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Highlights of Hattiesburg Mississippi Walking Tour
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Built in 1929, Saenger Theater is the sole remaining Art Deco movie palace Hattiesburg and one of the city's most iconic downtown buildings. The theater is one of the few from the golden age of movie palaces that remain in operation in Mississippi and is one of only four Art Deco-designed buildings still standing in the area. The theater was part of the Saenger Brother's seven movie palace chain in the Southeast. In its early years, the theater hosted vaudeville acts, operas, lectures, recitals, and carnival balls. Thanks to the efforts of preservationists in the 1980s, the theater was restored following its 1979 inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The Saenger was renovated once more in the early 2000s to help restore its grand appearance. Highlights of the theater include the 778-pipe Robert Morton Pipe Organ, which has been well-preserved and is still operable. Thanks to city leaders and preservationists, the theater continues to host performances and is one of the leading event venues in southern Mississippi.

  • A photo of Hattiesburg's Saenger Theater

The theater was built at the height of the movie-palace era, when film showings and stage performances occurred in one venue. Abe and Julian Saenger hired architect Emil Weil, who was based in New Orleans, to design it (he was well known for designing theaters in New Orleans and elsewhere in the South). The Saenger features elaborate decorative brickwork, colored glazed terra-cotta tiles, brick pilasters topped by cast-stone urns, decorative cast-stone friezework and trim, and a large theater sign. Inside, the theater has 997 seats. Notable features include two balconies, Art Deco chandeliers, and a glazed-tile fountain. Although the theater has been renovated, many original features remain.

The Saenger opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1929. Tickets for children only cost six cents and the Robert Morton organ was played before and between films and shows. In a typical week, three feature films were shown at the theater, usually with two days for each film. Film showings also included coming attractions, advertisements, organ recitals, cartoons, and sing-alongs. The theater also even had what was called Bank Night, where a patron would win a cash prize. Troops stationed at the nearby Camp Shelby during World War II often spent their Saturdays at the theater.

The theater operated until the late 1960s and the property was later acquired by the city. In the coming years, it was used for a variety of purposes including being rented out by the Hattiesburg Civic Light Opera and local charity organizations. The theater was restored in the early 1980s and again in 2000. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Heidelberg, Michelle F. "Saenger Theatre." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. May 29, 1979. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/d3ac256d-9d54-4397-8a14-002cebe43364/.

"History." Saenger Theatre. Accessed November 16, 2020. http://www.hattiesburgsaenger.com/index.cfm/history.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Saenger Theater was completed in 1929 and restored in the 1980s and early 2000s.