The Saenger Theatre is a theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Once the flagship of Julian and Abe Saenger's theatre empire, today it is one of only a handful of Saenger movie palaces that remain.
The Saenger Theatre opened on February 4
. The 4,000-seat theatre took three years to build and cost $2.5 million. Its opening prompted thousands to parade along Canal Street
. The top ticket price was 65 cents, and the bill for each performance included a silent movie and stage play (produced by the Paramount Publix Corporation
), and music from the Saenger Grand Orchestra .
In 1929, Julian Saenger sold the theatre to Paramount Publix, which continued to operate the theatre successfully throughout the Great Depression. In 1933 Paramount Publix converted the theatre to "talking pictures" only.
In 1964, ABC Interstate Theatres turned the Saenger into a piggyback theatre, building a wall in front of the balcony to divide the larger space into two smaller theatres. The upstairs theatre was known as the Saenger Orleans.
On September 29, 1977 the theatre was designated a historic landmark by the New Orleans Landmark Commission. That December it was added to the National Register of Historic Places .
Architecture and design
Architect Emile Weil designed the interior of the theatre to recall an Italian Baroque
courtyard. Weil installed 150 lights in the ceiling of the theatre, arranged in the shape of constellations
of the night sky. The theatre also employed special effects
machines to project images of moving clouds, sunrises, and sunsets across the theatre's interior.
When the theatre opened, its orchestra included a 778-pipe Robert Morton Organ - the largest instrument the legendary Robert Morton Organ Company ever built, and the prototype for the company's "Wonder Organ" line. It was designed specifically for the acoustics of the Saenger Theatre, and is one of the few Robert Morgan organs in the United States still in its original installation position.
In 1978, the Saenger Theatre was sold for slightly more than $1 million to E.B. Breazeale, who then spent an additional $3 million (with co-investors Zev Bufman and Barry Mendelson) renovating it into a performing arts center. Pace Management also invested in the renovation and was hired to run the theatre.
The Saenger Theatre reopened in 1980 with a reduced seating capacity of 2,800. Johnny Carson made a gala performance at the theatre's grand reopening. Then, in 1985, the management team of the theatre formed a joint venture with 50 limited partners to purchase the theatre from Breazeale.
In the summer of 2002, the Saenger Theatre returned to its cinematic roots and showed three classic movies (Some Like It Hot, The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind) in celebration of its 75th anniversary. Since then, the Summer Classic Movie series had been an annual event every June.
When Hurricane Katrina
hit New Orleans in 2005, the Saenger Theatre suffered significant water damage
. As of May 2008 it has not yet reopened. The water line went approximately a foot above stage level, filling the basement and orchestra seating area. The vintage Robert Morton Wonder Organ was at stage level and suffered some damage. The administrative offices of the theatre and the box office
on Rampart Street suffered extensive water damage. Photos taken immediately after Katrina often show the Canal Street marquee
damaged, however in fact the staff of the theatre had removed the acrylic glass
and other materials which could become "flying debris" during such a storm.
At the time of Katrina, the Saenger Theatre was in the middle of a major renovation. Work had begun on repairs to the interior theatre ceiling, and all carpeting and seating had been removed in anticipation of being replaced.