$15 million restoration effort underway for historic Orpheum Theater

$15 million restoration effort underway for historic Orpheum Theater

Memories of what the grand Orpheum Theater once was are helping fuel the $15 million project to bring the famed venue back.

"People came here for movies. People came here for performances," said Eric George, MD, the Orpheum's Co-Owner. "They remember this theater for what it was for them as children."

That cherished legacy also adds pressure to the restoration effort that began in May.

"We had a little trepidation at first when walking into a major project like this," George said. "But when we walked into the theater and saw the awe-inspiring appearance of the building, we knew it was a project we had to do."

Built in 1918, the Orpheum has been dormant since Hurricane Katrina. The facility's basement area suffered extensive water damage.

Crews are working to restore the building's rich design and ornate details, while also packing in some modern features – from an adjustable floor to state-of-the art sound.

"(The Orpheum is) known throughout the south for its quality sound," George said. "We've hired some of the best engineers in the country, sound engineers, to make sure we can maintain that same quality of performances."

As the work continues, yet another historic venue is coming back to life, like the Saenger, Joy, Civic and Mahalia Jackson Theaters before it.

NOLA.com / Times-Picayune music writer Keith Spera said that rebirth is huge for the city's already beloved music scene.

"The historical element of these rooms -- I know a lot of the bands like playing in those kind of places, because it kind of connects them with the history of entertainment in the past, and they often have very good acoustics," Spera said. "So, the Orpheum coming back online, it's definitely the more the merrier."

Orpheum Co-Owner Roland Von Kurnatowski said he's thrilled by the growing interest in the project.

"People come by and they give you the high-five and they call out, 'Can't wait for it to come back,' and sometimes they heckle you a little bit -- 'I hope you get it right,'" Von Kurnatowski said with a laugh. "The difference between coming here and doing this and nobody notices, and coming here and doing this and everybody is with you, is a great thing, it really is."

The Orpheum's co-owners say they'll host a wide range of events, from theater to concerts. The venue will also serve as the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra's home, once again.

Under various configurations, capacity will range from about 1,500 to just below 2,000.

"It is going to be fantastic, and we're really looking to forward to it," George said. "To be part of such an iconic property is priceless."

To see more photos of the restoration process, click here: http://bit.ly/1z1E1sF

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