Cine El Rey Theatre has brought entertainment in many forms to South Texas during times when it mattered the most. When it first opened its doors more than 75 years ago, it was during a time when Mexican residents didn’t have access to watch movies in their own language.
Through the years, Cine El Rey has gone from opening as a popular theater during Mexico’s Golden Age of cinema, to, for a period, being a dollar theater, and at another point it was a church. Cine El Rey’s stage has also been the stepping stone that launched several careers for musicians, filmmakers, and comedians; it is an entertainment hub in the RGV.
“You have people walk in and get emotional,” said Cine El Rey owner Bert Guerra, who bought the theater with his brother Isaac Guerra in 2007. “This was their social media at the time. This was the spot where they had their first kiss, first date, all of that.
“It takes people back in time.”
Cine El Rey opened in May of 1947 at a time when McAllen and the rest of the region were largely segregated. The south side of the train tracks was for the Hispanic community, and that is where Cine El Rey thrived.
At that time, it was rare to have the opportunity to see your favorite Latin American actors on the silver screen, but Cine El Rey was the place for the community to watch the latest films starring actors like German Valdes ( known as Tin Tan) and Cantinflas. It made Mexican cinema accessible to everyone.
In its 75 years, it has gone from being a theater that opened for just one sector of the community, to now welcoming people from all walks of life and interests.
The theater now opens its doors to comedians and filmmakers, wrestlers, and musicians — some of whom are taking the stage for the first time.
“It’s like the Apollo for the Valley,” Bert Guerra said. “The biggest thing that it gives people is inspiration. That’s the biggest gift it has given.”
The space has evolved over the years, and it makes room for shows that pique just about everyone’s interest. There is no genre at Cine El Rey; it’s open to everyone.
In the early 2000s, Cine El Rey was registered in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2020, during the height of COVID-19, venues like Cine El Rey were affected, but managed to find economic relief through assistance programs such as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.
The Historic Cine El Rey Theatre Foundation is a nonprofit that Bert and his family created that raises money to support other community events hosted by the theater.
“This place takes people back in time, and then you have the new people who have a new claim to it,” said Bert. “It’s like anything else. It’s generational, and it’s been around for so long. Everybody has their own take on it.”