The Bell Theater was originally located at Bell and Dorgenois Streets, where it operated between 1914 and 1921. In the early years, the theater served not only as an entertainment venue, but was frequently the location of community organizing meetings and large-scale fundraisers for non-profit organizations. [1]

After closing the original location, proprietor William Junqua reopened the Bell in August of 1922 at 2800 Grand Route St. John at Gentilly Boulevard, near Bayou St. John and only four blocks from the City Park Fairgrounds. Lauded for its solid construction and unique interior, the new Bell was the largest theater “north of Canal Street,” and brought the grandeur of the downtown theater to the expanding suburbs. [2] With 1,100 seats, the new location was the largest suburban theater in the city, and quickly became one of the most successful. At the opening performance, over 2,000 people “applied for admittance,” and capacity houses were reported every night for the first two weeks. The popularity of the theater prompted Junqua to begin the process of adding an 800-seat balcony to accommodate growing crowds and presumably to increase the theater’s earning potential. [7]

Early into its new life, the Bell was lauded as “the most pleasing and artistic auditorium to be found in any suburban theater of the city.” Despite its size, it was described as “simple and dignified, achieving an atmosphere of intimacy and hominess.” [8] The theater was designed and built by general contractor J.W. Fleetman of New Orleans and cost an estimated $18,000 [9], the equivalent of about $247,000 today, accounting for inflation. [10] The theater was uniquely ornamented in the Dutch style, including Cyprus wood paneling and handmade chairs. [11]

On April 9, 1966, the Bell Theater was destroyed in a fire that began in the roof and quickly spread through the entire building. The fire caused the evacuation of 30 homes in the neighborhood, and an estimated $100,000 in damages to the theater and surrounding structures. [16]

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2800 Grand Route St. John, New Orleans LA ~ No longer extant.