Mobile's Saenger Theatre opened on January 19, 1927, it was the sixty-first Saenger theatre of a chain founded by J.H. and A.D. Saenger of New Orleans. There were Saenger Theatres located throughout the South as well as in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Hailed as, "Alabama's Greatest Showplace" and, "the most beautiful playhouse in all of Dixie," the Mobile Saenger Theatre took a year to construct at a cost of about 500,000 dollars. Designed by renowned architect, Emile Weil, the Mobile Saenger Theatre featured the following : three-color auditorium lighting, a two-manuel, ten-rank Robert Morton theatre organ, full stage facilities to accommodate large road shows including stage and wardrobe traps, four floors of dressing rooms, musicians' and chorus rooms and 2,615 seats. Around 1950, the seats on the floor were replaced and re-spaced, reducing the seating capacity to about 2,200. Seating capacity today is 1,921.
The building was designed in a continental style, intended to resemble European opera houses. The theatre's opera boxes that were located beneath the organ grilles were later removed to improve sightlines when the larger Cinemascope movie screen was installed. Other outstanding architectural features of the original building included: the tilted arcade, grand marble staircase, ornate lamps, chandeliers, statuary and door frames, a mezzanine and promenade. There were lavish furnishings in the men's "Stage Room," and the ladies' "At the Sign of the Lipstick," lounge which included magnificent draperies and carpets with the name of the theatre woven into the fabric.
The Saenger provided Mobilians with outstanding theatrical entertainment on the live stage and motion picture screen. The Saenger hosted silent movies, vaudeville shows, movies, dramatic and musical productions and was the setting for the first America's Junior Miss pageant. However--as was the case with many of these grand movie palaces--ownership changes, high maintenance costs and various other issues rendered many of these beautiful buildings nationwide, "white elephants." In fact, any were demolished to make way for parking lots and general urban development.
Then owners, ABC/Paramount, closed the Mobile Saenger and removed the projection equipment in early 1970. One the eve of demolition, the University of South Alabama bought the Saenger and saved it from destruction. It was partially renovated and re-opened as a performing arts center called the USA Saenger Theatre.
On October 1, 1999, the City of Mobile purchased the Saenger from the University of South Alabama. A new non-profit organization, called the Center for the Living Arts, Inc., was formed early in the year 2000 to operate the Saenger. The Center for the Living Arts with generous donations from the community restored the historic Mobile Saenger to its former glory, at a cost of about six million dollars.
The Saenger Theatre of Mobile now functions as a performing arts center and is the official home of the Mobile Symphony Orchestra. The Saenger features an annual Summer Movie Series and presents numerous concerts, lectures and special events. The Saenger Theatre is a historic landmark, dear to the hearts of Mobilians for its architectural grandeur and ties to our cultural history as well as for the extraordinary caliber of entertainment it offers our community today.
The Centre for the Living Arts, Inc. operates the historic Saenger Theatre and Space 301, a non-profit contemporary art gallery