POSTED Mon. Jul 25, 2016

Creative Culture

'Broad' Appeal

The Broad Theater in Mid-City celebrates the spirit of New Orleans’ smaller, community theaters, providing a space supporting independent film as well as local productions.

It joins theaters like the Prytania and the Joy in that tradition – only a handful of neighborhood theaters remain open in the city today. Over a hundred theaters have opened and closed in New Orleans over the years, dating back as early as the Vitascope Hall, opened in 1896.

The Broad Theater opened last spring as a four screen theater at the edge of Mid-City and Treme on North Broad St. The historic building originally housed the old Charitable Bingo Hall for Developmentally Disabled Children, and in 1924 business partners Sciambra and Masino began using the space as a plant for their heating, ventilation, and plumbing company.

Decades later, House of Champions boxing club trained in the building, and at various points it has also been home to a boat shop and an auto repair center, among other things.

Theater owner Brian Knighten found the location after years of planning to open his own theater. Like many long-time Mid-City residents, he once frequented Movie Pitchers, a neighborhood cinema on Bienville St that lost its lease in 2000. A funky spot known for its couches and a laid back atmosphere, it served as a meeting place in the community.

“We all loved Movie Pitchers, and I wanted to open a place that brought back that sense of togetherness, but with some updates in terms of picture and sound quality as well as food and drink options,” said Knighten.

After years of searching for a location and working through the process of converting an abandoned warehouse into a neighborhood cinema, Knighten’s dream was realized. The Broad retains the historic character of a century old building, but its contemporary interior also makes the space feel new and vibrant.

The exterior still boasts its original Spanish mission style architecture. It’s a stately, bright white structure built with brick and stucco and rounded, clay colored roof tiles. Columns frame large, arched windows on the facade and intricate molding surrounds the two front entryways. The side entrance (which serves as the theater’s main entryway) is a warehouse loading dock turned doorway, framed by large wooden beams.

When Knighten signed a lease, the property had been vacant for several years and the interior needed significant repair. “Parts of the floor were missing and someone had built a second floor cutting across the large, arched windows,” he says.

Crews gutted the space and turned it into what it is today – a neighborhood theater with auditoriums ranging in size from 50 to 125 seats. The auditoriums feels contemporary and understated. The space is comfortable but not overtly large, and jewel toned walls and exposed wooden beams add warmth to the ambiance.

One auditorium features its own private bar for nontraditional movie offerings as well as private events. The main bar offers wine, beer, and cocktail options, as well as a happy hour prior to weekday screenings between 5pm and 7pm.

The Broad offers “a mix of Hollywood fare that has crossover potential and independent film, but we definitely want to emphasize art and regional cinema,” said Knighten. In addition, the theater has become a magnet for food trucks and a venue for local improv, comedy and artists. Weekly Thursday matinees are aimed at parents with young kids.

For now the Broad works to cement its place in the history of New Orleans’ neighborhood theaters. They’re off to a good start – there are also no commercials before a film plays.

The Broad Theater is located at 636 North Broad Street. Click here for more details.

Image via Facebook.

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