• September 21, 2021
 El Barrio Del Diablo: A Look Back at Life in the Projects – “Vamos al Cine”

El Cine Colon at 507 South El Paso Street, circa 1951. The theater’s marquee proudly displays “El Derecho de Nacer”, a huge hit in Mexico at the time. Under the movie title, “The Event of the Year”. A sizeable banner with the movie title also hangs under the theater’s marquee. Coming and going, crowds are shown leaving the theater after a matinee, and waiting in line around the block.

El Barrio Del Diablo: A Look Back at Life in the Projects – “Vamos al Cine”

From our apartment at 405 Webber Way next to Paisano Drive, my sisters, brother and I bussed it to theaters in downtown El Paso or to Juarez to the Cine Plaza and sometimes el Cine Variedades.

We enjoyed movies a lot and being the youngest, I never knew what I was in for. My parents liked Mexican movies so they would go to El Cine Colón.

Even though Disney’s Tres Caballeros animated musical was released in 1944, my parents and I saw it at El Colon featured in 1959. I was mesmerized by all the color and sound attacking my young senses.

I was big a fan of Donald Duck, but I thought Panchito the rooster was the coolest of the three. Jose Carioca (the parrot) and his cigar had me puzzled. I wasn’t used to seeing a smoking cartoon character.

But then, most cartoons back then were so politically incorrect. Case in point: Betty Boop, Screwy Squirrel. Wolf and Red is by far a Tex Avery classic. Also, anything from Popeye’s black and white era and the rascally rabbit Bugs Bunny toons from the 1940’s.

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Across the street from El Cine Colon a little further south, was another theater called Teatro Alcazar. Before moving to the El Diablo projects, my brother says we lived on Seventh Street by Armijo Park in a neighborhood called El Segundo Barrio.

I must’ve been five years old and barely remember some images in my fading mind of The Alacazar, known to many neighborhood kids as “el calcetin” The Sock – ’cause it was one smelly, stinky joint.

The Deadly Mantis 1957
The Deadly Mantis 1957
Batman and Robin 1950
Batman and Robin 1950
Jungle Jim 1955
Jungle Jim 1955

So why go there? First, it was cheap, and they showed the weekly Jungle Jim and Batman series!

It was there that my brother and I saw the kooky monster movie called “The Deadly Mantis” …so we put up with the stink.

Or maybe it was the terrible popcorn from the funky little machine in the so-called lobby that permeated the entire building.  It was a stripped-down, no-frills, neighborhood kid’s theater.

If we weren’t at a downtown El Paso theater like the Plaza, Capri, State, Palace or Crawford – that one faced Mesa St between Main and East Franklin, around the corner from the old Coney Island diner, we would go to Juarez to the other Plaza Theater.

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My mom Gregoria Rico Moreno with her youngest brother, our tio, Abelardo Moreno Gutierrez, in Juarez 1959.

And here’s where the story really begins…

My Tio Abelardo worked in the Cine Plaza offices that were located at the west end of the building.

He was in the archives department and wrote celebrity and entertainment articles for the local paper and the magazines that were distributed thoughout the state of Chihuahua.

A walking encyclopedia of of film and movie star trivia, he could recall the Oscars’ major category winners from 1945 through 1968. “Dime un año, y te las adevino!”, he’d tell us. Best film, director, actor, actress, supporting roles – you name it.

He was also a music aficionado, digging the 50’s R&B bands and albums, had a talent for calligraphy and drawing.

If I wasn’t with mis papas, I would be tagging along with my sisters and brother.

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Cine Plaza in Juarez, with a giant double marquee advertising a Joan Fontaine movie.

We’d walk around the Cine Plaza theater entrance to the side door that led into the offices.

Tio dropped whatever he was doing, greeted us with a big smile and chatted while coworkers pecked away on their typewriters.

After a few minutes he’d invite us in to see the latest feature. Obviously my sisters had planned the outing; the latest Elvis movie was playing, G.I.Blues. We had a good time watching a free movie and enjoyed the latest songs by the King.

elvisMom also liked the movies so her and I would also stop by to say hello to tio and stay for whatever flick was showing. We weren’t picky.

One time as they chatted, I walked over to the water cooler and had a nice cold drink. I overheard tio telling mom the theater was featuring a German film.

We walked in, took our seats and sure enough I could not understand one word. And the subtitles were in spanish so I struck out all the way around. Undeterred, I reached into a small toy store shopping bag I was carrying and brought out a plastic bottle of bubble soap.

With the wand in hand and as the film played, I blew bubbles into the the darkened theater. I watched the directionless spheres float in and out of the projector’s light…just over people’s heads, oblivious to the Unobserved Flying Objects.

Mom noticed but didn’t say a word – this foreign flick was way way over my head – like the dozens of bubbles I had sent on a journey to the ceiling.

The director of the Cine Plaza, Jose Calderon, had a chain of movie houses across Chihuahua and he met many celebrities that traveled throughout Mexico promoting their films.

On many occasions, a live performance would preface the film’s presentation. It was common for actors to appear on stage and delight thepic audiences with a song.

But for the Cine Plaza’s inauguration, Maria Felix, one of Mexico’s most popular actresses of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, met the director and signed an amazing portrait thanking him for selecting her film, “Enamorada“, for the theater’s inaugural presentation ( released in 1947 ).

After twenty years of service at the theater, my uncle retired, and Señor Calderon honored his dedication to the Plaza by presenting him with the signed and framed portrait of La Doña. My tio recalled Señor Caledron saying to him in front of his co-workers and staff, “I cannot think of anyone else that deserves this more than you do”.

Tio proudly owned the framed photograph for forty years. It also graced the living room in my mom’s house as if Maria was a relative.

The dedication signed by Señora Felix says, “Para mi buen amigo Jose Calderon, felicidandolo por haber seleccionado mi pelicula Enamorada para la inaugracion del teatro Plaza”, Maria Felix.

In June of 2015, Tio was very frail. I asked him if I could borrow the photograph to make a hi resolution copy of it. He said to me, “Has cuantas copias quieras”.

I bundled it up, still in the original wooden frame and made a stop at a reputable photo lab. The experienced rep was very impressed with the 16 x 20″ image, noting the stock used and the reference numbers on the reverse side. He said, “Its in excellent condition for its age” ( To date, the portrait is 70 years old ).

Unfortunately, no studio appears on the front to credit and I cannot locate a copy of it anywhere on the internet.

Tio passed away two months later, and I was deeply saddened. The great stories he related to me and family members – of familia, the Cine Plaza, Maria’s portrait and so many more, mean so much to me.

All I can do now is share with you the reader, this story of my tio and the image of Maria that coincides deeply with my remembrance of my Tio Abelardo.

A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor

Previous  columns HERE

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