The Circle Theatre at St. Bernard Avenue and North Galvez Street opened its doors in September of 1939. Since the neighborhood around the Circle was predominately composed of people of color, the balcony, which was reserved for them, was roughly double the size of the main floor which was reserved for whites only. It was one of the largest movie theatres in New Orleans and provided 580 seats for whites and 900 seats for its colored patrons.
The building took nine months to construct at a total cost of $120,000 . The modern designed exterior consisted of a white stucco front which was built by Jadel Theatres Corporation. The interior stadium style seats had stairs that led all the way up to the ceiling. Beautiful smoking lounges, roomy blond maple chairs and a gigantic Frigidaire cooling system added to the ambiance of the building. It was air conditioned, fireproof and also equipped with a sprinkler system. Its manager was Jacques Dicharry Jr., the son of the president of the construction company.
Opening night was held on Wednesday, September 27, 1939. When the curtains went up at 5 o’clock in the evening, the audience was thrilled when the movie They Made Me A Criminal, starring John Garfield, Claude Rains and Ann Sheridan, appeared on the screen. Three short side shows were shown along with the featured film. They were Three Stooges Comedy, Ferdinand the Bull (colored cartoon) and Deviled Hand, a short musical with Erskine Hawkins and his Big Band
On December 22, 1971, thirty years later, the Circle was sold to Rene Brunet Jr. He often told a story of an event that took place at the theater during the showing of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”. It goes like this…
“When the Circle was showing the film, I was fortunate to arrange for the man who played the Creature to come in person with his gigantic green, rubber costume covered with fins and gills. The head alone was about 26 inches high and the man was about 6’6″ tall, so in his full regalia, he was a very imposing Creature. I arranged for the Creature, bound in chains around his ankles and wrists, to walk onto the stage at the ending of the picture and I flooded the darkened theater with green lights. This was so effective that when he neared the front of the stage, the 1,200 people in the audience were stricken with fear, and they all ran out of the theater screaming! Outside observers stated that they saw every exit door fly open and people running in every direction, apparently in fear for their lives. After everyone had left, at least 800 pairs of shoes were found under the seats, left by the terrified owners.”
Six years after purchasing the theater, Rene Brunet Jr. sold it to Domio’s Restaurant and Caterers in 1977. It was used primarily as a bingo hall and was sold on November 19, 1990 to Rally’s who demolished the Circle to build a hamburger restaurant.
What are your memories of the Circle Theatre?
Sources: There’s One in Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theatres of New Orleans, Rene Brunet Jr. and Jack Stewart (2012) published by: Arthur Hardy Enterprises, Inc., The Times Picayune 26 September 1939 p.11
Lolita Villavasso Cherrie