St. Charles Herald-Guide

Landmark to state culture set to re-open

Allen Lottinger - August 10, 2012

Behold, an old structure that has been a landmark to the cultural lives of southeast Louisiana citizens is being reconstructed. Before its closing several years ago, it was a centerpiece of theatrical art.

Work seems to be going full speed ahead on the Saenger Theatre on Canal Street in New Orleans. What started out as a movie theatre with stars in its sky became a center for performing art and especially the production of Broadway stage plays.

The Saenger Theatre opened on Feb. 4, 1927. The 4,000-seat theatre took three years to build and cost $2.5 million. Its opening prompted thousands to parade along Canal Street.

Architect Emile Weil designed the interior of the theatre to recall an Italian Baroque courtyard. He 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 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the Saenger suffered significant damage with flood waters approximately a foot above stage level, filling the basement and orchestra seating area. Fortunately it was in the middle of a major renovation, so all carpeting and seating had been removed in anticipation of being replaced.

The vintage Robert Morton Wonder Organ at stage level suffered some damage. The administrative offices of the theatre and the box office on Rampart Street suffered extensive water damage.

Reconstruction of the theatre is expected to be completed and ready for re-opening in late 2013. And then the much beloved Saengar will be ready to bring spectacular productions to southeast Louisiana once again in one of the most beautiful theatrical production centers in the country.