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Lea Theatre

2004 Photo from the Scott Neff collection
106 E Central Ave
Lovington NM 88260
(505) 396-5594

National Register 2007
Record #1510  
 Opened: 1948
Capacity: 885 seats
Architectural Style(s):
National Register: 2007
Current Organ: none
 Also Known As:
 Previously operated by: Commonwealth Theatres

Information for this tour was contributed by Tom Drake.

Lovington welcomed the opening of the Lea Theater with a parade that ended with live performances and speeches given from the new theater’s stage. Although the town had several small theaters dating from as early in 1910, its boom and bust economy had stagnated until oil fields were developed nearby in the 1940s.

The Lea Theater opened in 1948 as “one of the finest, small-city movie houses in the United States” its boosters proclaimed. In stark contrast to the surrounding buildings that line the courthouse square, the Lea’s modern touches made it a stand-out.

Built by the R.E. Griffith Theaters, Inc., a regional theater chain based in Dallas, business boomed at the Lea through the 1950s. The town’s population nearly doubled after the discovery of oil nearby at the South Lovington Pool. The Lea, like many of New Mexico’s theaters, hosted numerous civic events and even a Mrs. America contest where women were judged on appearance, homemaking abilities and poise.

The theater changed hands in the 1960s and went dark in the late 1980s. Reopened after an extensive restoration in 1991 by the Joy family, it won the New Mexico MainStreet “Best Building” award in 1997. The Lea County Museum, which operates from a hotel listed in the State Register, shows old films at the Lea.

 Photos remain the property of the Member and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the Member.

June 2004 photos from the Scott Neff collection.

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Last featured 12/9/2004. Last edited 11/26/2009.

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