Beginning Tuesday, July 18th Hattiesburg’s Historic Saenger Theater will be opened to the public two days a week. On *Tuesdays from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. and *Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. the theater will be open for walk-in visitors. During Covid-19, the Saenger Theater was closed to walk-in traffic. “We are now operating with enough staff to open the doors so that people can come in and tour this historic building and hopefully have the opportunity to listen to the Robert Morton Organ being played,” said Rick Taylor, Executive Director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, which manages the Saenger Theater.
As a crown jewel of Hattiesburg and part of the Saenger Amusement Company, the 997-seat movie palace was one of seven Saenger Theaters built and operated throughout the South by the Saenger brothers, Abe and Julian. Designed by New Orleans architect Emile Weil, the Saenger Theater is one of the South’s few remaining examples of a movie palace. The Saenger Theater has characteristics typical of the Neoclassical Revival style and Art Deco Style.
Built in 1929, the Saenger was originally a venue to show silent movies. It was constructed at a time when theaters were among the first public structures to benefit from air-conditioning systems. Hattiesburg’s Saenger Theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, was renovated in 2000 and underwent an extensive stucco and paint repair and exterior sign refurbishment in 2022.
As a special treat for visitors on Tuesday afternoons, either organist Doug Rust or Charlie Parker will be playing the 778-pipe Robert Morton organ. This organ is original to the Hattiesburg Saenger, and is one of the few Robert Morton organs still used in a theater in the United States. The organ is located where it was originally installed, making it essentially a custom instrument.
Charlie Parker has been playing organ for 60 years, and plays the Saenger organ each week to keep it in good condition. “The Saenger Theater organ is special for several reasons,” said Parker. “The Robert Morton make of organ was generally made to be louder than the Wurlitzer type of organ, so the higher the wind pressure allowed the tone colors of the organ to be quite bright.” “The organ is well-balanced among its tone colors, so it is a real pleasure to play an instrument of such enthusiastic power,” continued Parker.
Douglas Rust who accompanied the “Not So Silent Movie” on the organ during the FestivalSouth event also plays the Saenger organ weekly. “The organ provides a beautiful sound that is perfectly fitted to this magical theater,” said Rust. “Each rank of pipe has a unique location in the room and a very specific timbre.” “Unlike digital organs, every sound from a pipe organ has its own acoustical presence that feels different, and when the sounds combine you can hear how artfully they were designed to blend,” continued Rust.
Both Parker and Rust volunteer their time to play the Saenger’s organ. “We are so thankful for both Charlie and Doug giving of their time and talents to keep our organ in tip top shape,” said Nathan Jennings, Saenger Theater Manager. “Most people don’t know that regularly playing the organ is good for the instrument, and we are fortunate to have two men who understand this organ and play it beautifully.”
“Because theater organs are rarer now, it is a privilege to have access to this lovely instrument,” said Parker.
*Access to the auditorium and backstage are dependent upon upcoming shows or rehearsals when rented by clients.