143 N. 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. Built in an Atmospheric style by Emile Weil, the Saenger 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 has been closed since the Hurricane Katrina flooding of 2005, and is needing 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. Reopening is expected in Fall of 2013. The owner donated the theatre to the city but will operate the theatre.
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