Saenger Theatre

143 N. Rampart Street,
New Orleans, LA 70112

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jazzland on September 12, 2006 at 2:07 pm

The Loew’s State was entered from the Canal Street entrance or the Rampart Street entrance. The upper balcony was accessed from Rampart Street and was advertised as “The finest colored balcony in the South” as is visible in old photographs. There were ticket booths at each location until the end of segregation. The Saenger also had marquees and/or signage at Canal, Rampart, and Basin streets. The Saenger was completly segregated so there was no seperate entrance for African-Americans. I believe that the Saenger used the Canal Street entrance, where a freestanding ticket booth once stood, and the adjoining arcade as a holding area for patrons. The Rampart and Basin Street entrances served primarily as exits from the Grand Foyer. When the Saenger was piggy-back twinned in 1964, the Rampart Street entrance became the entrance for the Saenger Orleans (upstairs theatre). A ticket booth was installed at this entrance and an escalator was installed in the grand foyer to transport partons to the balcony foyer (former Art Salon). The Canal Street entrance no has not had a ticket booth since the theatre was restored in 1980.

jazzland on September 12, 2006 at 1:36 pm

I passed by the Saenger on 09-01-06. It is locked up tight and all the windows are covered to prevent people from looking in. It appears that nothing is going on. I must have been mistaken when I posted my comment on 06-27-06. The scaffolding that was present in the theatre may have been there prior to hurricane Katrina – there was restoration work going on before the storm. Does anyone know what’s going on with this theatre?

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 9, 2006 at 2:20 pm

I am glad to see restoration work underway. This is certainly one of America’s great theatres. In light of recent events, I might say something about the interchange above (taking place directly after the hurricane). I found it inappropriate to be talking about organs and theatres while large groups of people were still trapped between strips of submerged Interstate highway in New Orleans. I still do to be honest. But I probably could have expressed myself in a less explosive manner. Here’s hoping the Saenger, and the rest of New Orleans, experience a swift return to vitality.

kencmcintyre on September 9, 2006 at 2:12 pm

There was a debate on the Joy Theater page about whether the name was Joy or Joy’s. I think the Joy faction won. If you look at the 1963 photo, there is a business called Joy’s down the street from the theater, but I don’t believe that is the Joy theater.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on September 9, 2006 at 12:13 pm

Ken, excellent photo. The Saenger’s lobby (and the Loew’s State across the street) was a “T” shape with the main entrance on Canal and canopies and marquees on the sides. I’ve never known how those side doors were used: was there a ticket taker at all three locations? Were the sides only used as exit ways? These are not “orchestra foyer” doors so they’re not just emergeny exits. I’d love to hear from some former ushers or theatre employees who remember how the crowds were handled in the old days.

kencmcintyre on September 9, 2006 at 9:52 am

Here is a 1963 photo. Note the two entrances and marquees:

jazzland on June 27, 2006 at 5:32 am

I passed by the Saenger Theatre on 6-24-06 and looked through the stage loading door. There is scaffolding on both sides of the auditorium and a deck which completely blocks the view of the sky/ceiling. It appears that ceiling restoration is underway. The owners have been quiet about the hurricane Katrina repairs. Does anyone know the full scope of work that is being done? Who is the architect? Who is the contractor?

Bway on June 13, 2006 at 9:18 am

As someone pointed out in the State Palace section, you can also see the Orpheum on the left. FOUR theaters all in one shot!

Bway on June 13, 2006 at 8:56 am

This aerial view has the State, Saenger, and Joy all in one shot! You can click on the larger version to get in even closer. This must be pre-Katrina.

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Bway on June 8, 2006 at 8:48 am

Any current news of the repair of the Saenger?

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 1, 2006 at 5:27 pm

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Future of historic Orpheum Theater uncertain


NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Flyers for an Aug. 27, 2005, play still hang in the glass casings lining the facade of the historic Orpheum Theater, marking the day that Hurricane Katrina’s approach in the Gulf of Mexico brought this city’s arts community to a standstill.

Like dozens of performances slated for that Saturday, two days before the storm made landfall, the stage play Let Go and Let God had to be cancelled just hours before curtain time when city officials ordered a mandatory evacuation as Katrina barrelled toward the Gulf Coast.

