

    why is the theater being blamed for drunks? Obviously, logic is not taught there.

  12. Gess Healey says:

    I loved attending concerts at the Paolo Soleri amphitheater. Does anyone else remember the Rainbow Warrior festivals featured there? I went in 1991 & ’92. I remember Kitaro, Hugh Masakela, a dancer from Thailand, etc. Who were the guys on last with ostrich feathered headdresses that invited us ( in the audience) to join them on stage?

  13. Gess Healey says:

    I loved the Paola Soleri amphitheater. Does anyone remember the Rainbow Warrior Festival that went on there? I went in 1991 & ’92. Who were the guys at the end of the night with ostrich feathered headdresses? They invited us to come on stage and dance with them. Those festivals were examples of multicultural awakening. Celebrating diversity at it’s best!

  14. Patrick Quintana says:

    The Paolo Soleri is an important piece of cultural history in New Mexico. I have many memories of the Paolo. I live four hours from Santa Fe… but over the last 28 years if there was a musical act I wanted to see, I would gladly drive it. The Paolo is one of the few places where the venue is part of the show. Any seat is a good seat, and the place has as much personality as any of the bands I’ve seen there. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, The Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Yes, Alan Parsons, The Black Crowes, Derek Trucks, The Neville Brothers…the list goes on. I can tell you that these shows wouldn’t have been as enjoyable or memorable anywhere else. I really hope the Paolo can be saved. If not, I can genuinely say it will be a sad loss.

  15. Conrad Skinner says:

    The Paolo has won a reprieve but it’s a long way from being “saved”. Please read and sign this petition if you’re in favor of moving ahead to the next step – cooperation between its owners and the New Mexico Senators.

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