History of the Fountain Theatre
The Fountain Theatre has entertained the residents of La Mesilla since 1905, when Albert Fountain Jr., son of Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain, bought the theater building. The Fountain family has been associated with Mesilla since 1873, when Colonel Fountain moved to Mesilla with his wife Mariana and their five children.
The oldest part of the theater building is the front wall, from the 1870s. The building and the apartments to the south were built on the site of Confederate barracks. In 1914 or 1917, Albert Jr., son of the Colonel, began painting the murals, which show his father entering the Mesilla Valley. He completed them in 1924, and they were touched up in the 1950s.
The Fountain family has been associated with Mesilla since 1873, when Colonel Fountain moved to Mesilla with his wife Mariana and their five children. In Mesilla, he worked as assistant district attorney and probate judge as well as a newspaper editor, founding, in 1877, the Mesilla Valley Independent and the Spanish edition El Independiente del Valle de la Mesilla.
The Colonel’s brother was Edward Jennings, the most prominent Shakespearean actor of the day, and in 1874 the Colonel founded the Mesilla Dramatic Association, rented a building on the northwest corner of the plaza, and renovated it with Albert Jr. This became the Mesilla Valley Opera House, featuring family theatricals and local talent. Albert Jr. created stage designs and painted sets with his father.
After buying the Fountain Theatre building in 1905, Albert Fountain Jr. began producing plays, vaudeville, light opera, and lantern slide shows. In 1912, he modified the building for films and changed the name to “Fountain of Pleasure.” Albert Jr. and his family supplied live music for the films.
Films were inter-titled in English, but the audience was Spanish-speaking, so Albert translated the cards into Spanish. According to some patrons who attended as children, Albert Jr. invariably added his own comments, opinions, or jokes. His son Henry ran the projector. There was no projection booth or permanent screen. The projector was not reliable so the musical accompanist would play and sing when the machine broke down.
The oldest part of the theater building is the front wall, dating from the 1870s. The building and the apartments to the south were built on the site of Confederate barracks. In 1914 or 1917, Albert Jr. began painting the interior murals, which show his father entering the Mesilla Valley. He completed them in 1924, and they were touched up in the 1950s.
The Fountain of Pleasure operated this way until 1929, when the building was sold to Vicente Guerra, who decided to show “talkies.” He wired the theater and installed projection and sound equipment. He also installed the first permanent screen and seats.
However, in 1938 Guerra was forced to relinquish the building in foreclosure. The bank sold the building to the highest bidder, Albert Fountain III. He screened only Spanish-language movies, presenting a play from time to time. The Fountain family presented motion pictures and live performances through the golden age of American talkies, until 1951. In 1951–1963, the building was used for storage or left vacant.
In 1963 or 1964, Arthur Fountain acquired the building from his father and lent it to the Las Cruces Community Theatre (LCCT) which presented live performances until 1977, when the LCCT moved to downtown Las Cruces.
In 1977, Arthur’s son Artie (fifth generation) began to show films and sometimes allowed the NMSU Theater Arts Department to stage plays. In 1989, he rented the building to the newly-formed Mesilla Valley Film Society (MVFS). The MVFS began screening American independent, foreign, and alternative film.
For a fascinating history of the Mesilla Valley in the late 1800s, read “Tularosa” by C. L. Sonnichsen