Once upon a time, New Orleans had more than 50 movie theaters, tucked away in nearly every neighborhood in the city. The city’s rich cinema history goes back to 1896, when the nation’s first movie house, Vitascope Hall, opened on Canal Street.
By the beginning of World War II, places like the Circle Theatre and the Carver Theater had become well-known cultural hubs for communities of all races and economic levels.
But over the years, one by one, about 200 theaters have been abandoned, torn down or repurposed. Only the Prytania Theater in Uptown remains, the last neighborhood movie theater in town.
But that could soon change.
A new four-screen movie theater is headed to a historic building on North Broad Street, at the edge of Mid-City and Treme, according to Design Office, the Mid-City engineering company overseeing the project. A permit has been approved, and construction will start soon, according to Marc Robert, one of the company’s design directors.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Robert said. “I grew up on Broad and St. Bernard, and I just think it’s a great neighborhood to have something like this.”
The theater will be constructed in a warehouse at 636 N. Broad St. that dates to the early 1920s. The Spanish colonial revival building once housed the old Charitable Bingo Hall for Developmentally Disabled Children, as well as heating and plumbing company Sciambra & Masino.
According to Robert, the exterior of the building, including columns, arched windows and detailed molding, will be preserved. Details about the interior remain a secret for now, but Robert said, “There’s some really nice design going on.”
Unlike other old cinemas in the city such as the Joy and the Civic, which have been converted into spaces for live performances, this one will only screen movies, according to its city permit.
Owned by Get the Gorilla LLC, the building was cited at least four times for blight and being a public nuisance between 2006 and 2010 .
However, the area around it has recently seen a raft of public and private investment, including a recently opened Whole Foods Market and the new Lafitte Greenway.
Partners with Broad Community Connections, a nonprofit designed to support “long-standing needs” of the Broad Street corridor with zoning and beautification projects, have long hoped for projects that would better anchor residents and give a sense of community.
“The thoroughfare has been quickly rebuilding itself since Hurricane Katrina, but given its physical nature — blighted property and wide avenues for vehicular traffic — it is difficult to build a strong sense of community along the corridor,” said Aditi Mehta, a second-year master’s student at the MIT Department of Urban Studies & Planning and creator of the “Broad Street Story Project.”