Orpheum Theater makeover on track for Katrina anniversary debut in New Orleans

Renovations continue at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans Thursday, July 2, 2015. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

By Chris Waddington, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Plasterwork continues in the lobby during renovations at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans Thursday, July 2, 2015. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)
Plasterwork continues in the lobby during renovations at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans Thursday, July 2, 2015. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

Orpheum Theater developers have confirmed that renovation work at the historic New Orleans concert hall is on schedule. They expect to complete the yearlong, $13 million project before the Aug.??29 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Renowned for its acoustics, the Orpheum Theater, 129 Roosevelt Way, has been shuttered since 2005. Floodwaters filled the basement of the hall, just outside the French Quarter, when federal levees failed during Hurricane Katrina.

During a Wednesday (July 2) walk-through, construction workers scrambled throughout the building.

Plasterers climbed scaffolds to touch up decorative ceilings and terra cotta details in the lobby: elements revealed when drywall was pulled away early in the project.

In the balcony and lofty gallery areas of the theater, new chairs were

Renovations continue at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans Thursday, July 2, 2015. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)
Renovations continue at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans Thursday, July 2, 2015. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

being installed. About 1,491 will be in place when the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra performs the first concert at the hall, Sept.??17.

The new chairs will be a major improvement for patrons, said project architect Jack Sawyer of the Eskew, Dumez, Ripple design firm. (Sawyer also took a leading role in the renovation of the nearby Civic Theatre).

“The new seats are wider and provide more leg room than the old seats,” Sawyer said. “The seating platforms at the Orpheum gave us enough space to increase comfort without changing the capacity of the hall.”

The seats were produced by KI, a Wisconsin firm whose projects have ranged from the new set furniture for CBS This Morning to office interiors for Silicon Valley tech firms.

Big changes were apparent in other areas of the building, too.

Main lobby bar at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans Thursday, July 2, 2015. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)
Main lobby bar at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans Thursday, July 2, 2015. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

During??a tour of the Orpheum in February ??? halfway point for the project ??? the theater’s eight new bathrooms and 6 permanent bars existed only on architectural plans. Now one can walk through these new amenities, which transform the 1918 hall into a comfortable 21st century venue.

More changes are afoot behind the scenes, said Kristin Shannon, general manager for the theater. The Orpheum launched it’s new website on Thursday and theater staff has been quietly booking private and corporate functions.

The Orpheum’s first public performance has been set for months. The venue’s anchor tenant – the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra – has announced a Sept. 17 kick-off date for its concert season at the restored theater. The lineup of other Orpheum performers will be announced in August, and is expected to include comics, modern dance, stage plays and all styles of music.

The Orpheum restoration is being led by Roland and Mary von

Renovations continue at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans Thursday, July 2, 2015. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)
Renovations continue at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans Thursday, July 2, 2015. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

Kurnatowski, who bought the Orpheum for $1.5 million in February 2014 with business partner Dr. Eric George. The von Kurnatowskis are the owners of Tipitina’s club and founders of the Tipitina’s Foundation, which supports music culture by supplying instruments and internships to young musicians.

They discussed the aims of the restoration in a July 2014 story published by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

TicketsRight arrow icon