“WE SIMPLY MUST BE STEADFAST, MANIACAL IDEALISTS”
– A NEW ORLEANIAN
The Gem Theater was designed by local architecture firm of Dreyfous and Seiferth in 1948. It opened in 1951 and was the last African American theater to be built in the area. Its heavy masonry construction and deep pilings have helped this building survive through the decades.
The shows at The Gem Theater were rarely advertised. Word of mouth was sufficient enough to get attention for the theater. While it did not actively advertise, it still sometimes made the news with the performers and celebrities who stopped by.
Some of the films that ran at the Gem include “Giant from the Unknown,” with Edward Kemmer and Sally Fraser and “She Demons,” with Irish McCalla and Ted Griffin. The Gem also attracted stars from the music genre. Avery “Kid” Howard, a Jazz trumpeter and bandleader, played at the Gem. Acts like Alton Purnell, a singer and dancer, and “Lollipop” Jones, a comedian, also performed there.
The Gem Theater closed and was put up for sale on February 2, 1960. In 2011, the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission designated the building as a city landmark.