What is the story with the great-looking Rhodes Funeral Home building on Washington Avenue near Broad Street?
Like many historic buildings in New Orleans, the one you ask about has been creatively restored into a building with a purpose. The original and the current uses of an old building often are very different, and that's the case here.
The structure at 3933 Washington Ave. opened in May 1926 as the Tivoli Theatre. The movie theater was imposing and distinctive, with a striking exterior that includes a terra cotta frieze on the arch above the entrance. It was designed by noted architect Emile Weil, who also designed the Saenger and other local theaters, Touro Synagogue and the Whitney Bank building on St. Charles Avenue.
Newspaper ads of the day called the Tivoli "the wonder suburban theater" with a seating capacity of 1,800. Promotions proclaimed "a king could have no better" than the Tivoli, which offered "wide, full-carpeted aisles and plenty of elbow room to move around." Like most theaters of the time, the orchestra section was reserved for white patrons, while African-Americans were seated in the balcony.
The theater closed in 1969 and was purchased by Duplain Rhodes Jr. as a new location for his family's Rhodes Funeral Home. The business was established by Rhodes' father in 1884 as a funeral and mortuary concern catering to African-Americans. The building on Washington Avenue was the company's third funeral home in the area.
The building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, has had some bad luck with Mother Nature. Hurricane Cindy tore off the structure's roof in 2004, then floodwaters from the federal levee failures after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 swamped the building and the surrounding Broadmoor neighborhood. The Rhodes family rebuilt the funeral home at a cost of more than $4 million. It reopened in August 2009 as a multipurpose facility that can be rented for family celebrations, christenings, weddings and receptions as well as funerals.