When Canal Street was in its glory, New Orleanians of all walks of life converged here for shopping and entertainment. The Joy Theater was part of that scene, and now with a revitalization revving up along Canal Street, the Joy is back, too.
This time, however, the historic movie theater has been redeveloped as a performance hall and events space, hosting music and theatrical acts on a new stage and accommodating parties with a flexible floor plan. Still, the landmark building and its towering Joy sign retain the old historic look from the exterior, and seeing it back in business after a long hiatus has made some locals nostalgic.
“We’ve been hearing from so many people sharing stories about the movies they saw there, or how they used to ride the nickel bus there or how they had their first kiss at the Joy,” says theater spokeswoman Sandie McNamara.
First opened in 1947, the Joy screened first-run movies throughout its lifespan and managed to hang on through the age of the suburban multiplex before finally closing in 2003. It sat empty for eight years until a development partnership called NOLA Theatre District bought it and began a $5 million renovation.
“It had to be totally restored, but really it was a matter of adding to what was there rather than subtracting,” McNamara says.
That includes a state-of-the-art sound and light system for the stage, dressing rooms and bars, including one on the vintage, 250-seat balcony, plus elevators to the upper levels and more restrooms.
As the new Joy took shape last year, the developers received a cache of vintage photos showing the theater through the decades, from screenings of The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954 to the Star Trek movie series in the 1980s. Though it has a different role today, the Joy Theater has been revived just as its section of Canal Street is being transformed by new businesses and developments, including the adjacent Loyola streetcar line and the planned return of the nearby Saenger Theatre.
“One of the most exciting parts of this project is to be part of what’s happening on upper Canal Street,” McNamara says.
See performance schedules at TheJoyTheater.com.