The storm took out all four of New Orleans' major performing arts theatres, severely flooding two of its oldest – the Orpheum and the Saenger – both listed on the national registry of historic places.

But in the five months since Katrina, renovations have been underway at the Saenger, but recovery at the Orpheum has been all but stagnant. And the future of the 85-year-old theatre, which for years has served as home to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, is uncertain, said Jeff Montalbano, the theatre’s general manager.

Montalbano shook his head as he stood in the lobby that once gave way to an elegant performance hall with rich, burgundy-red carpeted aisles and ornate gold leafing on blue and white walls.

“I cried,” he said of when he first entered the theatre and saw the floodwater. He said it took more than three weeks to pump all the water out. “I thought we’d have some water damage, but nothing like this.”

Floodwater filled the theatre’s six-metre basement, wiping out all the electrical and mechanical equipment stored there, and water rose to more than a foot (0.3 metres) in the performance hall. The Orpheum’s original oak floors swelled and buckled and likely cannot be salvaged. The stage, which sat under water for weeks, will also have to be replaced, Montalbano said.

Walking on the dingy, now brownish-red carpet, he pointed out the paint flaking from the ceiling from weeks of moisture exposure and the hundreds of once-plush blue seats now almost entirely consumed by brownish-green mould.

Since the storm, only some cleanup has been done. And with no flood insurance, the owners aren’t sure how to pay the estimated $1.5 million to $2.5 million in damage, Montalbano said.

The owners, a group of private shareholders, bought the theatre in the late 1980s. Though they’re considering selling it, they’re committed to the city’s performing arts community and the LPO, the nation’s only full-time symphony owned and operated by its musicians, Montalbano said.

The city’s decreased population and uncertainty over how soon the economy will recover have made the idea of putting more money into the theatre a tough choice, he said. Roughly two-thirds of the city’s population is still living elsewhere.

More disheartening, Montalbano said, is that the Orpheum was gearing up for one of its best seasons in years. Tourist and convention business, which had taken a dive after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was finally rebounding. Besides its regular LPO concerts, the Orpheum had just hosted 30 acts for a Black Entertainment Television comedy series and a concert by Grammy-nominated Vancouver native Michael Buble.

“It was going to be a good year,” he said.

E.P. Miller, director of operations for the Saenger, said the theatre had limited flood coverage with its wind and rain policy, and raising the theatre’s electrical and mechanical equipment to higher ground will be expensive.

The Saenger’s basement flooded, as did its antique organ, which was used to provide “surround sound” during the 1920s silent movie era, Miller said. “It’s going to be a major cost just to get that back up and able to be played,” he said.

The Saenger’s decorative marble statues survived but will need to be cleaned, and the grand chandelier – original to the castle of Versailles in France – was also in good shape, he said. Tapestries, furniture and decorative plaster will need to be restored or replaced.

Robert Lyall, director of the New Orleans Opera Association, said damage to the city’s other major theatres – the Municipal Auditorium and Mahalia Jackson theatre – wasn’t as severe, and he expects them to be operational within the year.

Many in the performing arts community agree that using the city’s university theatres is a good alternative in the interim.

“We need to go back to the basics, and give the arts community something on a smaller scale to get it going again,” Montalbano said.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 1, 2006 at 5:25 pm

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City’s Landmarks Recovering
From Associated Press
February, 26 2006

Here’s the status of some of New Orleans' landmarks six months after Hurricane Katrina’s Aug. 29 landfall:

Louisiana Superdome: Closed until September. The NFL’s Saints plan to play the 2006 season in the city after playing home games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge, La., in 2005.

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center: Repairs of damage from the hurricane and its use as an evacuation center are expected to be finished in April. The center’s first post-hurricane event â€" a jewelry and gift trade show held in the city for 54 years â€" was staged this month.

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas: Remains closed, having lost most of its fish when generators failed. The Gulf and Caribbean exhibits are running again and have been restocked, but officials are still working to replace the rest of the aquarium’s collection. They hope to reopen this summer.

Jackson Square: One of the first places to get a thorough scrubbing and face-lift after Katrina, just before President Bush came in September to tell the nation the city would be rebuilt. The square is nearly what it was before Katrina: famous Cafe Du Monde is open, musicians ply the sidewalks, and tarot card readers and tour guides try to engage a shrunken pool of tourists.

