Did You Know: Mesa's Nile Theater Was Originally Cooled Using Huge Blocks Of Ice

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, June 5, 2015 - 2:49pm
Updated: Friday, June 5, 2015 - 3:03pm
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(Photo courtesy of Mesa Preservation Foundation)
The Nile Theater days before it's grand opening in 1924. The top floors were offices and the side establishments are stores. Theater owners often created other form of use for the venue to continuously generate income.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
Nile Theater in Mesa. Entrance is located in back alley area off of Main Street and Macdonald.

After World War I, entertainment venues began sprouting in cities across the country. Several right here in the Valley. One in particular is in Mesa and after 90 years it still exists.

On Main Street in downtown Mesa is an entertainment venue called the Nile Theater. This live-music spot has been there since the 1920s. Did you know the Nile Theater was among the first artificially cooled buildings in Mesa?

“This was a very expensive, innovative building in its time," said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation.

He said the building — which cost an estimated $150,000 to build — had a large box far back under the theater stage filled with huge blocks of ice. A fan behind it helped blow cool air through ventilation tunnels that led to small grills on the floor.    

“Yeah, this was very early and this very novel. Picture a big truck coming in dumping four, five, six tons of ice into this chamber," Linoff said.

The original entrance of the Nile Theater faced Main Street. Today, the space has been split into two areas, a small coffee shop in the front and the theater behind it.  To enter the theater, visitors have to walk around back to the alley. It is now an open square space with most parts of the room draped in black. Large ceiling fans help keep it cool.

The Nile Theater opened in 1924, when silent films were popular. It was a 600-seat theater with an orchestra pit and large stage. It was big enough to also host plays and other types of performances.

“When it opened, the grandest Wurlitzer Organ in the Valley at the time was installed in this theater," Linoff said.

Linoff said after World War II, like many other cities, Mesa began growing. New theaters were built farther away from its central area. The Nile Theater could no longer attract crowds and it closed in 1953.

The Nile Theatre then and now.

"When the theater failed, closed, all that was required was enclosing this space into a box, you wouldn’t of known there ever was a theater here," said Linoff.

The building has gone through many changes since it closed. The plaster ceiling and walls have been removed. Modern flooring now levels the sloped floor that made it a theater. The area where the stage once stood is now the entrance to the venue and the stage is on the opposite side.

But there are remnants of what was once here. The fly house, where the stage curtains and sceneries are pulled and stored, is still there — untouched.

And in the basement, tucked between the theater floor and the basement ceiling is a concrete box. It’s believed to by a cooling ventilation tunnel. It’s been filled with bricks for safety. During our visit, Linoff found that much of the 1920s building frame is intact.

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