Grand Opening of Saenger Theatre (1927)
On this day in 1927 the Saenger Theatre opened. Like any major event in the city, the theater’s opening was celebrated with a parade witnessed by thousands of people. The theater was the first of the Saenger Theatres built for Joseph Saenger and it cost 2.5 million dollars (in those days!). The theater had a 4000 person capacity. In these days viewers who paid 65 cents could view a silent film and a live action play, with music generated from a 2000 pipe organ, the largest organ made by the made by the Robert – Morgan Organ Company, which was specially designed for the Saenger Theatre.
The architect of this building was Emile Weil. The interior design is known as an atmospheric theater. Instead of sitting in a traditional stage setup, guests were transported to a wonderland resembling a garden or villa. This popular style included all effects designed to give the viewer the illusion of being outside: the ceiling was painted blue with small lights installed to resemble constellations of stars, decorations included birds, trees, and flowers. At the start of the play or movie, lights dimmed in red and gold, treating the viewer to a mini-sunset.
Just two years after it opened, the theater was sold to Paramount Publix Corporation who converted the theater to accommodate talking pictures that were becoming popular, and stopped live action plays altogether. In 1978 the theater was sold to E.B. Breazeale who converted it back to a theater for live action plays.
In 2002, the theater showed a few classic movies in remembrance of its glory days when movies were shown there daily. In 2005, flood waters from Hurricane Katrina flooded the ground floor of the building, and it took many years to complete the rebuilding as there were issues with financing such a large project. Because this building was deemed a National Landmark in 1970s, special considerations had to be made for the renovation process.
Finally, the Saenger Theatre reopened September 27, 2013 to much fanfare. Jerry Seinfeld held three sold out shows. The Saenger retook its place as one of New Orleans favorite venues for live events including comedy, Broadway productions and musical concerts.