Port of New Orleans: Shipping activity has reached pre-Katrina levels, but only the upriver portion â€" about 70% of the port’s facilities â€" is operational.

Fair Grounds Race Course: Closed to racing after heavy damage to its grandstands and clubhouse, it’s unknown when live racing will return. Track grounds will be used for this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in April and May.

New Orleans Museum of Art: Little damage to its building or its works of art, but damage to the overall city from hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused it to shut its doors for six months. The museum is scheduled to reopen this week. The museum’s outdoor sculpture garden, with footpaths meandering among more than 50 sculptures, reopened in December.

Theaters: Repairs are underway at the historic Saenger Theatre – New Orleans, which is expected to remain closed through 2006. Recovery at the 85-year-old Orpheum Theater in the Central Business District has stalled; it has $2.5 million in flood damage. Damage to the city’s other major theaters â€" the Municipal Auditorium and the Mahalia Jackson theater â€" wasn’t as severe. Those facilities are expected to be operational within the year.

Audubon Zoo: Sustained only minor damage, but lost significant revenue with an ensuing absence of tourists. For now, it’s open on weekends only. Zoo officials say they’re hoping to return to normal hours sometime in March.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport: Number of daily flights has dropped to 71 from 166 pre-Katrina. Another 20 flights are expected to begin by April 3.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 1, 2006 at 5:18 pm

Stage Business
Friday, February 24, 2006
David Cuthbert
Theater writer
Saenger status

Although work continues on restoring the storm-damaged Saenger Theatre, do not expect a “Broadway in New Orleans” series this fall.

That’s the word from Claudia Garofalo, the theater’s general manager. “Unfortunately, repairing a building like the Saenger is a long process,” she said. “It could take as much as 12 to 18 months.

“But we are committed to the work involved in stabilizing and maintaining the building,” she said. Thus far, all water and sludge have been removed from the Saenger; bad dry wall was torn out, along with any sections of carpet that remained. (When Katrina hit, most carpeting and all seating was gone as part of a refurbishing effort.)

“But the drying-out procedure is an ongoing one,” Garofalo said. “The good news is that we have a completely new roof. Our next step will be the greatest challenge: the electrical repair and upgrading that’s needed, and the air-conditioning. Then will come the painting and interior renovation.

“We are being very careful every step of the way, because the Saenger is a New Orleans treasure and a very important part of our city.”

jazzland on January 25, 2006 at 5:30 am

The Saenger Theatre was subdivided into two theatres in 1964 – The Saenger and The Saenger Orleans. At this time the vast majority of the antiques, statues, paintings, and chandeliers were sold at auction to finance the renovation. Because the stairs to the balcony are accessed from the orchestra foyer, an escalator was installed in the main lobby to speed patrons to the balcony foyer. In the 1960’s the Saenger Orleans was considered the finest theatre on Canal Street. Champagne was served at the concession stand and the theater had excellent sound and projection equipment. Sadly, prior to The Civil Rights Act, African Americans were not admitted to this theatre. The Loew’s State, located directly across Canal Street from the Saenger, had the finest segregated balcony of any of the downtown theatres.

YatPundit on January 17, 2006 at 7:52 am

*In 1964, its vast balcony was walled off and transformed into a second auditorium, known as the Saenger Orleans. *

I’m not so sure about that date. The balcony was walled off and turned into “Jim Crow” theater for blacks at least five earlier. It became truly a second screen in 1964, when the Civil Rights Act passed that year outlawed segregated public facilities.

Bway on December 27, 2005 at 6:09 am

The big problem in general for New Orleans' economy is that about $4.5 billion of it’s economy was tourism. Without the tourists, the city will suffer immensely. They have to get the tourists back. But they can’t get the tourists back until the city is in order. But how can you get the city in order when there’s no money coming in from the biggest provider of dollars to the city, tourists. It’s a double edged sword.
They showed one of the swamp tour guys on TV this morning, and they just reopened the tours, as “some” tourists are beginning to come in. His business is only about 2-3% of what it used to be. How can people survive on that?

