Katrina-damaged La. theater goes for 1927 glory

May 25, 2013 • Entertainment

Robert Junker, a construction superintendent, looks over plans as workers perform renovation work at the Saenger Theater in Downtown New Orleans on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With its grand arches, intricate plaster moldings, faux facades suggesting a centuries-old European villa and blue domed ceiling dotted by pinpoint lights, the Saenger Theatre was typical of the opulent movie palaces and playhouses built around the nation in the 1920s.

But bits of its flapper-era splendor were sacrificed over the decades as various owners tried to roll with changing times.

Chandeliers were sold. A clunky escalator was installed and the balcony walled off to form a second movie theater in the 1960s — a pre-multiplex-era architectural affront that was undone in the ’70s.

“They were just trying to hang on as best they could,” Errol Laborde, local magazine publisher and New Orleans historian, said of the various changes.

Although diminished, the Saenger’s grandeur endured. It remained a venue for concerts and touring theatrical productions until 2005, when water from levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina rose shoulder deep in front of the stage, deteriorating plaster above and inundating electrical equipment on the floors below.

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