Our History and Mission
In the late 1970s, the Saenger Theatre was on the brink of being razed until a citizens’ effort to save her (and the Morton Theatre Organ housed within her walls) kept her from the wrecking ball and convinced the City of Pensacola to take ownership of the building.
This led to the creation of the Saenger Management Board, formed to manage the day-to-day operations of the theatre. Given the theatre’s sad state, a massive renovation was necessary, and the Friends of the Saenger, Inc. was established on March 17, 1980 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 on the National Register of Historic Places.
In October 1987, the City of Pensacola contracted with Ogden Facility Management, Inc. to manage the theatre and the Saenger Management Board was dissolved. But the Friends of the Saenger, Inc. remained, and in June 1992, the Friends donated $50,000 as seed money toward the renovation of the theatre lobby. Active fundraising efforts resumed, and FOS raised much of the money to complete the renovations, which included doubling the size of the lobby and providing better accommodations for persons with disabilities.
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 January 2004, an independent committee comprised of many of the arts users of the theatre was formed to explore the possibility of enlarging the theatre’s stage and improving the dressing room areas. This launched another multi-million dollar campaign to assist the Saenger. The Friends of the Saenger pledged to raise $1,000,000 toward this goal (immediately donating $100,000 as seed money) and the rest was provided by the City of Pensacola. The theatre was closed in June 2007 and reopened in March 2009 as 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 a historically correct paint job!
Additionally, the Friends of the Saenger sponsor a “Broadway Series” each year which brings over 10,000 people to the theatre. At these Broadway shows, members of FOS enjoy benefits such as a private intermission reception and free parking at the nearby Intendencia Street garage.
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. 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. We hope that you will become a member of FOS and support our quest to keep the Saenger beautiful and accessible to all!
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.
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.