Ruined by the foreshocks of the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, this once-grand neoclassical theater serves as a permanent reminder of the seismic threats constantly haunting Chile.
After just 25 years as a performance venue, the Enrique Molina Theatre was destroyed by a series of four devastating earthquakes in May 1960, which unleashed a quarter of the 20th century’s total global seismic energy on Southern Chile in just 33 hours.
The three Concepción quakes—which measured up to a magnitude 8.3—were shortly followed by the record-breaking magnitude 9.6 Valdivia earthquake. The catastrophic rumblings reduced a third of Concepción’s buildings to no more than ruins and rubble. The Enrique Molina Theatre ruins are a sobering relic of this natural disaster.
The once-grand neoclassical theater was meant to be an architectural and cultural treasure, until nature made other plans for its fate. It was named after the co-founder of The University of Concepción, Enrique Molina Garmendia. It was originally intended as a college theater for another of Molina Garmendia’s educational enterprises, the Concepción Men’s College (Liceo de Hombres de Concepción).
A movement to salvage the grand theater gained support during the beginning of the 21st century. An architect was chosen, and local government funding for the restoration was secured in 2009, a year which saw the ruins declared a National Historical Monument. Sadly, in 2010, a magnitude 8.8 earthquake shook Concepción again, causing further damage to the already precarious edifice. Municipal funds for the theater’s reconstruction were redirected elsewhere after the 2010 earthquake, leaving a once-beautiful theatre in a state of poetic decay at the heart of Chile’s quake-prone second city.