The Saenger Theatre was built in 1925, originally for Vaudeville and Silent Movies. Located near the railroad tracks, the theatre was part of a chain of Southeastern Theatres that were very popular with performers who were traveling by train. In 1940, Cinemascope was introduced and movies reigned as a staple of entertainment in Pensacola. During World War II the Saenger hosted News Reels 24 hours a day in addition to the regular movie schedule. This was especially important for military personnel serving at nearby NAS. The Saenger remained vibrant for many years.
But, in 1975, as downtown areas were being largely abandoned in favor of suburban malls, the aging building was closed in deplorable condition. In 1976, ABC Southeastern Theatres donated the Saenger to the City of Pensacola. However, due to a lack of government funds, it was determined the building should be demolished and the property would become a parking lot. Enter a group of citizens that would eventually become Friends of the Saenger (FOS). They rallied citizens, businesses, The City of Pensacola, and The University of West Florida to restore the Saenger as a performing arts center for Northwest Florida.
The Grand Reopening of the Saenger Theatre took place in 1981 to the sounds of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and much celebration. The newly renovated Saenger provided a home that served as a base for the development of Pensacola’s now vibrant arts community.
In 1995, FOS spearheaded the addition of a Grand Lobby at the Palafox Place entrance. As the arts grew, performance groups and audiences realized the shortcomings of a vaudeville theatre turned major arts venue.
In 2009, a massive $15 million renovation and expansion took place. It included restoring the Saenger’s original historic paint and decor. The theatre is now a world class performing arts center.
The Saenger Theatre is also home to an original Robert Morton Theatre Pipe Organ which was installed in 1925 and underwent a FOS sponsored massive restoration and expansion in 2014.
As of 2017, the fully restored Saenger Theatre is counted among the best in the country. Touring Broadway Shows and world renown performing artists grace the original wooden stage regularly. The Saenger also hosts many local arts groups—The Pensacola Symphony, Ballet Pensacola, The Pensacola Opera and The Pensacola Children’s Chorus all consider the Saenger Theatre to be their home venue.
Famous artists who have appeared in the historic Saenger include many ‘greats’. Itzhak Perlman, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Burl Ives, George Carlin, Robin Williams and Ziggy Marley are just a few the world-class performers too numerous to list.
The Friends of the Saenger’s ongoing work to restore and maintain the theatre with such projects as production equipment upgrades, the organ restoration, and arts and entertainment advocacy efforts helps to ensure ‘The Grand Dame of Palafox’ continues as the premiere venue in Northwest Florida for many generations to come.
The Saenger Theatre has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.
The Saenger relies on support from local government, corporations, patrons, artists, and individual donations to stay in excellent restored condition. 100% of your donations to Friends of the Saenger, Inc. goes to support the theatre and are fully tax deductible. Thank you for enjoying and supporting the beautiful Saenger Theatre.