Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Old Slidell Arcade Building

The Arcade Theater on Carey St. in Olde Towne Slidell has a rich historical background. Here are some photographs from across the years as well as a detailed account of who built it, what it has done to serve the community, and various memories of the people who went there in its prime decades ago. 

The facility is now a modern venue for weddings, receptions and special events. CLICK HERE for more information.

Here's a 1970's photograph of the old Arcade building at  2249 Carey Street, Slidell. Click on the image below to see a larger version. 


The picture above shows when it was housing the Slidell Gospel Rescue Mission.


This picture shows when it was still a movie theater. 


Photos from 1997



This is what it looks like today.

It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 29, 1997.No particular architectural style was listed. It was described as a place of entertainment and recreation, with a period of significance between the years of 1925 and 1949. It is located at 2247-2251 Carey St in Slidell.

Below you will find the text from the Documents accompanying the application for placing the theater on the National Registry of Historic Places.
There has been some editing to reduce duplication. 

The following account was written in 1997, some twenty-one years ago and contains many interesting historical informational tidbits.

     "The Arcade Theater is locally significant in the area of entertainment/recreation because of its importance as an entertainment focal point for Slidell and St. Tammany Parish. The period of significance begins in 1927, the date of construction. 

     The Arcade was a business project of Italian immigrant Andrew Carollo and Peter Lalumia. The latter appears to have been Carollo's friend as well as an interpreter for the immigrant, who never learned to speak English well. 

     Lalumia and a previous partner, G. A. Baker, first purchased the property on which the theater stands in 1911. Carollo purchased Baker's half interest on September 15, 1916. Whether a wooden moving picture hall existed on the property at this time is uncertain, but such a structure is clearly shown on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of 1926. 

    Carollo's daughter, Rosalea Carollo Fontana, who was born in 1906 and, thus, was an adult during the major portion of the theater's period of significance, dates the brick theater's construction to 1927. Because the 1930 Sanborn Map indicates that the wooden building had been replaced by the current masonry structure by that time, Mrs. Fontana's date of 1927 is being used in this submission. 


    Anthony Carollo purchased Lalumia's half-interest in the Arcade on January 14, 1930. Already the operator of a successful grocery concern located just down the street from the theater, Carollo apparently did not involve himself in the day-to-day operation of the Arcade.

     Instead, he rented the building to his son Russell, his daughter Rosalea, and Rosalea's husband Luke Fontana. Rosalea's memories of the theater (transcript in National Register file) describe an interior featuring red and gold draperies and plush carpeting. In the lobby scents of an "English garden" mixed with the aroma of hot dogs, popcorn, and "sweets from every country." 

Promotional Strategies

    The family employed a number of strategies to draw patrons, including the distribution of flyers by hand. Newspaper advertisements, sometimes including a photograph of an upcoming movie's star, also helped to bring in customers. Promotions were another popular audiencebuilding technique. For example, Thursday nights became known as "Bank Night," because on that night the theater operators held a drawing for a $25 prize. According to Mrs. Fontana, the jackpot once rose to $1,000 when there was no winner for a prolonged period of time. Another promotion was the practice of giving away pieces of glass to the first fifty patrons on a given night.

     The family's strategies and promotions, combined with the theater's status as the only place of amusement within Slidell other than a dance hall, made the Arcade the area's family entertainment center. The theater provided a variety of entertainment opportunities, including feature films and serials (westerns were popular), midnight shows, special matinees for school children, benefit shows for charitable organizations, beauty pageants, baby contests, and an occasional vaudeville act. 

     One memorable performer was a man who used only his teeth and hair to pull a truck parked in front of the theater. A period newspaper documents an advertisement inviting locals to view the act of a dancer who performed in the manner of Salty Rand (a risque fan dancer popular in the 1930s). 

     One patron claims to have seen jazz singer Al Jolson play at the Arcade. During World War II, the newsreels run at the theater helped keep people informed about events which the radio and local newspapers sometimes failed to cover. The theater appears to have been popular and well attended. 

     Persons interviewed for this nomination indicate that it attracted patrons from nearby communities such as Pearl River and Lacombe, as well as from Covington, which is located over twenty miles from Slidell. And, it should be noted that this was during the Great Depression—an era of poor roads and little money for entertainment. 

     Although the Arcade operated seven days a week, its weekend showings were probably the most popular because the theater was the only place in town to take a date. According to Helen Panks Rugan, The Arcade Theater was considered the ''Courting Place" for teenagers and we called it the Picture Show.... 
     
     "Every Saturday night we would call our friends, those who had telephones, and set a time to meet at the Arcade. The lines were long before the show, but it was always the same crowd. Each week we sat in the same seats to watch the Western series. Families would make a night of it, completing their shopping and having diner before attending the movie. Neighbors living in houses near the theater would sit on their front porches and greet friends as they walked to the theater."

Many Customers Admitted for Free

     According to Rosalea Carollo Fontana, the business was not as financially successful as the filled auditorium suggested. Apparently, part of the crowd resulted from the family's policy to admit to the theater at no charge all senior citizens, school teachers, law officers, clerics, and people too poor to pay. 

