Can you tell me about the old NOLA Theatre that was located on the corner of St. Claude Avenue and Bartholomew Street in the 1950s and '60s?
Everybody I knew went to the opening of what was advertised in the paper as "New Orleans Newest and Finest United Theatre." In the full-page ad, we were told the theater's mission: "to sweep aside the cares and anxieties of the day and to replace them with the precious gifts of rest and relaxation, of drama and travel, of joy and laughter." Especially important was the fact it was air-conditioned.
We trooped over to 4000 St. Claude Ave. to see Time Out for Rhythm starring Rudy Vallee, Ann Miller, Rosemary Lane, Allen Jenkins, The Three Stooges, and several big orchestras. But in those days, we also got extras in the form of "selected short subjects." That night, Bugs Bunny was starring in Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt. We were also treated to Speaking of Animals and Screen Snapshot starring Larry Simms as master of ceremonies, who introduced Abbott and Costello, Rita Hayworth and Burns and Allen.
The theater opened on Sept. 24, 1941. Little did we dream our country would be at war in just months.
Almost 20 years later to the day, a disaster occurred at the NOLA Theatre. On Sunday night, Oct. 22, 1961, the ceiling at the theater caved in. More than 50 people were injured, and one woman was killed immediately. Many people were trapped under the sub-ceiling of plaster and wire lathings that came crashing down about 6:35 p.m.
Police, firefighters and Army and Navy volunteers worked to pull the patrons out from under the rubble, and the injured were rushed to various hospitals. Within 15 or 20 minutes, all those trapped under the ceiling were evacuated.
The NOLA Theatre eventually reopened, but was closed again in 1968.