BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Residents packed the chambers of the Biloxi City Council to talk about the historic Saenger Theatre. They were there to speak about the restoration of the theatre. The issue was up for a vote before the city council two weeks ago.
The vote was tabled, so city staff could spend 60 days sourcing funding, so the money didn’t have to come out of the $14-million infrastructure bond that passed last year.
Tuesday, dozens of people eager to share their feelings on the nearly 100-year old Coast treasure, began arriving almost an hour before the meeting’s start.
The first to speak was Gwen Gollotte, who chaired the restoration of the theatre in 1976.
She and other Coast theatre supporters shared their memories with the building. Those memories ranged from volunteer service for the theatre, to decades of theatrical and dance performances, to lifelong adoration for a place that, these devoted fans say, paved the way for the original entertainment district in early Biloxi.
Anthony Kalberg first visited the Saenger Theatre in the 1960′s. Since then, he has graced the boards of the theatre many times.
“This theatre has survived 90 years of coastal history... Camille, Katrina, the Great Storm of 1948, two world wars, the Great Depression, and if we destroy the Saenger, we destroy part of the Coast’s history," said kalberg. "And, that would be a shame to let such a jewel of coastal history be destroyed.”
Matthew Marvar’s love for the theatre started as a performer with Riviera Productions.
“When I was a kid, my mom stuffed me into a show called Evita,” said Mavar. “I hated it at first. But when it was over, I had so much fun. I asked to do another."
Marvar said for years after his first two shows, he didn’t do any theatre.
“I played football, wrestled and went to boarding school... just became your typical jock,” Mavar told WLOX.
After school, he came home missing the theatre. He auditioned for another show and was shocked to see who was there.
“During that audition, I found out that there was one person from each of the shows that I did back when I was a kid,” said Mavar. “It was because of the Saenger that we got to come back together and share in each other’s lives,” Mavar said.
Countless others spoke in support of renovating the mothballed theatre. The city council understood the message loud and clear- Save the Saenger. Councilman Robert Deming, III was among those who heard the rally cry.
“You saw the community that came out for this today. I mean, it’s an overwhelming response to some statements that were made and maybe misrepresented by myself. But, we all believe in the value of the gem of the south," said Deming.
Deming says it was never about destroying the theater just because.
“There’s not anyone on this council that wants to see that go away. What we want to do is be responsible with the tax dollars that we have, the dollars that we collect from our constituents every year to pay for our certain responsibilities and obligations of the city,” Deming told WLOX. "It’s about finding the best value for every dollar that we spend and make sure that it goes as far as it can go.”
Deming went on to say that the Saenger Theatre is part of the history of every family on the Coast and tapping into all streams of federal, state and private funding will be the best way to address this need for the City of Biloxi.