The Loew’s State Theatre opened on April 3, 1926 in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was built by renowned theater architect Thomas W. Lamb for the Loew’s Theatre Corporation. The 3,335 seat theater cost $1.5 million ($20 million adjusted to current value) to build. At the time of the opening, the “New Orleans Item” proclaimed the State, “the greatest playhouse south of Philadelphia and west of Chicago.”
Like many theaters of its day, the State originally showed vaudeville and silent films before switching over to talking pictures, or “talkies.” The theater had a large stage, orchestra pit, organ, a number of dressing rooms, and even a kennel in the basement for animal acts. The opening movie was “The Devil’s Circus,” starring Norma Shearer. Like many theaters at the time, the State was built with segregated sections, so it had a separate entrance, ticket booth and 600 seat balcony for its non-white patrons. The balcony was closed in 1950, and the State became an white-only theater until 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was instituted.
In 1976, the theater was multiplexed, with two screens on the main level of the auditorium and one large one in the balcony. During the conversion much of the marble in the lobby was covered with plastic panels, and the chandeliers were sold to a local antique store. Loew’s sold the theater in 1984 to Wilson P. Abraham, who planned to demolish the theater and build condos. The city denied Abraham’s plan and he eventually leased the theater to Rene Brunet, Jr. Brunet, a professional theater operator, had the multiplexing removed and restored the theater to a single screen. It was renamed the State Palace Theatre and began to screen classic movies, live theater and concerts. The first live show was a revival of the tv show “The Jeffersons”, featuring the original cast.
During this time many famous bands played the State including: Incubus, Marilyn Manson, 311, Duran Duran, Smashing Pumpkins, Korn, Tool, New Found Glory, Goo Goo Dolls, Morrissey, Dave Matthews Band, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam and Sheryl Crow. After closing due to the damages caused by hurricane Katrina, the theater reopened sporadically as a rave venue. It was shut down on February 15, 2007 due to fire code violations.
Over the years since it closed, the theater has seen a number of different plans for it’s revival, including an interactive museum dedicated to the music of Louisiana and a plan to reopen the theater as a performing arts venue, but neither one came to pass. Movies filming in New Orleans have also taken advantage of the space. In 2012, while filming the movie “Now You See Me” at the theater, actor Michael Caine fell asleep in one of the former dressing rooms and was locked in overnight. The State Palace remains closed, with no current plans for restoration.
The information in this post was obtained with the help of the Theatre Historical Society of America, for more information including how to join – check out their website at www.historictheatres.org
© Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.