City Council backs work on Saenger

The Saenger Theater is pictured at Second Avenue and Pine Street in Pine Bluff. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

Restoration efforts to the Saenger Theater were approved by the Pine Bluff City Council during Wednesday's council meeting at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

According to the resolution, the theater is in great need of roof and plumbing repairs. After city officials contacted several roofing companies in Pine Bluff and Little Rock the only company prepared to provide an estimate was Reynolds Construction & Commercial Roofing Co.

Opened on Nov. 17, 1924, the Saenger Theater was called "The Showplace of the South." Kathleen Majewska, who spoke in favor of the resolution during the council meeting, said, "The theater deserved to be restored."

"The Saenger Theatre could be the biggest renovation in Pine Bluff," she said. "It's going to take more than just roof repairs."

Majewska explained how she and her late husband made efforts to save the theater. According to previous reports, water damage and vandalism had taken their toll on the theater, but community leaders wanted to save the theater and incorporate it into a Theater Row streetscape as part of the revitalization of downtown Pine Bluff.

In January 2012, Old Towne Centre Theatres, Inc. donated the Saenger Theater to the city. The 2012 budget allocated $15,000 of city funds for repairs. A 2013 grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program aided in paying for repairs to the roof.

Majewska said those repairs only took care of the main roof and not the sides where there has been extensive damage.

The theater, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995 and was placed on Preserve Arkansas' list of Arkansas' Most Endangered Places in 2019, was recently featured in a documentary on the Discovery Channel according to Majewska.

"A few years ago a group from Paris, France, came in to do a study on the theater," she said. The group, according to Majewska, has restored historic theaters on Broadway and is interested in the Saenger Theater.

Majewska said before her husband died a survey was done going to six of the operational Saenger Theaters where renovation and restoration of the theater brought complete revitalization to the area.

A renovated and operational Saenger "would open up a world of possibilities for Pine Bluff," Majewska said in a previous interview. "Our beautiful theater, once restored, will help revitalize downtown and be a magnet for tourists."

The roof repair cost will be $46,205 and will also cover storm drain piping from the exterior of the building to a manhole.

Also approved by the City Council was an ordinance allowing take-home vehicles for police officers who live in proximity to the city limits and reside in Jefferson County at the discretion of the chief of police.

An ordinance amending the classification of personnel within the Police Department was also passed by the council. According to the classification of personnel, there will be one chief of police, one assistant chief of police to be appointed by and serve at the discretion of the chief of police, two deputy chiefs, four captains, 11 lieutenants, 20 sergeants and 116 patrolmen.

Vacant slots on the Pine Bluff Hotel Public Facilities Board were filled by appointees of the mayor after recommendations by members of the board. Roland Watley was appointed to fill the vacant spot of Marty Casteel, who resigned, and Rosalind Mouser filled the vacancy of Bill Bridgforth, who passed away.

Kieona Culclager was approved to serve on the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library Board and Adrienne Cooper will serve on the Planning Commission.

  photo  A mural painted at the Saenger Theater illustrates the old entry and a playbill advertising a 1925 movie. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)