     According to Mrs. Fontana, the family used funds generated by the more financially successful grocery store to underwrite the costs of keeping the theater open during the Depression years. It was the coming of television in the 1950s that began to displace theaters like the Arcade. 

     Indeed, it was revealed in studies at the time that theater attendance and public library use declined markedly when television became established in a given community. This development, combined with the deaths of Luke Fontana in 1960 and Russell Carollo in 1962, brought the Arcade's period of service to an end. The family closed the theater in 1963. 

     The Arcade was not Slidell's first moving picture house, nor was it the community's last. It appears from the available evidence that a competing theater had opened by the mid to late 1940s. Nevertheless, the Arcade was the only theater in Slidell for a long period of time, as emphasized by people interviewed for this submission. 

     As can be seen from the above narrative and testimonials, it occupied a very important niche in the lives of Slidell area citizens by providing virtually the only entertainment in the area, a place for teenagers to meet their friends in a safe environment, and an opportunity for all its patrons to escape the stresses of a very difficult era. Hence, the Arcade stands as a legitimate candidate for National Register listing.

A More Technical Description

     "The Arcade Theater (built in 1927) is a two-story brick commercial building with a stucco-covered section in front. It is located in an older section of the St. Tammany Parish town of Slidell--a section which once served as the center of town. 

     Despite minor changes to the exterior and the gutting of much of the interior, the building is still recognizable as a historic theater. The Arcade's rear and side walls are constructed of plain brick. A series of buttresses provide support for the side walls. The facade is divided into three bays by paneled piers which rise above the roofline. Between each pair of piers is a decorative tile roof section. 

     On the first level, the central bay contains a recessed entrance whose opening is surmounted by a panel containing the theater's name. One-room commercial spaces with their historic tile floors intact fill the flanking bays. The facade's second level is distinguished by a band of nine, one over one windows. 

     The front portion of the building is stuccoed and is slightly wider than the auditorium which projects to the rear. Although the building is classified as having no style, its facade does contain four decorative motifs associated with early twentieth century architecture. These include 1) the previously mentioned tile roof sections, 2) simple brackets [located beneath the tile roof] which are slightly suggestive of the Arts and Crafts style, 3) glass shop doors subdivided in a manner also reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts, and 4) multi-colored tile paving the recessed entrance and adjoining sidewalk fronting the building. 


     The name "A. Carollo" is embedded in the tile at the spot where the entrance and sidewalk join. The windows distinguishing the shops are also of interest. They feature forty-five degree corner cuts and multi-pane transoms above large plate glass windows. 

     However, similar transoms above the shop doors have been replaced by single panes of plate glass. The recessed entrance contains a small ticket window located on the left side near double doors which lead to the theater's interior. 

     The shop located to the north of the entrance connects directly to the theater space; the southern shop adjoins a hall containing a staircase to the balcony (where at one time separate seating was provided for African-Americans), a side door, and the above mentioned ticket window. This hallway connects to the theater itself. 

     The theater's interior has been completely gutted due to major roof and related water damage which occurred over the years. As best one can ascertain from the evidence which survives, the first floor contained a one-story lobby and a two-story auditorium space with a one-story stage at the end. Although it has also been essentially gutted, the second story retains more of its historic floorplan than does the first. 


What it looked like in 1997


What it looks like today

     In addition to the stepped balcony (located above the lobby) mentioned above, it contains a small room for projection equipment and an apartment stretching across the front of the building. This space is reached by a separate door located at the southeast corner of the building and a stair located just inside the south wall.. 

     Like the auditorium space, the apartment has also been gutted. The Arcade is currently experiencing a slow restoration. To date the roof has been repaired and made water tight, and the former second story apartment has received stud walls for its eventual use as commercial space. The new subdivision of this area does not duplicate the original floorplan. 

     Except for the addition of large lanterns flanking the recessed entrance and the change to the transoms above the shop doors as mentioned above, the facade has been returned to its original appearance. All of the essential facade elements which identify the building as the historic Arcade Theater still exist, and any patron from the historic period would easily recognize the building if he or she were to return to Slidell today. Thus, the theater is a legitimate candidate for National Register listing because of its role as an entertainment focal point for Slidell and St. Tammany Parish.

Sources:

Fontana, Rosalea Carollo, 'Memories of Old Times in Old Towne," typescript, n.d.; copy in National Register file. 
Interview with Mrs. Rosalea Carollo Fontana, May 21, 1997. 
Interview with Mr. J. C. Naufty, May 21, 1997. 
Mayfield, Bobby, "Memories of Arcade Theater," May 24, 1997; copy in National Register file. 
Rugan, Helen Panks, 'Memories of the Arcade Theater," May 24, 1997; copy in National Register file. 
Sale documents pertaining to the Arcade Theater, dated January 14, 1930; copies in National Register file. 
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, 1911, 1926, 1930, 1945 

Property Description:

A certain lot or parcel of land together with all the buildings and improvements situated thereon or in anywise appertaining and being more fully described as follows to-wit: Lot number thirteen (13) in square "A" of the Town of Slidell, St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. Said lot number thirteen (13) has a frontage of sixty (60) feet on Carey Street.


Link to Google Maps Location: CLICK HERE

The Arcade Theater on Facebook: CLICK HERE