VICKSBURG FACTS: Saenger Amusement Company’s involvement with early entertainment 

Published 9:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2022

Did you know that the Saenger Amusement Company once owned three of Vicksburg’s theaters?

In 1922, the Saenger Amusement Company had ownership of three of Vicksburg’s theaters: The Walnut Street Theatre, The Alamo Theatre and The Bijou Theatre, also known as The Bijou Dream Theatre in some Vicksburg media publications. The Walnut Street Theatre opened in 1898 after the destruction of the Vicksburg Opera House according to Nancy Bell’s “Looking Back: The playhouse that saved Vicksburg entertainment.”

The Alamo Theatre opened in the early 1920s and was originally located at 1501 Washington St. Finally, the Bijou Theatre opened in 1914 in what was originally the Majestic Theatre in 1891 and later on renamed the Lyric Theatre in 1908, according to Nancy Bell’s “Looking Back: Vaudeville, mush-eating and a live baby giveaway at 1412 Washington St.”

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The Bijou Theatre was located at 1412 Washington St. as stated in the article. 

In 1911, the Saenger Brothers, Abe and Julian, wanted to enter the amusement field after visiting the Shreveport movie theater operated by E.V. Richards. The brothers decided to persuade Richards to join them on their journey.

The brothers built the original Saenger Theatre with a vaudeville policy, meaning that the theater’s productions would run as a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, and made Richards the manager, according to the Saenger Amusement website. However, after a year of operation, they moved on to focus on a different form of entertainment, the picture field. In 1912, the Saenger Amusement Company was organized and eventually took over the Fichtenberg enterprises of New Orleans that included theater houses in Vicksburg, Houston and Pensacola, as stated in the Saenger Amusement website. 

When the Saenger Amusement Company started making its way to Vicksburg in the mid to late 1910s, some adjustments were made to adhere to the Saenger policies and the people of Vicksburg’s preferences.

The company tasked Richards with managing The Alamo Theatre and the Bijou Theatre in 1917. While the manager, he was able to give both theaters a new look and described the theaters as “spic-n-span.”

Each theater was given new chairs and exterior updates. Other adjustments were a little more challenging, such as coming to a compromise for the Vicksburg Musician Union. The Saenger Amusement Company wanted to involve more picture films in their theater; however, Vicksburg still used is theaters for live performances.

In 1921, after the Walnut Street Theatre was bought by the company, the Vicksburg Musician Union was not happy with the original proposal of the company. However, after many meetings, an agreement was made.

“Everyone was rosy at the conclusion of the meeting and it is believed the musician members of the local union will vote for the acceptance of the proposition and Eugene Clarke of the Saenger Amusement Company will come here for the purpose of signing the contract,” as stated in the Nov. 17 Vickburg Herald. 

After many adjustments and new improvements, the Saenger Amusement Company continued to give Vicksburg amusing entertainment until the 1950s.