Saenger Theatre restoration giving ‘gem of the Coast’ new life
The Saenger Theatre in Biloxi has been shuttered since March 2018. For months, you’ve seen the changes taking place outside. This week, WLOX was allowed inside this gem of the Gulf Coast get a look at how the restoration efforts are going.
BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The Saenger Theatre in Biloxi has been shuttered since March 2018. For months, you’ve seen the changes taking place outside. This week, WLOX was allowed inside this gem of the Gulf Coast get a look at how the restoration efforts are going.
For the last couple of years, scaffolding has moved from place to place at the Saenger Theatre, hiding the tedious work going on to bring the coast treasure back to life. As one section is complete, another gets started. However, it’s the work taking place inside that the public has not yet seen until now.
Kempton Batia is the president of Blackline, the company charged with restoring the Saenger.
“Most of the scope of the work that we performed was outside. We did do some temporary repairs inside. We removed the seats, first of all, so they wouldn’t be damaged,” explained Batia. “These walls were rotten and falling down in many places due to exposure from water coming in from the shell. We removed the areas that were rotten, patched them in. A lot of this is original plaster. The patches that were done about 10 to 15 years ago were sheetrock and the patches we did were sheetrock.”
“We refinished the walls and painted them this color, which is very similar to the way it was when we arrived. Vents were added to the top and bottom to help dry the wall cavities. That was about the extent of the work here in the inside. We got some of the lights working that weren’t working, replaced light bulbs, and got the chandelier working.”
The bulk of the work, though, took place directly above the stage. The old fly tower was completely removed and a new one was built in its place.
“What we did was take everything down piece by piece, expose all of the steel, then we came in and patched and replaced much of the steel and made it suitable to carry this new structure,” continued Batia. “We laid all new block, stripped the outside to apply metal panels. When we disassembled it, we had to bring the existing steel framing more or less back into square, install new, stronger pieces, and replace some pieces. It was a pretty neat job. I got to tell you, it was challenging. A new roof was put on it and a new rigging grid was put in and, of course, a new roof over the auditorium.”
In order to put in that new room over the auditorium, the old one was stripped down to the plywood. Side supports were also replaced and new insulation was installed before the new white finishing layer was placed.
“In addition to the the existing rooftop units were all replaced. In order to replace them, they had to relocate them somewhat. So, we had to install new steel framing that actually penetrated the roof and comes down into the metal truss system over the auditorium. That had to be designed so the new rooftop units could be flown in to sit on that new framing. It was an undertaking but it worked out.”
Finally, there is the newest work, which is taking place on the front entrance. Much of what you saw prior to the scaffolding going up was made up of different materials than the rest of the building, and the final matches for new material are now taking place.
“Remove all the existing mortar and re-point it and the replace the existing awning out front with something that’s historically accurate but has a much more modern structure and modern design, something that’s durable. We’ll then replace the exterior doors, the ticket booth and things of that nature... all aesthetics out on the west façade to make it look like it originally did,” said Batia.
Once Batia and Blackline have finished their work, the Saenger will look closer to the way it originally did, but there is still much to do. Despite the fresh look inside, some of the more ornate work still needs to be done, new carpet needs to be installed and, of course, both side sections of chairs still need to be reinstalled.
City of Biloxi officials say they are still working to find an managing operator for the Saenger Theatre. Site visits have taken place and conversations are ongoing.
Want more WLOX news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Copyright 2022 WLOX. All rights reserved.