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A Palace of Dreams
Sitting in the heart of downtown Shreveport, the beautiful Strand Theatre anchors the arts district now known as the West Edge. A one-of-a-kind classic, the Strand Theatre rivals the world’s finest opera houses. After extensive restoration, The Strand reopened in 1984 to a SRO crowd and has presented the highest quality entertainment for over thirty-five seasons. Most recently, Shreveport’s own Academy Award-winning William Joyce called the Strand “a palace of dreams.”
The Saenger Brothers & The Ehrlich Brothers
In 1900, brothers Julian and Abe Saenger, both pharmacists, owned and operated the Saenger Drug Store on the corner of Milam Street and Louisiana Avenue in Shreveport. The Saengers’ fascination with the brand-new moving pictures prompted a purchase of the property at the corner of Crockett and Louisiana. After some research and contact with the Ehrlich brothers, who already owned and operated the Majestic Theatre at 601 Milam Street, the two sets of brothers decided to embark on a joint venture. Their first was the Saenger Theatre at 620 Milam Street, later known as The Capri.
Progressive Amusement for Progressive People
In May, 1923, the Shreveport Times announced that a new 2,500-seat opera house would be built at a cost of $750,000. Ground breaking on The Strand began in October, 1923, and after nineteen months of construction, the Strand Theatre opened on July 3, 1925 with a production of the comic opera, The Chocolate Soldier. The “Million-Dollar Theatre“ was air conditioned, and in the early days had its own full-time orchestra on staff. The theatre boasted a 939-pipe Robert Morton “Golden Voice” pipe organ. The Strand opened as the “flagship” of what would become the Saenger chain of 320 theatres across the South. In 1927, the Saenger brothers moved their corporate base to New Orleans, and between the years of 1928 and 1929, Saenger Theatres, Inc. sold to Paramount Publix for a reported $10 million.
During the War Years, all but three of the magnificent chandeliers were removed and sent to New Orleans during kilowatt rationing. In 1951, in keeping with trends of that period, the original marquee was removed and replaced with a twelve-foot vertical neon sign, and a turquoise façade was added. In 1954, the opera boxes were removed to facilitate CinemaScope motion pictures. John Wayne and William Holden were special guests at the Strand Theatre for their new movie premier of The Horse Soldier in 1959. The Strand continued to operate as a movie theatre through the mid 1970’s, when it closed, sadly in decline.
The Strand is Grand
In 1976, ABC-Interstate Theatres donated the Strand to the newly formed Strand Theatre of Shreveport Corporation. Founders Mrs. Virginia Shehee, Mr. Jim Montgomery and Mr. Judd Tooke were instrumental in forming the 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, receiving donations and beginning the process of getting the community involved. During seven years of painstaking restoration, the lost chandeliers were copied from photos, the opera boxes were replaced, the original marquee was replicated, and the exterior was sandblasted to the original façade. In December of 1984, The Strand re-opened to the sounds of the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra and a SRO crowd. Now celebrating its 37th season as a performing arts venue, The Strand brings in touring Broadway shows, concerts, and plays, and serves as home to several dance companies. Today, the communities of North Louisiana reap the benefits of all of these efforts by many to rescue, restore, and reopen this magnificent theatre. It is a treasure that has been recognized nationally first by USA Weekend and AMC Magazine as one of the top-five glitziest theatres for live performance anywhere in the country.
The Strand interior includes ornate box seats, gilt-edged mirrors, and colors of deep burgundy and rich gold. It also features a magnificent ceiling and dazzling chandeliers, including the massive fourteen-foot tall main chandelier hanging in the center of the theatre, as well as the six murals of “The Muses of The Strand”, recreated by local artist Donna Moore in 1993.
As the cornerstone of the arts community in Shreveport-Bossier, The Strand is a viable and essential part of this community. The Strand understands the importance of changing and adapting to the needs of the people it serves. The shows presented by The Strand are specifically chosen to have broad appeal to serve a diverse community of age, gender, and ethnicity. Each year, the booking process includes a study of which shows are touring, history of ticket sale trends, and community need for programming. The Strand works as an organization to be a part of what is happening in Shreveport-Bossier in order to help bring about positive change. The Strand Theatre of Shreveport Corporation’s mission is to preserve The Strand building by managing cultural events to enrich life and promote economic growth in the community.