Know Where You Go: Part One - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Know Where You Go: Part One

Randy Bear visits local historical places. Photo by Whitney Argenbright Randy Bear visits local historical places. Photo by Whitney Argenbright
HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -  Lights, camera, action! A historic building used to be a hub for movies that brought a taste of Hollywood to the Hattiesburg area in 1929.

The Saenger Amusement Company, owned by brothers Abe and Julian Saenger, opened the Hattiesburg Saenger Theater on Thanksgiving Day in 1929, according to the theater's website. The Hattiesburg Saenger was one of seven theaters that represented the end of live music and involved state presentations attached to movies in large theaters.

The building was designed by New Orleans architect Emile Weil to include characteristics of Neoclassical Revival, Art Deco and Mayan-inspired styles. During construction, Weil sought to make the theater a historical movie palace equipped with contemporary luxuries of the time, like air-conditioning, according to the Encyclopedia of Louisiana.  

The theater's design included facilities for stage presentations, an orchestra pit, a theater organ and facilities for the presentation of talking movies, according to the Saenger Amusement's website.

The Saenger was originally created as a venue to show silent movies and used a 778-pipe Robert Morton Pipe Organ to entertain guests between shows and during intermission. The original Robert Morton organ is one of few left in the United States that is still used in a theater, according to the Saenger Theater's website.

The Saenger closed in the late 1960s and was given to the city, according to the Saenger Theater's website. Over the years, the building began to lose its grandeur, and it was left mostly unused.  

Bobby Chain, Hattiesburg's mayor in the early 1980s, led a renovation project to restore the theater. Chain found the original organ in Meridian and had it repaired and returned to the theater. Chain had limited funds, so the theater was not fully restored.

In 2000, a $3.75 million renovation was completed, restoring the Saenger Theater to much of its original grandeur. Over the years, Weil's decorations faded and were replaced, but several original pieces are still present.

According to the theater's website, the original bare-bulb lighting, various chandeliers, the glazed-tile fountain, some seating areas, and the stage area are all original elements.

The Saenger Theater is now home to various productions and continues to host events for people of all ages. For more information of upcoming events, visit http://www.hattiesburgsaenger.com/

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