STORIES OF THE MEXICAN PLAYERS
OUR MISSION is to advance, preserve and celebrate the historic, architectural, natural and cultural resources of our community through collaboration, education and advocacy.
The Documentary Project
Claremont Heritage is currently producing a documentary that will document the cross-cultural alliances that formed in Claremont during the 1930’s and 40’s and continue to this day. The stories of the Mexican Players weave a rich cultural history and narrative that needs to be told. We seek to raise awareness and bring new scholarship to the cultural history in our unique community.
Project underwriting is being sought from foundations, businesses, and individuals. All contributions go to Claremont Heritage, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, and they are fully tax-deductible.
Executive Director, Claremont Heritage
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PADUA HILLS THEATRE & MEXICAN PLAYERS
2017 marks 85 years since the Mexican Players first took stage at the Padua Hills Theatre, a small dinner theatre in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains above Claremont. The Padua Hills were named after the region in Italy that has similar physical characteristics. Herman and Bess Garner owned the land and commissioned the Theatre in 1930, designed by noted Pasadena architects Marston and Maybury.
The Padua Hills Theatre was the longest running theater in the United States to feature Mexican-theme musicals and was even featured by Walt Disney in The Three Caballeros movie, a result of the Good Neighbor Policy of 1933, an initiative to improve relations with the nations of Central and South America. Founded by Herman and Bess Garner, the Padua Hills Theatre operated under the Padua Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of intercultural understanding between European Americans and those of Mexican descent.
The Theatre opened in 1931 as a home for the Claremont Community Players who performed one-act British plays in a dinner theater atmosphere. The kitchen and wait staff was primarily composed of Mexican Americans who had moved to Claremont with their families who worked in the booming citrus industry. After a trip to Italy where the Garners experienced singing waiters and waitresses in a local restaurant, Bess Garner thought the concept might add to the atmosphere at the Padua Hills Theatre.
This was an immediate hit and the close association with the Community Players provided a constant stimulus, so finally the young people decided to experiment with acting, just for their own amusement. Mrs. Garner wrote in her journal the episode early in 1932 that gave impetus to the ideas of using these entertainers in regular plays. She related that one day the assistant chef was discovered in the kitchen “directing a particularly gory Spanish tragedy with a cast of every available bus boy, waitress and dishwasher.” This incident revealed the enthusiasm for acting and the undeniable talents of the group, and it prompted the Padua Hills management to consider channeling their energies in to a more suitable type of production, one which would combine acting with their wonderful abilities as musical entertainers.
As this idea developed, Mr. and Mrs. Garner had an inspiration which ultimately hastened the organization of the Mexican Players. Why not produce a musical play that would be an attraction for visitors from all over the world attending the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Performers for the Mexican Players were recruited from the Claremont barrios, particularly Arbol Verde, the East Barrio. Soon a troupe of singers and dancers were presenting plays, songs, and dances drawn from Mexican and indigenous Native American traditions.
The Theatre soon became a cross-cultural experience for millions of visitors who travelled along famous Route 66 for many years to come. The Mexican Players performed at the Padua Hills Theatre until 1974, and the theatre closed in the early 1980’s.
The Padua Hills Theatre is now owned by the City of Claremont and utilized as an event venue. Non profit organizations in Claremont are given a certain number of days each year to hold events at the theatre. Claremont Heritage will hold the premiere of the completed documentary at the Theatre and will include Folklorico Dancers and appearances by original Mexican Players.Help Fund the Stories of the Mexican Players Film