On Saturday, June 9th, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument celebrated the grand opening of a new visitor center theater and the premiere of a new high definition surround sound film, Casa Grande: House of Many Stories.
The public was welcomed to an open house from 1 to 5 p.m., with hourly showings of the new 22 minute film, performances by traditional O’odham Desert Butterfly Dancers, and complementary samples of native foods and beverages in the visitor center courtyard provided by Ramona Farms and Western National Parks Association.
Nagaki Design Build Associates designed and constructed the monument’s theater/multi-purpose room as an addition to the existing visitor center, using innovative rammed earth technology. The modern structure maintains a thousand year tradition of earthen architecture at the site, beginning with the Casa Grande itself and surrounding structures which were constructed in courses of hand-worked caliche mud. The monument’s historic administrative buildings and visitor center are also earthen structures, constructed of adobe in the 1930s. Arizona State Historic Preservation Officer James Garrison spoke at the grand opening ceremonies and congratulated the monument on the design and construction of the theater addition.
The new theater/multi-purpose room will seat approximately 80 people for viewing the monument’s film. It will also serve as a venue for special events, performances, and presentations and will accommodate school group activities. For the first time, the monument will have sufficient theater space to welcome entire bus loads of visitors who come on private and commercial tours. Several architectural and artistic features of the auditorium are designed to stimulate interest in the art and culture of the ancestral people of the Sonoran Desert and their modern day descendants.
The title of the monument’s new film, Casa Grande: House of Many Stories, expresses the multiple perspectives that contribute to understanding the site’s importance. Native Americans who are traditionally associated with the monument consider it a sacred place. Archeologists, other scientists, and preservationists are fascinated by the abundant material culture found at the site and the information it conveys about the sophistication of the ancient people who built it. Great Divide Pictures producer Chris Wheeler conveys all of this with spectacular photography and a narrative derived from interviews with people intimately associated with the site.
The grand opening of the new theater and the film premier mark an important transition in the way visitors experience the monument. Not only is the monument able to accommodate larger groups of visitors, but visitors will now have opportunity to learn about the place from a variety of perspectives, including those of members of several American Indian tribes who are among the living descendants of the Sonoran Desert people who built the multi-story ‘Great House’ and the ruins of other ancient structures over 800 years ago.