The Friends of the Saenger, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization. Gifts are tax-deductible to the extent of current IRS regulations.
The Friends of the Saenger, Inc. was founded March 17, 1980, as the fund raising arm of the Saenger Management Board.
The Saenger Theatre had been on the brink of being razed when a citizens’ effort to save her and the Morton Theatre Organ housed within her walls kept her from the wrecking ball. Owned by the City of Pensacola, the Saenger Management Board was formed to manage the day to day operations. A massive renovation had to be undertaken, and the Friends of the Saenger, Inc. was established to raise the money. Through the joint efforts of the city of Pensacola, FOS and the University of West Florida, the theatre was restored and returned to its standing as a center for the performing arts. The restoration project took four-years and 1.6 million dollars to complete but in 1981 the theatre reopened and today is listed in the National Register of Historic Sites.
In October, 1987, the City of Pensacola contracted with Ogden Facility Management, Inc. to manage the theatre. The Saenger Management Board was dissolved. The Friends of the Saenger, Inc. was dormant from that time until the spring of 1992. In June, 1992, the Friends donated $50,000 as seed money toward the renovation of the lobby. Active fund raising efforts resumed, and FOS raised much of the money to complete the lobby renovations, which included doubling the size of the lobby, providing better accommodations for persons with disabilities and restoring the lobby to the grand scale of its historic past.
After this, FOS continued to raise funds for the Theatre, and was able to purchase several items for capital improvement, including a new sound system, carpeting, and a projector. In 2011 we partnered with The Hearing Center of the Medical Center Clinic to replace the analog hearing impaired system with a new digital one, allowing hearing impaired patrons to adjust their hearing aids to the telecoil setting. The Liberty Sertoma Club learned of this project, and donated additional funds so that the Friends could use their money for other projects.
In January, 2004, an independent committee comprised of many of the arts users of the theatre, including The Pensacola Symphony, Pensacola Ballet, The Pensacola Children’s Chorus and the Pensacola Opera was formed to explore the possibility of enlarging the theatre’s stage and improving the dressing room areas. That launched another multi-million dollar campaign to assist the Saenger. The Friends of the Saenger pledged to raise $1,000,000 toward this goal and the rest was provided by the City of Pensacola. The Friends of the Saenger immediately donated $100,000 as seed money. The theatre was closed beginning in June, 2007 and reopened on March, 2009 with a state of the art facility boasting 20,000 square feet of dressing room space and a theatre hall with new and larger seats and an historically correct paint job!
The Friends of the Saenger sponsor a Broadway Show series each year which brings in over 10,000 people to the Theatre. Members of FOS enjoy benefits including a private intermission reception and free parking during these events. FOS also sponsors small fund-raisers from time to time. FOS also produced a video entitled Pensacola in Film & Music. Narrated by Pensacola radio legend Gordon Towne, the documentary highlights the movies, TV shows and music that have depicted our community over the last 90 years. We also produced a CD entitled Pensacola in Music, which features a collection of music that was inspired by Pensacola, as performed by the singers/songwriters who created the tunes. Revenue from the sale of these items goes into our fundraising efforts.
In 2008 local businessman R. Clark Thompson helped establish the Sherri Hemminghaus Children's Fund, honoring Sherri Hemminghaus-Weeks in recognition of her 25 years of dedication to the Saenger. This fund is specifically created to provide underprivileged children, such as those from low-income families or foster care systems, with an opportunity to experience the theatre. In short, the fund provides local kids' groups with free tickets to selected cultural events at the Saenger. Since the fund's creation, it has succeeded in bringing local children to Broadway shows, symphony concerts, and ballet performances. FOS continues to raise money for this fund and is the administrator of the Fund.
The Friends of the Saenger has always been, and continues to be, a completely volunteer organization. We keep our expenses to a minimum so that the majority of funds raised can be put directly into capital improvements for the historic Saenger Theatre.
The Saenger Theatre is, once again, lighting up the streets of downtown Pensacola, and we are very proud of the new look. With wider seats, a larger orchestra pit and stage, new meeting rooms, and world-class dressing rooms, the Saenger is ready to perform. Whether you prefer an opera or country music, a magic show or a Broadway play, you will benefit from the improvements.
While the City of Pensacola owns the theatre and funded a majority of the recent renovation, the City’s annual budget provides the Saenger virtually no funding beyond basic operating funds. The Friends of the Saenger, Inc. was created to ensure continuing improvements and restoration. When it was almost demolished in the early 1980s, the Friends of the Saenger literally saved the historic theatre from destruction. In the past, we have provided funding to enlarge the lobby, purchase carpeting, and install digital projectors and a sound system.
Future plans include establishing a secondary performance series featuring jazz, pop and drama and renovation of the theatre organ. As part of our plan to make the theatre more accessible to everyone, we recently created a special fund to enable underprivileged children to attend theatre performances.