NEWS AND EVENTS

 Vitascope Hall

FIRST MOVIE THEATER IN AMERICA GETS ITS MARKER ON CANAL STREET

On July 26, 1896, the first movie theater in the United States opened at 623 Canal Street in New Orleans.  Admission to the 400-seat theater—basically a showroom fitted with a projector and filled with chairs—was 10 cents. For an additional dime, patrons were afforded a glimpse behind the curtain to see the innovative Edison Vitascope projector that converted still black and white photos into moving images up to a minute long.

Now, over a century later, Vitascope Hall has finally received an historic marker that commemorates the location where American theatre-goers got their first glimpses of the technology that added motion to pictures.

A preliminary unveiling of the marker took place on October 14, 2019, two days prior to the opening of New Orleans Film Festival. However, the permanent installation was unexpectedly delayed when it was determined that additional engineering studies were needed to ensure the integrity of the installation and the infrastructure beneath.

Recognizing the significance of this part of history, Louisiana-based engineer Paul Flower of Woodward Design and Build offered to orchestrate the design and installation of the marker on a pro bono basis. The installation was completed at the corner of Canal St. and Exchange Place on June 15, 2020.

Installation of the marker has been a priority of Ed and Susan Poole, internationally known film historians and archivists, for over 20 years.

“Our original application for the installation of the marker was submitted in 1996, to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of Vitascope Hall,” said Sue. “However, ours was not the first request for such. In our research, we discovered an article in The Times-Picayune calling for an historic marker—that was in 1912. So we’re delighted that this is finally coming to fruition!”

In 2014, the couple met Michael W. Domingue, the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s Recreational Trails Program Administrator, when the two were making a presentation about their book, Hollywood on the Bayou, at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge.

“As soon as Ed shared the story of Vitascope Hall, I knew it was the crowning jewel for New Orleans and Louisiana as an important component of Hollywood South,” said Domingue. “We had to make this historical landmark a reality.”

Unfortunately, the application got stuck in the bureaucratic mire waiting for approval. Momentum picked up when Hollywood veteran and Louisiana author Linda Thurman learned about Vitascope Hall and the stalled application process.

“I met Ed and Sue while researching a book about Louisiana’s film industry,” said Thurman. “When I learned from them that this important piece of history was hiding in plain sight, I wanted to help them in their efforts. It was a story waiting to be told!”

Recognizing the significance of this effort, New Orleans philanthropists Russ and Sandra Herman signed on as sponsors to underwrite the project. With backing Thurman and Domingue got the ball rolling again with the aid of Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. Lynne Coxwell, who oversees the Louisiana Historical Marker Program, helped with the application process.

Approved and purchased in 2016, the marker has been in storage in a City of New Orleans warehouse. Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s executive office director Amy Rodenberger brought the project to the attention of the mayor, who quickly appointed director of constituent services Bryon Cornelison to oversee crucial last stages of installation.

“It feels rather fitting that this whole process has been an interesting journey,” said Poole. “In an industry built by storytelling, we feel this is what we could consider the final chapter. And now the story can continue to live on with each visitor who stands alongside that historic marker where it all began.”

Sandra Thompson Herman

TRAILBLAZER DONATES LEGACY PAPERS TO UL LAFAYETTE

When a career includes the design and direction of a Louisiana state department, a bid for Secretary of State, founding and running a successful oil industry trucking company and serving three terms as executive director of a multi-million dollar government project, it is certainly a testament of endurance and accomplishment. When that career was launched in the 1970s by a female in male-dominated industries, it is unprecedented. For Sandra Thompson Herman, that nearly four-decade journey has been extensively documented in writings, photographs and additional materials, a collection that now holds a place amidst historic documents in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Edith Garland Dupré Library.

That journey, which began in the 1970s, included the design of Louisiana’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in 1975, which the young visionary led from 1976 through 1978. In 1979, she became the first woman to run for Louisiana’s secretary of state, defeated by a narrow margin. In 1980, the adventurous businesswoman embraced the state’s oil boom, launching a trucking company to serve the industry. Over the next 15 years, she grew the business from a small fleet of three trucks to 12, serving parishes throughout south Louisiana. She returned to state government in 1996, serving three terms as executive director of the Atchafalaya Basin Program–two under Governor Mike Foster and a third under Governor Kathleen Blanco. For all of these accomplishments to have been achieved by a female in male dominated industries was unprecedented.

“This donation celebrates a trailblazer who paved the way for the future of women in government,” said Governor John Bel Edwards in a statement issued prior to the ceremony. “It’s quite fitting that these papers will be housed in conjunction with the university’s Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center. Hopefully it will inspire young women to seek a career in public service.”

The donation ceremony took place in the university’s Alumni Center. It included remarks from the university’s President Dr. E. Joseph Savoie, Department of Communications Associate Professor Dr. Dedria Givens-Carroll, the library’s Head of Special Collections Zachary Stein and several of Herman’s former colleagues and employees.

The donation ceremony was followed by a presentation to the university of a $25,000 Sandra Thompson Herman Endowed Scholarship in Communications by Mrs. Herman and her husband, Russ. The first scholarship will be awarded to in May of 2020 to a scholar who is passionate about policy, service, and leadership.