The economic growth of the 1920s in America brought with it a building boom of “movie palaces” across the nation. Theater attendance was the leading entertainment venue in America. The “Portola Theater” opened in August 1926 at 219 South Main Street, Portales. This theater was billed as one of the most up-to-date motion picture theaters in the state of New Mexico.
In May 1936, major renovations began on “The Portola” under the direction of manager Elbert Trapp. The rear of the building was extended 20 feet, new seats were installed, and the lobby was enlarged 7.5 feet. The building was now able to accommodate an audience of 500. The acoustics were improved by sound-proofing the ceiling; the projection room was fireproofed, and the office was moved upstairs to make room for a “men’s smoker” on one side of the box office and a women’s lounge on the other. The “V” marquee (still evident today) was added, as well as a vertical sign proclaiming the theater’s new name: “The Yam,” taking its name from the major agricultural crop produced in Roosevelt County at the time, sweet potatoes.
The Yam Movie Palace drew its distinction as an Art Deco building through its setbacks and stepped treatments that emphasize the geometric form of the building. By 1939, the theater was owned by Raymond Lunsford and managed by Marlin Butler. It remained a working theater and retained the name “The Yam” until circa 1963-1965.
“The Yam” Theatre has been a treasure in the Portales community for decades. In the 1990’s, the Portales MainStreet Program led the renewed effort to work toward renovating the theater and reopening it.
In 2002, through a generous private donation from Addie Peed Swearingen, the Portales MainStreet program purchased the theater. In 2006, MainStreet received funding through the City of Portales’ Local Economic Development Act Funds to purchase the adjacent buildings to the north and south of the theater. In 2006, the firm of TK Architects from Kansas was hired as the architect of record.
The renovation included new roof, flooring, bathrooms, firewall, framing, ceiling, electrical, lighting, HVAC, plumbing, walls, façade improvements, stage lighting and framing, sound equipment, and windows and doors. The facility includes a meeting room, office, storage room, lobby, ticket booth, dressing rooms, bathrooms, equipped concession area, patio, projection booth, and large multi-use space in the center theater.
The new three-building facility is available for rent for community and private functions through the partnership of Portales MainStreet and the City of Portales. In addition MainStreet has begun promoting events at the facility including a monthly community concert series. The building can be seen by appointment with the manager located at the Chamber.