The Joy Theater, located at 1200 Canal St., opened on February 7, 1947, with Lucille Ball’s Lover Come Back. For decades, it was a popular destination for many New Orleanians, and stars (such as Rosemary Clooney, June Allyson and Abbot and Costello) were often seen promoting their movies there.
Named for original owner Joy Houck, it cost $275,000 to build. Newer than other area theaters, it was notable for its modern look, as designed by architect B.W. Edwards – streamlined rather than ornate, steel rather than carved wood and the trademark neon fin-shaped sign and wrap-around marquee. Its freestanding outdoor box office eventually became the last one left in New Orleans (a 1991 car accident demolished it).
It had a long-term affiliation with Universal Pictures, was the first place to see Jaws in 1975 and showed The Sting for a record 39 weeks in ’74. The theater closed briefly in ’78 while exchanges in ownership took place.
The 1980s saw a more gimmicky approach to business, including installing mechanisms to shake the seats during the screening of Earthquake, free midnight slasher movies for anyone dressed in their pajamas and a breakdancing competition. The theater was forced to close in 2003.
That wasn’t the end of the Joy Theater. A $5 million renovation of the building – left inundated with water and storm damage after Hurricane Katrina for five years – has returned it to its former glory. The sign and marquee have been refurbished, and the interior gleams with art-deco décor and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. The December 29, 2011, grand reopening featured Irma Thomas, and upcoming events take full advantage of its new designation as a multipurpose space for film, live music, and private events.