"The theater is very unique with its Florentine style; it's very baroque," says Saenger marketing director Mason Wood. "It's unique to anything in else in New Orleans." Its beautiful decor can serve as a backdrop to a multitude of uses.
"One of the interesting things we are actively doing more than ever is finding a good business in the way of special events," he says. "A lot of people think of us as a play venue with a lot of seating but we can also put a floor over the 1,000-seat orchestra section and make it a place for a sit-down dinner for 400 to 500 people." Using this set-up, the Saenger has played host to private parties for businesses, individuals, high-profile artists playing to exclusive audiences, and even weddings.
The bulk of its business is still staging Broadway plays and concerts for major music acts such as David Bowie, the Moody Blues, and an upcoming Pink Floyd LaserSpectacular as well as national comedy and dance acts and more. During the slow summer months, the Saenger hosts a film series of classic movies shown on a screen at the main stage and preceded by music played on the restored pipe organ that was installed as part of the theater's original construction and ascends from beneath the floor.
To make a night at the theater even more of an event, the Saenger has teamed up with about a dozen nearby restaurants to offer Bon Appetit Club deals. By showing their Saenger tickets at a participating restaurant, customers will receive benefits such as free parking during the performance, a free glass of wine, appetizer or dessert with the purchase of an entree.
It isn't easy to maintain the aging landmark, especially since the Saenger is barred from making certain modernizations because it has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The staff's efforts to keep it in top condition have been rewarded by film companies who have used it in their pictures. "We are featured very prominently in the Ray Charles movie, Ray, that is coming out soon (Oct. 29)," Wood says. "They shot for about five to six days in the theater and we're very pleased. The employees really, really, really do love this theater, and we take care of it the best we can. We all have a special place in our hearts for the theater."
Doors, Knobs and Room Specs
In the decade since Peggy Ogden opened Armadillo South Architectural Salvage Inc. (4801 Washington Ave., 486-1150) to sell old doors, gates, columns and other items saved from trash heaps during renovation and demolition of old buildings, the business has broadened its offerings to include a mill shop that can reproduce almost anything needed for a home, artworks made from salvaged items, and even advice from construction experts. The latter is the result of a business merger several years ago, which combined Armadillo South with Ogden & Son, a construction company owned by Peggy's husband, Michael Manning Ogden.
"Our businesses complement each other," says Michael Manning Ogden. "We have access to the things we need for our renovations and restoration projects through Armadillo South and we're reclaiming doors and things when we do a restoration or renovation instead of throwing them in the Dumpster."
Armadillo South has become respected for its authentic salvaged goods -- it documents where everything originated --its huge selection of materials and its prices. Southern Living magazine recently dubbed it one of the best places to shop for architectural salvage in New Orleans. The business also offers solutions for those having a hard time finding what they want or need help fitting something in an existing home.
"We now have a mill shop we are exclusively working with so we can reproduce almost anything," Ogden says. "If people can't find, for example, a door they're looking for, we can make it out of old cypress or Spanish cedar, or we can match a pair of shutters for them." He also works with a company that can reproduce designs in ironwork using photos, drawings or a sample of the product that needs to be matched.
Armadillo South recently started carrying furniture, accessories and soft goods made by Peddlers Design of Philadelphia, owned by Ogden's brother, Robert. That merchandise includes throw pillows, cabinet knobs, reproduction doorknobs, sconces, lanterns and three-dimensional stars made from old barn tins. Calls for the latter have come in from all over the country after the stars were featured in Country Living magazine. Customers often find more than they expect at the shop. "They might come in looking for a door and walk out with everything else they haven't been able to find, from a mantelpiece to an iron gate," Ogden says.