Carmen De Soto Vasquez and the Legacy She Left in Tucson

 | October 24, 2022

Image courtesy of Nuestro Stories.

The Vasquez family left a lasting legacy along the landscape of Tucson, Arizona; but one of the most significant pieces was created by the matriarch of the family, Carmen de Soto Vasquez. 

Carmen, the wife of Ricardo Vasquez, whose family purchased the land from Leopoldo Carillo in 1853, Carmen was gifted the land by her husband in 1914. 

By 1915, El Teatro Carmen was born. 

Carmen de Soto Vasquez designed El Teatro Carmen as a cultural hub for theater, arts, and music and a community gathering space where people in the area could feel comfortable — and safe — to participate in cultural celebrations. 

The theater, one of the first in Tucson to present dramatic plays entirely in Spanish, opened on May 20, 1915, with the play Cerebro y Corazon by Farias Isassi. 

In an area where nightlife entertainment centered mostly on silent films, operas, or plays mainly in English, El Teatro Carmen made a huge and direct impact on the acceptance of non-English-centered arts in Arizona. Over time, it expanded to include a cinema, boxing arena, and ballroom. 

While the building still bears Carmen’s name, she sold the building in 1926. It then became the home to the Elks-Pilgrim Rest Lodge #601, an all-Black Elks club, from 1937 to 1986. 

The building was sold in the 90s to Kelley Rollings, who had always planned to restore the building but passed before he had the chance. Since then, the building sat vacantly, used mostly as storage for the relics and artifacts left behind, until 2021, when Stratford Art Works, Inc. purchased the space to restore it to a full venue in honor of Carmen’s original work in the area. 

The space, having sat without major repairs for many years, will require a nearly complete restoration of the building before being able to open to the public.

Fun facts: 

  • The building is not yet open to the public, but the historic site can still be seen and photographed from the outside.
  • The area surrounding El Teatro Carmen is a historic Chicano district, so visit, even if the venue isn’t open yet. There is plenty to see!

Location: Tucson, AZ.

Address: 380 S Meyer Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701.

You can visit El Teatro Carmen here.

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