Designed by architect Emile Weil and located in the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District, the Saenger Theatre once stood as the flagship of a vaunted venue chain that stretched throughout the South. This atmospheric movie palace, decorated to evoke an Italian Baroque courtyard, has played host to an unrivaled array of film screenings as well as musical and drama performances since its opening in 1927. The theatre, however, was nearly lost in 2015 when storm waters from Hurricane Katrina rose to eight feet above the stage.
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Within months, the venue’s owners formulated a recovery program and later engaged our team in a years-long effort that would model best practices in historic preservation by positioning a landmark civic structure as an anchor for urban renewal and economic growth. Guided by archival photos and working under the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings, the restoration of the theatre spans public arcades, foyers, lobbies, and the audience chamber. The façade, complete with decorative masonry, terracotta elements, sidewalk canopies, and wrought iron, was also restored. New marquees, poster boxes, and storefronts were designed and executed to mirror original elements.
The renovation also improves upon the overall patron experience by upgrading the seating lay-outs, acoustics, lighting, and front of house facilities. The theater’s carpet, drapes, wall, and seat coverings were reproduced by specialty fabricators and the historic, ornamental lighting was restored and reinstalled. Modifications required to accommodate handicap access and ensure building code compliance, were executed with minimum impact to the historic fabric of the venue. The project was funded by federal and state preservation tax credits, New Market tax credits, and state tax credit programs intended to foster the recovery of the cultural and entertainment arts.
New Orleans, LA
Arts, Culture & Education
Nearly lost to Hurricane Katrina when storm waters rose to eight feet above the stage, the Saenger Theatre now stands as an exemplar of historic preservation and an anchor for the urban renewal of New Orleans.