Today’s theatre is another from the chain of Saenger Theatres which were built throughout the South and also included Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Dedicated in 1927, the Mobile Saenger Theatre was the sixty-first in the chain of theatres owned and operated by the Saenger brothers, Julian and Abel. The theatre cost $500,000 to build and had state-of-the-art features for the time: three-colour auditorium lighting, 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. As with the Temple Theatre, the Mobile theatre boasted of a Robert Morton organ, this one, however, a two-manual, 10 rank organ.
The Saenger Theatre’s decorative style was described as French palatial during the Renaissance and was inspired by classical Greek mythology as well as Mobile’s coastal location. Many gods of Greek mythology can be seen around the interior and the colour scheme is sea-green with maroon and gold trim.
As with most theatres of the day, the Mobile Saenger offered both live entertainment as well as the new motion pictures being produced in Hollywood. When the larger Cinemascope movies were being shown, the theatre’s original opera boxes had to be removed to improve line-of-sight because of the larger screens. The theatre was also the site of the first America’s Junior Miss Pageant.
Ownership of the theatre changed hands many times over the years, as happened often with these types of facilities and in 1970 the theatre came closest to demolition when then owners ABC/Paramount had removed the projection equipment and were set to tear down the building. At the eleventh hour, the University of South Alabama stepped in and bought the property, saving it from certain doom. After some renovations, the theatre was reopened as the USA Saenger Theatre.
In 1999, the City of Mobile bought the theatre from the university and now a non-profit group called Center for the Living Arts, Inc. They completely renovated and restored the theatre to its former glory.
Today the theatre is a fully functioning performing arts center and is the home to the Mobile Symphony Orchestra.
Information courtesy of mobilesaenger.com.