Palace Theater, one of Louisiana's most endangered sites, slowly being restored
A historic entertainment venue in Jackson Parish, named one of the state's most endangered sites, is in the beginning stages of being restored.
The Palace Theater in Jonesboro became a popular gathering space for this rural north central Louisiana community with popular westerns, double features, and even newsreels of worldly events. Newspapers advertisements show that as many as three different movies were presented during one week in the 1930s and '40s.
It was built in 1924 and shows on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map as a "theatorium," according to the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation. The building was updated to its current style of Art Deco, with some Spanish Colonial Revival in 1935, when stucco was supplied to its façade.
While the theater building has been vacant for decades, the Greater North Louisiana Community Development Corporation hopes to rehabilitate and return it to an entertainment attraction once again. The nonprofit organization is actively fundraising to make major renovations to the National Register landmark.
The theater also played a locally significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1965, the theater and two nearby restaurants were sued by the U.S. Attorney General for refusing to admit Black patrons.
"It is one of few theaters in Louisiana that was sued by the Department of Justice for violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act and what happen as a result of being sued by the federal government, rather than integrate they closed the theater and the two restaurants," Simmons said. "They said, 'No we're not going to serve Black folks so what we'll do is close our doors', so in 1964 [or] 1965, the Palace closed its doors and maybe once, twice or once after that opened its doors but didn't succeed."
As the popularity of television and other entertainment increased, the Palace opened and closed for business throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Simmons said the organization's current goal is to renovate the theater, which has suffered immense damages from sitting vacant for decades. Renovations will include stripping and refinishing the existing wood floors, adding carpeting to the aisles and stairs, updating acoustic tiles, adding murals and metallic paint details, roof repair and reupholstering seating.
"It's in a state of disrepair," Simmons said. "The roof is one of the major things damaged due to water erosion but once we finish and of course, it's going to take a lot to make it happen with millions of dollars but we would like the Palace Theater to become more of a center of excellence for showcasing issues, programs, seminars, workshops, dinners that deals with addressing problems of our nation. We would like for it to be a center of excellence where you could come to the Palace Theater and see a national debate, maybe a governor's race and the candidates are in the theater addressing what they're going to do for the state of Louisiana. We want it to be more... we're not talking a theater where you show movies, that's not what we're talking about. We want it to a center of activity that reflects what's happening in the state of Louisiana and what's happening in the nation as well."
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