History of the Teche Theatre
The Teche Theatre was always meant to be a source of pride for Franklin. The utmost care and planning went into the vision of what it would be and what it would mean to the community from the very beginning. Fred Nehrbass of Favrot & Reed was the architect who planned it all, and it's he that we have to thank for the design of the theater. His plans were carried out by W. J. Quick & Hudson East, contractors from Lake Charles, Louisiana. Their execution of Nehrbass' vision produced a beautiful theater that, as you know, still stands today. The Teche was built, quite literally, with a little bit of Franklin, as the steel used was sourced from the St. Mary Iron Works of Franklin. When all was said and done, the Teche was not only a place for the arts, but also a showcase of modern design at the time. The front of the theater features glass blocks in black, tan, and red to match the dazzling marquee outside. The floor was done in stylish terrazzo. Walking into the theater just after completion would have been a stunning sight to see! At the time, the Teche, with a seating capacity of 800, was very spacious.
Construction began in 1939, and was finished shortly after, in the spring of 1940. The owner at the time, the Lauve-Bodin Amusement Company, made sure that the furnishings placed inside the theater were of the same quality as the building itself. The air conditioning system was state of the art at the time, running on gas. The equipment was top-of-the-line as well; the well-known R.C.A. High Fidelity sound system and Simplex (a trusted name in motion picture equipment) film projectors. No expense was spared. At its opening, the Teche was the most luxurious theater in South Louisiana.
The theater was opened on Easter Weekend, March 29th, 1940. The first show, "Charlie Chan in Panama" debuted on the next day, Easter Sunday. Times were good, and the theater prospered.
However, the success of the Teche came and went. With the invention of the television, attendance rates plummeted as patrons now could stay in their own homes for entertainment. As the years wore on, the theater grew in need of repair. The Lauve-Bodin company decided to lease out the theater to someone who would give it the updates that it desperately needed. In 1968, Mr. Aubrey Lasseigne accepted the challenge. He signed a 20-year lease and overhauled the Teche. Updates included soundproofing, replacing the seating with more comfortable rocking chairs, a new sound system, and automating the projection room. The Teche gained new life and prospered once more. Sadly, this resurgence of interest was not to last either. Neighboring towns started to build multiplex cinemas, drawing movie-goers elsewhere. Attendance dropped until the mid-1980s, when the doors of the Teche Theater were finally drawn closed.
The closure was short lived, luckily, and in the mid-1990s, the theater was purchased from Lauve-Bodin by the city of Franklin for $40,000. The building was immediately leased to the "Teche Theatre for the Performing Arts", an organization devoted to restoring the Teche to its former glory. The doors of the theater were reopened on Friday, August 2nd, 2002. A special black tie Gala dinner theater event was held. It was a huge success. The next day, August 3rd, was the day of the Grand Opening event. Both nights sold out. The first touring company to perform at the revitalized Teche was John McConnell. His one man show, "Earl Long in Purgatory", was a hit and all three performances sold out.
One more obstacle arose in the story of the Teche. In October of 2002, Hurricane Lily hit St. Mary Parish and Franklin directly. The theater was not spared from the storm, and it received major damage to the roof as well as the interior. Once again, the doors had to be closed for major repairs. After a very diligent effort for many months, the theater was eventually reopened. On the weekend of August 8th, 2003, the Teche celebrated the reopening with another Gala. Performances were held over that entire weekend, with the Teche debuting its first "Dessert Matinee".
In September of 2003, the theater began its series "Classics of the Silver Screen". One weekend a month, an important movie to the history of Hollywood was shown on the large screen at the Teche. Some of the films shown were "The Philadelphia Story", "To Kill a Mockingbird", and "Fancy Pants". The series was finished that year with Irving Berlin's "White Christmas". September was also when rehearsals for the first in house production, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", began. The show was performed on December 5th, 6th, and 7th, starring John Braud, Edward Verdin, and Diane Wiltz. Two nights of dinner theater, one dessert matinee, and one night of general seating all sold out.
Since then, the Teche has enjoyed success without any major setbacks. All of the hard work of everyone who made the theater such a hit was recognized in 2004 when Mr. Jeff Minor (president), and Mr. John Braud (vice-president) of the Teche Theatre Board of Directors, both received the "Virginia Tyler Guillotte Award," presented by the St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce, for their outstanding achievement in restoring the Teche Theatre to its former glory. At the beginning, the Teche Board had envisioned a two-year renovation plan that eventually turned into a decade long project. The Teche Theatre that you see today has been a long time coming, but we at the Teche Theatre for the Performing Arts feel that it was most definitely worth the wait.