GWaterman on December 26, 2005 at 8:05 pm

Any updates on what’s happening with the Saenger? I never played there, but I played the Mahalia Jackson thatre —– a graceless concrete ‘70’s civic hall, in Louis Armstrong Park. A visit to a googlemaps site in september showed that the hall had at least 4’ of water. While I can’t really care as much about the Mahalia Jackson as I do about an architectural gem like the Saenger, I do know that the two stagehands who worked for me, Kiki and John, normally worked at the Saenger. What will happen to the livelihoods of people like these guys? What is going on?

Bway on November 29, 2005 at 5:41 pm

Thank you Will for your comments. New Orleans was always a city I loved to visit, and I am sure it was sobering for your friend to see what the city looks like. I am sure it is just undescribable. I was there about a year and a half ago last, and was supposed to go this coming year, but of course that has been cancelled.
I hope to someday return, but I am sure it won’t be the same city I remember, or even a shadow of it. I can just picture the Joy and Saenger Theaters in my head from my walks down Canal St.
The Joy theater was in pretty sad shape even before this, I am sure now it is even worse (obviously), and unfortunately, since it was closed, no care is probably being given it now after this disaster. Who knows what is happening to the interior of that building as we speak.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on November 29, 2005 at 11:23 am

A friend was in the Saenger this last weekend. His report is that the water got about three feet above the stage. Everything below that level is ruined. The theatre’s mechanicals (heating/air conditioning, electrical, plumbing, etc) are beyond repair. The locking rail and rigging are in poor shape. ALL electrical systems will have to be replaced. The building itself is mostly intact though and there is still a plaster sky over the -smelly, sticky, grungy but stunningly handsome- auditorium.

The organ console, was brought to the top of its lift, but will have have to be replaced, as will the lift mechanism and the blower. However, the irreplaceable pipes, traps and chests are all intact.

The good news: an opening date is a long way off, but repair and cleaning of the Saenger is already taking place. It is somewhat ironic that the theatre was closed for renovation when the storms hit, so much of the theatre’s furnishings were not in the building during the flood. The restoration plans that had already been made are still valid and will help speed the building’s recovery.

In closing let me say that my friend was shaken to his core by what he saw of New Orleans. According to him, the loss is beyond comprehension or description: this beloved theatre survived but so much of the vibrant city has gone forever.

Patsy on September 22, 2005 at 10:23 am

Do you recall seeing any other theatre coverage on any other networks other than MSNBC?

Bway on September 22, 2005 at 9:59 am

I actually saw it w few days before that.

Patsy on September 22, 2005 at 6:58 am

Chuck: Thanks for this info and sorry I missed this MSNBC report. I’ve been watching alot of the coverage so am surprised that I didn’t see it. What time of day did they air that particular broadcast?

Patsy on September 21, 2005 at 7:52 pm

Does anyone know if this theatre sustained any Katrina damage?

Bway on September 12, 2005 at 6:44 am

I even saw that some bars were open on Bourbon St again, for the workers and residents remaining. It was nice to see some “normalacy”, even if by candlelight. I was impressed by how much they cleaned up already. I saw footage of by the Convention enter, and there were groups of people with brooms, chainsaws, bulldozers, and dumpsters cleaning up the mess. They were hoping to have much of the French QUarter and downtown clean by the end of this week.
Progress in all the mess finally taking shape.

joyfulness on September 11, 2005 at 8:59 pm

I am so glad the water is finally receding and people are able to start cleaning up and rebuilding!! I hope now the appropriate officials/persons will do what is necessary to prevent any future catastrophic flooding!

On CNN, MSNBC (etcetera), I’ve heard a lot of native New Orleans say that they will not return to the city. How very sad, but in certain aspects, understandable. Sometimes we are driven in directions we didn’t forsee.

The energy of New Orleans will be different.. changed. In a sense, after being “washed clean”, New Orleans will be a new city still with old, classic traditions. And the individuals that return, as well as the newcomers, will set a new pace of the city as they rebuild and build anew.

I didn’t say my thoughts as eloquently as they were intended in my head, but with all the thoughts and emotions wrapped up in EVERY aspect of the situation(s), the sense of awe, it is amazing how life plays out through time. I guess this is more on a philosophical note, stepping back, the “why”,.. the reasons, and purpose(s).. how amazing and thoroughly interesting everything really is.