Their marquees once lit the way to Hollywood's fantasy world.

Moviegoers could watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tango across the dance floor, catch Steve McQueen making his great escape or sing along as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans rode into the sunset.

With their opulent curtains, plush seats and ornate balconies, they were called movie palaces, and some of them can still be found in Louisiana. Others have faded with Hollywood's Golden Age.

But Preserve Louisiana is making sure none are forgotten in its exhibit "Lost & Found: Theatres of Louisiana," which runs through April 6 at the Old Governor's Mansion.

The show features photos of 30 historic theaters from throughout the state, along with paintings, memorabilia and artifacts.

The show is divided into sections, featuring architecturally significant theaters, historically black theaters, drive-ins and theaters that have been preserved.

"One of the most interesting historically black theaters is the Cook Theatre in Scotlandville," says Natalie Mead, Preserve Louisiana's museum curator and education director. "It was the first theater in Louisiana owned by an African-American family." 

James C. Cook and his wife, Ruby J. Darensbourg, opened the one-screen Cook at 8254 Scenic Highway in Scotlandville in the mid-1930s. For some 30 years, the theater operated as a movie house for second-run films, classics and cowboy movies.

The original Cook Theatre was a wooden structure, which burned in 1944. Cook replaced it with a cinder block venue in 1945, and all five of his children worked there.

One of those children, James C. Cook Jr., shared his memories with the Old Governor's Mansion, recalling that youngsters could see a movie for 14 cents, while adult tickets were 36 cents. A family of two adults and two children could get in for $1.

“Prices were independent of show times and represented no more than half the price of tickets at 'white' theaters in town," Cook told the museum. "Former patrons who frequented the theater in its heyday said it provided after-school and weekend entertainment and childcare services for the children of Scotlandville residents."

Baton Rouge's theaters play a significant role in the architecturally significant category, though these structures no longer stand.

First, there was the city's oldest movie house, the Louisiana Theater, which opened July 19, 1913, at 336 Third St. The building was heralded as a “modern blaze of glory” with its own electrical generator, a ventilation system to remove heat and stale air and the finest finishes and decor available.

The Louisiana featured both live performances and movies. It closed in 1954.

Then there was Baton Rouge's best-known movie palace, the Paramount Theater, which opened as the 1,450-seat Columbia Theatre at 215 N. Third St. in September 1920. It became the Paramount in 1929.

The theater hosted vaudeville acts, silent movies, some of the first "talkies" and live orchestras. Its facade was noted for its statuary, and its interior included a Robert Morgan pipe organ and the country's first lighted aisles. It also was the first theater to have air conditioning. 

Though the theater's pipe organ was saved, the building itself was razed in 1979, much to the dismay of Baton Rouge residents who had fought for its preservation.

"We're also showing a chair from the Paramount in the show. It was loaned to us from a private collection," Mead says. "And we'll be showing Steve Laurent's painting 'The End,' of the Paramount in 1979. It's on loan from the LSU Museum of Art."

An architectural drawing and advertisement for the Paramount from Preserve Louisiana's collection also will be included, along with a wooden seat from the Louisiana Theatre.

Theatre Wilbert, of Plaquemine, also will be commemorated by extra artifacts, including a roll of tickets, movie programs and one of the silver ashtrays given to patrons on opening night in 1918.

Among the featured restored theaters is New Iberia's Evangeline Theater, which was converted from a grocery store to a movie house in 1929.

Its art deco facade was added in 1940. The Evangeline closed in 1960, but returned to life with a restoration that began in 1996. It is now the Sliman Theater for the Performing Arts.

Two of the state's best-known restored theaters  — the Orpheum and Saenger — are in New Orleans.

The Orpheum Theatre opened its four-story Beaux Arts style vaudeville house with its decorative terra cotta facade of nymphs, fauns and fabled creatures in 1921. Its acoustics have been compared to Carnegie Hall's.

The venue, later converted to a movie theater, flooded in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath in 2005 but was restored in 2015. It now hosts a variety of entertainment and is home to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. 

Perhaps New Orleans’ most recognized theater is the Saenger, which opened in 1927. The stage included a Robert Morgan theater pipe organ, which cost $100,000 at the time.

"The auditorium was described as a 'magnificent amphitheater under a glorious moonlit sky — an Italian garden, a Persian court — where friendly stars twinkled and wisps of cloud drifted,'" according to the exhibit's information.

The Saenger also was damaged by Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters. Its 2013 restoration, at a cost of $47 million, preserved its original features, including the moonlit sky.

Finally, drive-in theaters in New Orleans and Minden round out the show.

"Baton Rouge had its drive-in theaters, too, but we're featuring the theaters from which we could gather photos and artifacts," Mead says. "These featured works present the vast history of theaters throughout the state."


Lost & Found: Theatres of Louisiana

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Through April 8. 

WHERE: Old Governor's Mansion, 502 North Blvd.

ADMISSION: $10; $9 for ages 62 and older; $8 for K-12th grade; free ages 4 and younger

INFO: (225) 387-2464 or preserve-louisiana.org

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.