MDAH Awards Hattiesburg with $250K Grant for Saenger Theater

Hattiesburg, Mississippi – At its regular meeting on January 21, the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) listed the Hattiesburg Saenger Theater as one of its Community Heritage Preservation Grant recipients, with $250,000 in funding to be used for renovations to damaged plaster on the ceiling.

“As a Mississippi Landmark, the Saenger Theater is a catalyst in our community and has brought culture, entertainment and economic vitality to Downtown Hattiesburg for decades,” said Mayor Toby Barker. “While COVID-19 halted events in the venue for well over a year, we are poised to see this venue roar back to life. This grant will ensure that the wear and tear that the theater has naturally occurred over the years will be repaired and that it will continue its place as a centerpiece of Hattiesburg history.”

Over time, natural wear and tear on the facility have presented in the degradation of the bonding agent between the renovated ceiling and the 1929 plaster ceiling. This has caused the plaster layer used during the renovation to delaminate and drop to the auditorium floor.  

The Saenger has gone through several restoration efforts since its opening as a movie venue on Thanksgiving Day in 1929, with its largest in 2000 during a $3.75 million renovation project. This specific investment sparked a renewed interest in this cornerstone of Hattiesburg history. At its completion, the Theater pushed forward with a variety of entertainment offerings and promotional efforts ultimately turning a profit for the first time in 2019.

“While the pandemic has undeniably taken its toll, the Saenger continues to host events and provide entertainment options for Hattiesburg residents and visitors,” said Rick Taylor, executive director of the Convention Commission. “Looking forward, the anticipation is that the Saenger’s trajectory of success will continue as we rebound economically and this grant funding will play a vital role in that.”

The Community Heritage Preservation Grant program, authorized and funded by the Mississippi Legislature, helps preserve and restore historic courthouses and schools in Certified Local Government communities and other historic properties. This is the third consecutive grant that Hattiesburg has received since 2019.

“The Hattiesburg Saenger is a beloved landmark in our community and is the holder of so many memories – especially for residents like me who have lived here our entire lives,” said Representative Missy McGee. “I am pleased the Legislature once again funded this program during the 2021 session, continuing to preserve our state’s historical architecture while protecting the legacy they hold in our communities.”

The total cost for the restoration efforts is $750,000, with $500,000 contributed by the Convention Comission to curtail the delamination process and repair the existing wear and tear to the plaster in several locations of the main auditorium. 

As a collaborative program between the City of Hattiesburg, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission and the City’s legislative delegation, letters of support from Barker, McGee and community organizations were instrumental in its application.