The Joy Theater was once one of four original movie theaters to grace downtown New Orleans alongside the Orpheum (1921), State Palace Theater (1926) and the Saenger Theatre (1927). The Joy Theater opened its doors on February 7, 1947 and was viewed as a “modern” movie house with its iconic neon marquee and art deco architecture. Opening night’s feature film was “Lover Come Back,” starring Lucille Ball and George Brent, while one of the longest running films was the 1975 film “Jaws,” which ran for more than 20 weeks.
In 2003, due to growing movie theater competition, which offered stadium seating and multiple screens, the marquee light that glowed over Canal Street was turned off and the doors to the Joy Theater were closed. In 2011, visionaries Allan McDonnel, Joe Jaeger and Todd Trosclair saw the potential of resurrecting the historical landmark and rebuilding the Joy Theater as a state of the art venue for live music, theatrical performances, comedy, special events and event space. Today, the Joy Theater is dedicated to bringing music, film, and culture to the City of New Orleans and surrounding areas by providing world class entertainment to a wide variety of audiences.
Built in 1946, the Joy Theater is located on the Southwest corner of Canal St. and Elks Place at 1200 Canal Street. The building is an is an 11,000 sq. ft. masonry and steel building, encompassing approximately 8,500 square feet of auditorium, lobby and back of house space at the main level; and approximately 2,500 square feet at the upper levels comprising the lobby mezzanine, and balcony seating. Although the original Joy was built with a small stage and minor back of house amenities its primary usage was as a single screen movie theatre. The original capacity of the theatre is estimated at 1,250 persons.
Designed by Favrot and Reed architects and completed in 1946, the Joy Theatre is one of the few remaining examples of the post-war movie palace in New Orleans.
The Joy was the first movie palace to be constructed in New Orleans following the Depression era's period of economic decline and the new construction ban put in place during World War II. Its conception and construction heralds the optimism and economic expansion of post war America. Coinciding with the peek movie attendance years of 1946-1948 at nearly 90 million patrons annually, its construction marks the apex of the film industry in the United States. Shortly thereafter the advent of television broadcasting during the 1950 saw movie attendance drop by nearly 1/3 in less than a decade.
For over a century Canal St. has been the heart of commerce in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Region. Its historical development charts the commercial history of New Orleans from 1810 until present. This vibrant history has been tempered in recent years by the decline of this traditional urban commercial district in New Orleans. Recent revitalization efforts have began to stem the tide of this decline.
The significance of the Joy Theatre can not be reduced to mere statements of architectural or historical merit. The building stands as a symbol of the vibrant historic legacy of downtown New Orleans. It lives in the minds of generations of New Orleanians who fondly remember Canal Street as an essential component of their daily lives. In this sense the Joy is more than a theatre; it is a repository of memory, meaning and the shared experiences of a community.
Revisit The Joy Theater
Check out the images below to see pictures from our past.