Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Strand Theatre: A Shreveport Treasure

This continues my photo journal of our recent trip to Shreveport, Louisiana, and today I'm featuring one of the most beautiful landmarks in downtown Shreveport — the Strand Theatre.

Built in 1925, the Strand is the official "State Theatre of Louisiana," and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Even though I have explored downtown Shreveport many times, I had never seen the Strand until last Saturday, and I was amazed and delighted by what I saw.

Everywhere I looked, there were architectural details and works of art that I couldn't wait to capture with my camera.

The side entrance (or perhaps the main entrance?) is very impressive (you can click on the pictures to enlarge them, if you'd like to get a closer look at the details).

I couldn't help but wonder what was behind these little doors, which are high above the ornate stone work, just below the roof.

Marble surrounds the ticket booth and beautiful old stained wooden doors. Notice the deep beveled glass on the doors.

And these ornate iron doors lead to the box office ...

I loved photographing the Strand, but, as usual, I was not content with just taking pictures of it. I wanted to know its history, and found it by visiting The Strand Theatre website.

The Strand's story began in May 1923, when it was announced in the Shreveport Times that a new 2500-seat opera house would be built, totaling $750,000. In October 1923, construction began.

The people making this happen were the Saenger Brothers and Ehrlich Brothers. The Saenger Brothers lived in Shreveport and were both pharmacists who owned and operated a drug store. In their drug store was a one cent coin-operated "kinetograph" peepshow machine.

[Photo borrowed from VictorianCinema.net Public Domain]

Invented during the late 1800's by Thomas Edison and his assistant William Dickson, these machines were also known as "movie-ollas." Customers dropped a penny in the machine, turned the handle, and they saw moving pictures.

The Saengers became interested in moving pictures through this machine. They saw an opportunity in the movie business and after some research and contact with the Ehrlich Brothers, who already owned and operated the Majestic Theatre at 601 Milam Street, the Saengers decided to embark on a joint venture with them. Their first was the "Saenger Theatre" at 620 Milam Street (Capri).

They had already purchased the property the Strand is located on and knew it would be an ideal location for a beautiful opera house and movie theatre. Architect Emile Weil's magnificent theatre turned out to be the "flagship" of their chain of 320 theatres in the south.

On July 3, 1925, the Strand Theatre opened and was dubbed both the "Grandest Theatre in the South," and the "Million Dollar Theatre." The first performance was a comic opera called The Chocolate Soldier, starring Eva Olivotti, and in the 1930s, famous radio program host Guy Lombardo aired his live radio program at the theatre while on tour.

The Strand underwent some changes and transformations through the years.

During the 1940s and World War II, all but three of the theatre's famous chandeliers were removed due to kilowatt rationing.

In the 1950's, in keeping with trends of that period, the original marquee was removed and replaced with a 12-foot vertical neon sign and a turquoise facade was added. In 1954, the opera boxes were removed to facilitate cinemascope motion pictures.

During future restorations, the lost chandeliers were copied from photos, the opera boxes were added again, the original marquee was replicated, and the exterior was sandblasted to the original facade.

On June 16, 1959, John Wayne and William Holden were special guests at the Strand Theatre for the world premiere of their movie, "The Horse Soldiers."

During the 1970s, major renovation work began on the theatre, due to a huge community effort to restore the theatre to its original grandeur. In March of 1977, the Strand was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, forever making its mark in history.

The Strand celebrated its grand reopening in the 1980s, after being fully renovated, and in 1980, Governor Edwards designated the Strand as the "Official State Theatre." A grant of $1,834,000 was received between 1981-1982, from the State of Louisiana, resuming the restoration work that had stopped due to lack of funds.

In order to complete the restoration, a group of people very committed to the project was formed. Called the "Strand Partners," they raised the necessary funds to complete the job. The final cost of the restoration was over $4.5 million.

Finally, after years of work, on December 21, 1984, The Strand opened as the Performing Arts Center with a special Christmas program by the Shreveport Symphony.

Throughout the 1990s, the Strand celebrated record-breaking seasons, and today, after 86 years of service to the community, continues to be the home of some of the best entertainment throughout the decades, including top touring Broadway productions, concerts, and comedy shows.

I would love to go back sometime and see one of the shows — but even more, I would love to see the inside of the Strand. I'm sure it is breathtakingly beautiful, and deserves to be called "the Grandest Theatre in the South."

If you are ever in the Shreveport area, I urge you to go by and see it for yourself.

You can visit the website if you'd like more information about the performances ... The Strand Theatre.


Deb said...

beautiful photos....love all the details in the buildings..

Deb said...

beautiful photos....love all the details in the buildings..

Richard Cottrell said...

I sold a wonderful old French Chandelier to a sweet lady in Shreveport when I had my shop in St.Louis. It had big hand blown glass fruit on it, instead of prisms. She was putting it in her kitchen in her new house. Have a wonderful visit. Love the theather.

Carolyn said...

Love seeing my hometown through your camera! Sometimes familiarity can be a little blinding.

I worked in the AT&T building for about 10 years and I do wish you could have seen the inside of the Strand. It is magnificent!

Looking forward to seeing more.