Saenger Theatre

143 N. Rampart Street,
New Orleans, LA 70112

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Saenger Theatre on Rampart Street

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The Saenger Theatre in New Orleans was the flagship of several Saenger theaters throughout the South, and the New Orleans theater was the largest of them all, seating 3,400. Designed in an Atmospheric style by architect Emile Weil, the Saenger Theatre cost over $2.5 million to construct, and its opening in 1927 celebrated with a parade attended by thousands along Canal Street.

Its cavernous auditorium’s ceiling, like other Atmospheric style theaters, was painted dark blue, and sprinkled with constellations over which clouds drifted before a show began. Its side walls were designed to look like a Renaissance Italian villa’s courtyard, with plaster archways, doorways and statuary decorated with greenery.

The enormous proscenium arch was heavily decorated by plasterwork, coated with gilding, and in a cartouche in the arch’s center, a shield with the letter “S” in it, surrounded by a plaster wreath.

A large crystal chandelier hangs in the marble and gold filled main lobby, one of a dozen that once hung throughout the Saenger. However, to finance its upkeep and renovation over the years, the other eleven have since been sold off.

A Robert Morton Wonder Organ, built specifically for the theater, is still in its original position, and has been undergoing restoration since 1996.

Originally opened for motion pictures and live stage shows, the Saenger was sold just two years after it opened to the Paramount-Publix chain for just over $10 million. In 1964, its vast balcony was walled off and transformed into a second auditorium, known as the Saenger Orleans.

The theater was added to the New Orleans landmarks list in 1977, and later in the same year, was listed to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1978, the Saenger was closed and sold to E.B. Breazeale, who spent over $3 million (on top of the $1 million he paid for the theater) to transform the great movie palace into a performing arts venue. After nearly two years of meticulous restoration, the Saenger Theatre reopened, its seating capacity lowered to 2,736, appearing just as spectacular as it did when the Saenger brothers opened it nearly half a century earlier.

The Saenger Theatre is one of New Orleans' premiere venues for the performing arts, including Broadway shows, concerts and classic motion picture screenings.

The Saenger Theatre was closed by the Hurricane Katrina flooding of 2005, and is needed extensive repairs. In January, 2008, a deal was announced for a $38 million renovation of the theatre. However, restoration/renovation didn’t begin until January 2012. It reopened on September 27, 2013. The owner donated the theatre to the city but will operate the theatre.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 129 comments)

spectrum
spectrum on March 30, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Their official website is back up at http://thesaengertheatre.com/

Mostly it’s a place holder saying more details on the renovation will come soon and has links to their productions at Mahalia jackson theatre.

This article http://www.wdsu.com/r/27209846/detail.html

points out that the repairs still hasn’t started yet, as the legislature is working out an extension to the developer’s tax credits. They’re still hoping to have it reopened for the 2012-2013 season.

zephyr
zephyr on July 25, 2011 at 1:19 pm

The tax credits have been extended and signed into law by the Govenor. The developers are finalizing their financing. Work should begin in the fall

rivest266
rivest266 on August 12, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Saenger grand opening ad from July 23rd, 1964 has been uploaded to the photo page.

zephyr
zephyr on February 12, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Work began on restorig the Saenger in January. Since the renovation was announced, the budget has increased to over $50 million. The 1950’s marquee and other exteriotr signs have been removed. The stagehouse is currently being dismantled to make way for a new, state of the art, enlarged stage.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on October 28, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Here is an article about the progress being made on the restoration efforts, with pictures. Original chandeliers have been found, and there are hopes of eventually restoring the theater’s organ.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 22, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Grand reopening expected in September: prnewswire

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on September 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Architect describes the current renovation, which is not yet completed: Nola

zephyr
zephyr on September 27, 2013 at 4:27 pm

The Saenger opens tonight. I have been following the renovation closely. From the photographs on the internet and the site visits that I have made, I believe that the finished product is spectacular and far beyond my expectations.

zephyr
zephyr on October 3, 2013 at 2:08 am

I attended the Jerry Seinfeld performance at the Saenger Saturday night. The theatre is very beautiful. I have been going there since the mid 1960’s and it is more spectacular than it has been in the last 50 years. The exterior is restored and the marquees replicate the 1927 originals nicely. The reinstallation of the lights and trellis on the rampart street side building is also very nice. The vertical sign on Canal Street has not yet been installed but renderings of the sign indicate that it will be a faithful replication of the 1927 original. The most outstanding part of the restoration is the new paint scheme by Evergreen Architectural Arts. The painting, leafing (Dutch metal), glazing and faux finishes are beautifully executed. I seriously doubt that all of the color selections are based on the 1927 originals, but the overall effect is totally in keeping with what one would expect to see in a movie palace. Details that had long been buried under decades of paint are now vividly delineated. The ceiling of the arcade has had its stenciling restored, and three replicated chandeliers illuminate this room. In the auditorium, there are more stars than ever before in the Saenger sky. The original house draperies, seating, and decorative lighting have all been lovingly restored. Awnings once again adorn the windows of this Florentine courtyard, trees and vines drape the upper parts of the courtyard walls as clouds drift overhead. The only issues that I have with the restoration is that it is not finished. In the arcade, portions of the upper walls that originally had wall covering were blank white panels. The finishes on the lounge walls were not complete. Several light fixtures in the auditorium were not working. The soloist stage house left was not completely painted and the beveled mirror appeared to be missing. At the entrance to the second balcony, house right, a large plaster urn that had once graced the top of the wall was missing. Several pieces of plaster trellis that line the upper wall of the auditorium appear to have been cut off an not replaced. In fact, if you look closely you can see the inside of the end of the false trellis work where no attempt was even made to disguise the damage. Finally the profusion of oversized refreshment counters in the orchestra and mezzanine lobbies restricts pedestrian flow and generally diminishes the beautifully of the restored spaces.

With all of this to see, Jerry Seinfeld was a little superfluous.

spectrum
spectrum on November 5, 2013 at 1:14 am

A lot of nice photos, virtual tours and videos at the Saenger’s new official website (http://www.saengernola.com/).

The unofficial website (http://www.saengeramusements.com/theatres/nawlins/saenger/newosaeng.htm) has a lot of good historical photos and architectural renderings. Also links to pages about other Saenger-owned theatres.

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