There is something so sad to me about old, vacant theaters. If you've ever been to downtown Los Angeles and the Broadway Theater District, you know what I'm talking about. Nothing but beautiful old marquees touting Iglesia Universal or swap meets. Some of the grand old palaces still exist in various forms, but most are long gone and totally forgotten.
Oxnard is in the same boat. While none of the old theaters in Oxnard can match the lavishness of the long lost Los Angeles theaters, it's still sad to see them gone, sitting completely empty or in the case of the Vogue Theater on 6th, replaced by what seems to be a mini-mart.
But few theaters are immortalized the same way that the Teatro (Boulevard) Theatre on Oxnard Boulevard has been. The Teatro was, in it's heyday, one of the main sources of entertainment for the Spanish speaking masses of Oxnard showing Mexican cinema until it closed in 1993. Since then, the theater has hosted a range of businesses including the previously mentioned Iglesia Universal (they love these old theaters) and the inevitable swap meet.
But, for a very short time - too short if you ask me - The Teatro was home to producer Daniel Lanois' El Teatro Studios. He turned the theater into a recording studio and worked on a handful of the late 90's, early 2000's more interesting works there, including Bob Dylan's comeback album "Time Out of Mind" and U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind".
In 1998, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris came to Oxnard to record "Teatro", Nelson's followup to his album "Spirit" and to Harris' "Wrecking Ball". The result is an atmospheric, spare, yet beautiful album that sounds like it was recorded in a very dark, very secluded, very old theater somewhere in Mexico. In fact, most people assume that the namesake of the album is somewhere in Mexico. It just sounds like Nelson, Harris and Lanois went on a journey into the frontier by themselves and found a place to record their album on their own terms and without interference. Instead, they did it in secret on the main thoroughfare of little old unassuming Oxnard.
In many ways, the theater is the star of the show. Not only because the theater appears on the cover, but because I don't know if the album could have achieved the same feeling or the artists the same inspiration without an abandoned ex-Mexican movie house as a backdrop. It really was a case of the right place for the right people at the right time.
Sadly, Lanois packed up El Teatro Studios sometime around the turn of the century and moved to Silver Lake in Los Angeles and the Teatro has sat more or less vacant ever since. But at least it had it's one moment that will forever live on in the annals of real country music.