Theatre opened on February
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. The top ticket price was 65 cents, and the
bill for each performance included a silent movie and stage
play (produced by the Paramount Publix Corporation), and music from the Saenger
In 1929, Julian Saenger sold the
theatre to Paramount Publix, which continued to operate the
theatre successfully throughout the Great Depression. In 1933
Paramount Publix converted the theatre to "talking pictures"
only. In 1964, ABC Interstate Theatres turned the Saenger into
a piggyback theatre, building a wall in front of the balcony
to divide the larger space into two smaller theatres. The
upstairs theatre was known as the Saenger Orleans. On
September 29, 1977 the theatre was designated
a historic landmark by the New Orleans Landmark Commission.
That December it was added to the National Register of
Architect Emile Weil designed the
interior of the theatre to recall an Italian Baroque
courtyard. Weil 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 the theatre opened, there was installed an
approximately 2000-pipe Robert-Morton organ - one of the
largest instruments the legendary Robert-Morton Organ Company
ever built, and the prototype for the company's "Wonder
Morton" line. The organ has a four manual console and 26 ranks
of pipes. Nine ranks extend to the 16' pitch. It was designed
specifically for the acoustics of the Saenger Theatre, and is
one of the few Robert-Morton organs in the United States still
in its original installation position.
n 1978, the Saenger Theatre was sold for slightly more than
$1 million to E.B. Breazeale, who then spent an additional $3
million (with co-investors Zev Bufman and Barry Mendelson)
renovating it into a performing arts center. Pace Management
also invested in the renovation and was hired to run the
The Saenger Theatre reopened in 1980
with a reduced seating capacity of 2,800. Johnny Carson made a gala performance at the theatre's grand
reopening. Then, in 1985, the management team of the theatre
formed a joint venture with 50 limited partners to purchase
the theatre from Breazeale.
In the summer of 2002, the Saenger
Theatre returned to its cinematic roots and showed three
classic movies (Some Like It Hot,The Wizard of Oz andGone with the Wind) in celebration of its 75th anniversary.
Since then, the Summer Classic Movie series had been an annual
event every June.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans
in 2005, the Saenger Theatre suffered significant water
damage. As of March 2009 it has not yet reopened. The water
line went approximately a foot above stage level, filling the
basement and orchestra seating area. The vintage Robert Morton
Wonder Organ was at stage level and suffered some damage. The
administrative offices of the theatre and the box office on
Rampart Street suffered extensive water damage. Photos taken
immediately after Katrina often show the Canal Street marquee
damaged, however in fact the staff of the theatre had removed
the acrylic glass and other
materials which could become "flying debris" during such a
At the time of Katrina, the Saenger
Theatre was in the middle of a major renovation. Work had begun on repairs to the interior theatre ceiling, and
all carpeting and seating had been removed in anticipation of being replaced.
The Saenger Theatre is currently undergoing major renovations in
hopes to reopen for the 2010-2011 season