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The Crosby Theatre at the Santa Fe Opera

By Edith Cherry and James See – May 20, 2022

Address: 301 Opera Drive, Santa Fe, NM  87506-2823
Access: 505-986-5900 or 800-280-4654;   Website

#1 Image EC_DSC0897 copy

The Crosby Theatre, performance venue for the Santa Fe Opera, is an open-air theatre with a unique roof structure. Another unique feature is that sunsets and summer storms can be viewed through the opening in the rear of the stage.

Performance of Don Giovanni. © Ken Howard / Photo courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera

The original theatre, built in 1957, held 480 seats. It was located on a west-facing basin selected for its acoustical properties and the views of the valley below. In 1967, a fire destroyed the theatre, but it was rebuilt in 1968, to accommodate 1,889 patrons. This original site remains the location of the current Crosby Theatre. The building underwent significant reconstruction beginning in 1997 after the opera season.  Extensive planning preceded the demolition so that the theatre would be ready by July 1998, a short 10-month construction period.  The new theatre seats 2,128 patrons.

#3 Crosby Theater Roof Dwg.
Sketch by Edie Cherry based on Nordenson’s Drawings

The design of the new roof met many challenges:  (1) be much larger to cover an increased seat count; (2) light-weight enough to reuse the existing columns to avoid time-consuming construction of new footings and column replacement; (3) be made of components that can be pre-fabricated off site and brought on site after the summer season; then assembled during the winter of 1997-98; and (4) have the necessary acoustical properties to support operatic performances.

The solution has three basic systems: the existing columns; the roof plane with an internal steel frame; and the upper rigging that rests on the columns and holds up the extensively cantilevered edges. The new balcony roof also uses masts and cables to support that portion of the structure. The two roofs are connected with a clerestory.  The lower surfaces of the roofs are detailed to provide the required acoustical performance.  Wind and rain baffles, that resemble paper lanterns, were added to the south side of the auditorium seating.

#6 Interior SFO_Dune Alford copy
© Dune Alford / Photo courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera  

Original Completed: 1957
Architect: John W. McHugh and Van Dorn Hooker
Acoustical Engineer: Bolt, Beranek, and Newman
Contractor: *seeking info

1968 Theatre Architects:  McHugh and Kidder Architects
Contractor: *seeking info

Renovation Completed: 1998
Architects: Polshek Partnership Architects, LLP
Executive Architects: *seeking info
Structural Engineers:  Ove Arup & Partners
Contractor: *seeking info

Awards:  New York American Institute of Architects Design Award (1998)

Special thanks to Emily Doyle Moore, Director of Media & Public Relations, Santa Fe Opera, for her assistance on this post.


Learn More:

Guy Nordenson and Associates:  Nordenson was principal structural engineer in charge of the 1998 renovation roof design and now has his own firm:  Website   This website has very good photos of the structural construction process and a drawing of the steel framing of the roof.

Polshek Partnership Architects is now Ennead Architects: Website

Review at World Architects: Website






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