Border Theatre

Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022 Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022

Archival photograph of the Border Theatre. Source: Frances Isbell Collection, ELIBR-0053. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Edinburg Campus.

Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022

Archival photograph of the Border Theatre. Source: Frances Isbell Collection, ELIBR-0053. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Edinburg Campus. 

Mission Landmark

The Border Theater is located at 905 N Conway Ave in Mission, TX. It was designed by Dallas Architect William J. Moore Jr. in the Pueblo Moderne or Pueblo Revival style.

The facade features a stucco exterior, faux vigas spaced across the facade below the roofline, and heavy wooden lintels. Its distinctive ornamentation stands out among the more common Spanish Colonial Revival style of the area.

It was recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1997 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Inside the Theater

The Border Theatre remains nearly the same inside and outside as when it was constructed in 1942. The two-story movie theater was designed to seat over 700 people and was one of the first to offer central air-conditioning. 

The theater also features two large murals on the side walls of the theater. The original murals depicted scenes of "pioneer days" and were painted in 1942 by artist E. Risser of the Dallas. New murals were painted during the theatre's renovation in the 1990s.

Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022

One of the theeatre's original projectors. It was manufactured by Peerless Magnarc and appears to be from the 1920s. View a three-dimensional representation online via Movie Projector. Source: The Border Theater, 1990-1995, Container: 53, Box: 6, Folder: 39. Frances Isbell Collection, ELIBR-0053. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Edinburg Campus. 

Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022

R.N. Smith and George Holliday prior to opening night. George Holliday was the general contractor in charge of the Border Theater. Source: The Mission Times. The Border Theater, 1990-1995, Container: 53, Box: 6, Folder: 39. Frances Isbell Collection, ELIBR-0053. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Edinburg Campus. 

Smiths, Longs, & Peñas

The Border Theatre was originally opened on April 3, 1942 by brothers Robert N. and Dell Smith—their fifth theater to be opened in South Texas. The theatre thrived amid a period of economic prosperity in the Rio Grande Valley fostered by local training facilities for America's armed services during World War II. It provided entertainment for soldiers stationed at nearby Moore Army Air Corps Field as well as the citizens of Mission. 

The theatre was purchased in 1978 and later sold at auction for $71,000 to Bill and Gen Long. In dire need of renovation, the theater was subsequently repaired and reopened in 1993 as popular venue for the performing arts and special screenings.

Roberto and Jeannie Peña met and worked at the Border Theatre as teenagers. Jeannie's father was the projectionist, and she ran the concessions while Roberto worked as an usher. And, in 2001, the Peñas became the new owners. The couple improved the seating and sound but have been compelled to preseve the original cultural heritage of the theatre.

More than Movies

The Border Theatre's opening night movie "The Heart of the Rio Grande" featured the legendary cowboy actor Gene Autry. Western were a recurrent and popular theme among mid-20th century moviegoers.

The theatre continued to show first-run films until 2007 when it was relegated to sub-run movies so as not to compete with the local multi-plex theater. More recently the theatre serves as a venue for the performing arts while also hosting special events and film screenings.

The Border Theatre was originally designed as a multi-use facility. The two story northern portion of the building is a separate commercial space with large display windows and a door at an angle to the street. 

The building originally housed the theater, offices, a clinic, two stores, and two apartments. Employees of the Border Theater used the offices and apartments in the building, and the other spaces were leased to local businesses and professionals. Bootmakers, barbers, physicians, and more have occuppied office and retail space at the Border Theatre.

Border Theatre