History of the Shuler Theater
Dr. J.J. Shuler, a surgeon for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad, served as the first medical doctor in Raton, New Mexico. He served as mayor of Raton from 1899-1902 and 1910-1919, and as President of the New Mexico Municipal League from 1911-1915.
As mayor, Dr. Shuler undertook a number of impressive projects, including development of a Raton city park, electric and water filtration plant, Raton Water Works, Raton Public Library, and the construction of the municipal auditorium which later came to bear his name.
The first production in the Shuler Theater was a national touring company show of The Red Rose, a Victorian musical comedy that opened April 27, 1915.
When Dr. Shuler died in 1919, the City Commission placed a plaque in the Shuler lobby with the following resolution:
“Whereas the erection and completion of the municipal auditorium, which has been a source of such delight to the inhabitants of this city, is a monument to the forethought, idealism, zeal, and energy of the late mayor, J.J. Shuler, under whose leadership the purpose of the people was accomplished; Now therefore, in recognition of such services, be it resolved that the said municipal auditorium be hereafter known and designated on the records of the city as the Shuler Auditorium.”
The daughter of Dr. J.J. Shuler, Miss Evlyn, was instrumental in the major undertaking of the restoration of the Shuler Theater beginning in the 1960’s.
Three of the Shuler’s original drop curtains survive and are still in use to this day – Ripley Park in Raton featuring the old Carnegie Library, a Roman palace setting framed by elaborate draperies, and most significantly, the original fire curtain depicting a scene from the Palisades of Cimarron against a background of American Indian motifs including swastika symbols painted on the folds of the curtain, which were an American Indian symbol of good luck.
The box seats situated on both sides of the stage have been restored and are in use today, sometimes as part of the performance area.
The Shuler lobby is the permanent home to eight WPA murals dating to 1934 by artist Manville Chapman. The murals show scenes depicting the history of Raton and the surrounding area from early settlements in the 1840’s through the era when the Shuler was built and into the 1920’s. The WPA murals are in outstanding condition and are maintained by a grant from the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.
Shuler Restoration Commission, Inc. (1974 – Present)
In 1974, the Shuler Restoration Commission, Inc., was formed as a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation to receive donations and grants for the ongoing restoration and maintenance work. All contributions are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated. Checks made payable to the Shuler Restoration Commission, Inc. can be sent to PO Box 638, Raton NM 87740.
The plaque designating the Shuler Theater as a Registered Cultural Property in New Mexico is also located in the lobby.