Saenger Theatre Pensacola - Atlas Obscura

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Saenger Theatre Pensacola

A Grand Dame of the vaudeville circuit restored to its former glory. 

Sponsored by Visit Pensacola

Palafox Street in downtown Pensacola is a bustling thoroughfare home to restaurants, bars, boutiques, and stores—no wonder it’s considered the heart of the city. A big part of that is the Saenger Theatre, where, after an afternoon spent shopping or after grabbing dinner nearby, you can catch the latest Broadway tours, attend a Melissa Ethridge concert, or see the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra perform Mahler. It’s such a fixture of the nightlife that you’d never believe the entire place was nearly torn down and turned into a parking lot.

The Spanish Baroque-style theater was built nearly a century ago, in 1925. In those days, the theater showed mostly silent movies and hosted vaudeville shows. During World War II, the theater played newsreels all day alongside movies, a practice that was especially helpful to service men and women who worked nearby at Pensacola’s Naval Air Station. Luminaries of the entertainment industry have performed at the Saenger over the years, including Bob Hope, Burl Ives, and Lucille Ball.

But none of that was a match for the suburbs: as people left downtown Pensacola in the years after World War II, the Saenger fell into disrepair. In 1975, the theater shut its doors and its owners donated the building to the city. Because there was no money to repair it, the city government decided to tear down the Saenger Theatre and convert the property to a parking lot. But thanks to a small group of organized citizens who fought to save the theater, the building was not only kept standing, but restored to its original grandeur.

The Saenger was reopened in 1981 and underwent a major renovation in 2009. It now features the building’s original decor, including paint color, and the theater’s pipe organ, a relic of its vaudeville days, has also been restored. 

Historic as it may be, the Saenger is also a living, breathing host of cultural events. It regularly features national tours of Broadway shows, hosts concerts and comedy shows, and is the home venue for the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Pensacola, and the Pensacola Opera.

Know Before You Go

The Saenger Theatre has no dedicated parking lot, but street parking is available nearby.

The theater recommends buying tickets directly from Ticketmaster if purchasing online; tickets can also be purchased in-person at the box office, open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Bags larger than 14” x 14”x 6” are not permitted.

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