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The Poche Theater a few days before opening in 1947. Designed and built in 1906 by Stone Brothers Architecture as the Shubert Theater, the building at 533 Baronne St. was created to house live theater and cinema, though it was mostly used as a movie theater for the first 40 years of its existence. Image by Charles L. Franck, provided courtesy of the Historic New Orleans Collection, Charles L. Franck and Franck-Bertacci Photograph Collections. 1979.325.5913

When Irwin Poche died in 1971, his obituary listed his leadership roles in so many sports, civic, business and arts associations that it’s hard to believe he also had time to open and manage one of New Orleans’ most active and ambitious theaters of the 20th century. 

Poche managed the Municipal Auditorium for 11 years, but it wasn’t the right stage for his vision: the return of high-quality live theater productions to New Orleans. He opened the Poche Theater in 1947. 

The grand opening gala on November 2, 1947, featured the Morten Gould Orchestra and speeches from Poche and Mayor Chep Morrison to a full capacity audience. March 1948 brought the first touring theater: the Broadway smash Harvey. The enthusiastic reception gave Poche hope in attracting more companies to New Orleans.

The theater received a complete renovation during the summer of 1948, in time for the 1948-1949 season, which would be the “greatest theater season New Orleans has ever had,” according to Poche. Through his efforts, New Orleans became the first southern city to be a member of the Theater Guild, a New York production company, which promised four Broadway-caliber productions, including Oklahoma!, Carousel and Annie Get Your Gun. Complementing these productions were vaudeville acts, musical performances, Loyola University Forum presentations, fashion shows and local theater. Highbrow foreign and art films filled in gaps on the schedule.

While the audiences were thrilled with the quality of productions and the theater experienced great attendance, the cost of getting touring companies to travel to New Orleans, when it was often the only Southern city on their schedule, was prohibitive. The Poche Theater managed to only turn small profits and Poche resigned in February of 1950, citing his desire to return to private sponsorship of musical and theatrical productions. 

In October of the same year, the theater was renamed the Civic Theater, in a nod to its desire to serve a civic purpose by exposing New Orleanians to the finest in stage and film productions. Today it is a live music and event space and is the city’s oldest remaining theater structure.