Strand Theatre
New Orleans, Louisiana

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229 Baronne Street, corner of Baronne & Gravier streets, New Orleans
Opened: July 4, 1917
2,000 seats


Click for a closer look
The Strand is running D. W. Griffith's The Great Love, about 1918.


New Orleans' first movie palace.
Built & operated by the Saenger organization, the Strand Theatre was the company's premier New Orleans house until the opening of the New Orleans Saenger Theatre ten years later.



The construction & opening of the Strand Theatre in New Orleans was a landmark indicating that the Saenger company moving up from Shreveport was doing things in a big way, but it also represented a change in the way people went to the movies. Movies had been growing more popular as a cultural phenomenon, but the theatres & movie-going habits had not yet been established as solid cultural norms. Movies had started as novelties shown in variety theatres, fading interest then left them to be shown in nickelodeons and as "audience chasers" in vaudeville houses, then finally growing up a bit being shown in smaller storefront theatres dedicated to showing movies alone. "Going to the movies" was something a lot of people did, but it wasn't yet something most middle-class folks didn't feel a little self-conscious about when they occasionally did it.

There was some pressure to make that change due to improvements in the movies themselves: technically they were fast improving from primitive novelties to entertainments with more advanced entertainment insight & effectiveness. Artists working in the movies became better and more popular entertainers themselves. Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, D. W. Griffith & others were producing worthwhile entertainments with popular favor enough to drive folks to see their work, & then go back to see their work again.

It all turned the corner with changing the theatres from small places that just met the minimum technical requirement to comfortably seat an audience & present a film to places that had more cultural value & just a little snob appeal: important civic buildings, dispensaries of cultural knowledge, clean, not just socially acceptable but attractive destinations in themselves.

The person most associated with transforming movie theatres in this way was S. L. Rothapfel, nicknamed "Roxy". His work creating very successful movie theatres via emphasizing in publicity & practice not just quality but higher-class environmental aspects such as palatial architecture, uniformed staff, large orchestras, & broader programs made popular successes of the the New York Regent in 1913, the New York Strand in 1914, then the New York Rialto in 1916: escalating in size, seriousness, & cultural value. What was obvious in the motion picture exhibition industry was that Rothapfel was figuring out how to make it work. What was obvious to the customers was beautiful theatres with rich programs that made it worthwhile to attend often.

The Saenger company already owned & operated several movie theatres in New Orleans, & had to keep up with the game. So when they opened their very large 2,000 seat movie palace the Strand in New Orleans, following the Rothapfel model of larger theatres with high quality attendant features, they went all the way & "invited" S. L. Rothapfel to come to the opening of the theatre to produce the opening night program (& use his name for some even bigger-city high-class validation of the theatre to the customers).

This was a new way to see a movie. It was no longer ducking into a storefront theatre to watch the flickers accompanied a few musicians at best; it was a major entertainment program. The opening night program was: an overture from the 35-piece orchestra, then orchestral & organ accompaniment of a newsreel, comedy short, color travelogue-type short, & a feature film with Douglas Fairbanks, "Wild & Woolly". Louisiana governor Ruffin Pleasant & New Orleans' mayor Martin Behrman had seats in the loges; & Behrman even spoke a few words at the opening.

The Strand had a Wurlitzer Style 4 organ (2 manuals, 8 ranks, 5PR 10TS Cathedral Chimes) in use from its 1917 opening; the Strand's organist was "Professor Fitch". It's a theatre organ that technically seems small today, but it was an average size for theatre organs in its time & another statement of advancing movie theatre equipment & culture considering that the Rialto in New York still had a fairly straight organ. The Wurlitzer was later replaced with a 3 manual, 8 rank Robert Morton organ which may have been enlarged later to 10 ranks.

Organist Rosa Rio played here; Ray McNamara later became the Strand's house organist after leaving the post of associate organist at the New Orleans Saenger Theatre.

In 1937, the Strand was leased to southeastern movie theatre magnate Joy Houck, who later remodeled the theatre & renamed it the Joy Strand. Afterwards outfitted with 70mm projectors & an enormous curved screen, it became New Orleans' Todd-AO house.



"The first inspection of the Strand," he said, "revealed to me a motion picture theater that far exceeded my most pleasurable anticipations of what I was to find here in this extremely beautiful building. You may say for me, and emphasize it, that there is no other theater that I have seen outside of New York that will compare with this one in elegance of design and treatment in its furnishings. It is chaste and elaborate in its refined simplicity, and I can suggest few changes that might better its appearance as I found it. It is surely a beautiful theater and one that the people of New Orleans will certainly learn to appreciate more and more as they become better acquainted with its attractiveness. I have been present and assisted at the opening of many theaters in various parts of the country, and I can truthfully say that I have never seen one that will equal the Strand in all of its appointments."

-- S. L. Rothapfel earning his fee, New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 6, 1917

Ad for Saenger's New Orleans theaters in 1922
A 1922 program for several of the Saenger theatres in New Orleans. The Strand Theatre opened in 1917 with Don Philippini as the conductor of the orchestra, but by 1922 Castro Carazo is leading the orchestra at the Strand. Carazo will be moved to the New Orleans Saenger when it opens in 1927; Don Philippini will tour conducting orchestras for major "roadshow" movies then settle down to lead the orchestra at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile for its opening in 1927. But shortly after that, the talkies will arrive, & the country's theatre orchestras will rapidly disappear.

King Kong runs at the Strand in 1933. Save your ticket: Merchant's Night means your chance to win prizes, & that's a big draw during the economic depression.

Preparing to re-open as the Joy Strand in 1948.


Thanks to Barry Henry for photos & information

Copyright © 1999 - 2010, William Hooper.


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