It was built in the early 1830s and named Teatro Municipal but was eventually renamed after the well-loved and renowned Puerto Rican playwright, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera.
The project was spearheaded by Governor Miguel de la Torre, along with Government Secretary Pedro Tomas de Cordova. They raised money for the construction of the theater by imposing taxes on liquor and imported bread as well as by selling subscriptions to the seats in the theater. The remaining proceeds were used to establish the Seminario Conciliar.
The theater made its debut with a performance by husband and wife team, William and Ann Pearan. Famous opera singers, ballet dancers and performers have since graced its hallowed stage – including the renowned soprano, Adelina Patti, the ballerina Anna Pavlova and a number of others.
In the 1940s, the theater fell into grave disrepair because of neglect. The theater was almost torn down, but thanks to the efforts of Felisa Rincon, the city's former mayor, the theater was revived so that it continued to provide drama, theater and other cultural performances. She considered the theater a cultural gem that the country ought to preserve and she worked it out so that the theater was restored to its original glory.
It was again remodeled in 1987.
The city of San Juan recently celebrated 170 years of the theater's existence and mounted an exhibition entitled Tapia Theater Throughout History ('El Teatro Tapia en la historia 1832 – 2002'). The exhibition traces the history and development of theater in the Puerto Rican scene. The exhibition is composed of blueprints, costumes used during the performances, photos, portraits and other theater memorabilia. The exhibition had three parts – first, the building and specific aspects of its design and construction; second, the theatrical history of the country; and third, a display of the life and achievements of Alejandro Tapia y Rivera.
Today, the Teatro Tapia stands proud as a cultural monument that presents the wealth of Puerto Rico's culture and theater. There are still other cultural monuments in old San Juan that should form part of your cultural exploration of Puerto Rico – getting to know its art means getting to know the country, which is an exhilarating and enriching experience.