Robinson Film Center is lighting up Texas Street with a new marquee. Installation work began on Feb. 22, and RFC will celebrate with the Light the Marquee Reception at 6:30 p.m. March 4.
The crowd-funded addition is made possible by gifts from 273 donors who supported RFC for Give for Good. The May 5, 2015, day of philanthropic giving is sponsored by the Community Foundation of North Louisiana. Proceeds from June/July screenings of the first four episodes of “The Shape of Shreveport” supported the marquee project, too.
RFC’s downtown neighbor Kevin Bryan Architect designed the new marquee. The firm’s namesake is excited about the project.
“It’s just one more extension of what’s happening downtown, which is a resurgence,” said Kevin Bryan, who is also an RFC board member. “It’s an outward symbol of growth.”
The sign was built and is being installed by Artie Nevels Signs & Awnings of Shreveport. A social media project to build awareness about the funding campaign was designed by Moviesauce, an independent multimedia company.
“This marquee is the result of local giving passion,” said Alexandyr Kent, RFC executive director, “so it was important for us to work with local companies to make it happen. We’re humbled every day by the generosity of our community. This marquee shows how powerful a crowd can be for local nonprofits.”
At the March 4 reception, RFC will gather to officially light the marquee and thank funders and moviegoers.
“There’s something truly exciting about walking under a big, bold marquee on the way into a downtown theater,” Kent said. “It’s how moviegoing works best, and it wouldn’t happen without local giving. We’re grateful to all the donors, board, moviegoers and funders who have gotten us to this point. The future is truly brighter because of the community’s longterm commitment to this place.”
Lots of new eyes should see the marquee, too. In March, Robinson Film Center is partnering with Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Shreveport Development Corporation to present a month’s worth of free admission. From an opening night screening of “Easy Rider” to a closing night “Grease” sing-along, all the movie tickets will be free to the community for the March Movies Free for All series.
“It’s a season of renewal for RFC,” Kent said. “We hope to see lots of marquee selfies on social media!”
A brief history of Shreveport’s downtown moviegoing
RFC is not the first movie theater marquee to go up in downtown. The neighborhood is rich with theater history. The very first movie ever shown in Shreveport was at a downtown theater. On December 22, 1896, the Grand Opera House (located at 400 Texas St. where the Chase Tower now stands) asked audience members to stick around after the performance of “Carmen” to see this new “motion picture” phenomenon that people in other parts of the country were talking about.
Short movies became a staple in the Grand’s lineup, and not long after, theaters made just for movies began popping up around the downtown neighborhood. One of the firsts was the Electric Theatre in 1907 at 516 Texas St. across from the courthouse. The Electric, like many early 20th century theaters, was a nickelodeon, a make-shift movie theater likely with folding chairs and a sheet tacked up on a far wall for a screen. Admission price: just a nickel.
By 1920, downtown Shreveport had already been home to at least a dozen movie theaters. Some were multi-format houses that could stage live performances as well as films, and others, like the Saenger Theatre at 616 Milam, focused primarily on movies. The Saenger bore the name of its owners, Julian and Abe Saenger. The Saenger brothers owned a drugstore at the corner of Milam and Louisiana (go by, you can still see their name on the building) but decided to try their hand at film exhibition and soon became movie theater magnates owning properties throughout the south and internationally.
As nickelodeons were dying out and theaters were growing larger and more plush, the Saengers and fellow local theater owners Henry and Simon Ehrlich ushered in the era of the movie palace in downtown Shreveport with the opening of the Strand Theatre in 1925. In 1928, the sound wave hit Shreveport with the first talkies. The Silent Era quietly exited, and the movie industry exploded. The 1930s saw the greatest era of growth in number of Shreveport movie theaters. During the first half of the 20th century, downtown Shreveport housed over 20 movie theaters within its borders, and almost as many grand marquees. The Don, at 516 Crockett, closed its doors in 1981 and was the last mainstream theater to operate downtown.
In May 2008, movies returned to downtown Shreveport with Robinson Film Center. In the tradition of the nickelodeons and grand movie palaces that came before it, RFC is committed to bringing the best in motion picture entertainment to downtown.
Downtown Area Movie Theaters
The Avenue, 1034 Texas Ave.
The Bijou, 412 Texas St.
The Capitol, 513 Milam St.
The Capri, 620 Milam St.
The Crystal, 611 Milam St.
The Don, 516 Crockett St.
The Dreamland, 218 Texas St.
The Electric Theatre, 516 Texas St.
The Hippodrome, 224 Texas St.
The Iris, 600 block of Louisiana Ave.
The Joy, 623 Texas St.
The Joy Drive-In, 2460 Texas Ave.
The Majestic, 601 Milam St.
The Musee, 625 Milam St.
The New Lyric, 1864 Texas Ave.
The Palace, 220 Texas St.
The Queen, 401 Texas St.
The Robinson Film Center, 617 Texas St.
The Saenger, 616 Milam St.
The Star, 1041 Texas Ave.
The Strand, 619 Louisiana Ave.
The Theatorium, 200 block of Louisiana Ave.
The Victoria, 500 block of Louisiana Ave.
The West End Theatre, 1831 Texas Ave.