By Jessica Gorman
The Brownie Theatre opened to much excitement on 22 July 1926. This theatre was located in the building that was, for many years, the Rex Theater at the corner of Main Street and Monroe Street. It has been said that the old Minden Baptist Church had been converted into this theater. The Minden Tribune published 22 July 1926 contradicts this claim. It states that the “old Baptist church” was completely razed to allow for construction of the new, modern theater building. The theater was built by R. R. Lambert. Construction began in February and lasted six months. Most of the building materials were purchased in Minden.
The theater contained a total of 900 upholstered seats installed by Mr. Gerard of Steele Furniture Company. There were 600 seats located on the main floor with 300 more seats in the balcony. These seats were separated by four carpeted, illuminated aisles. The auditorium fixtures were wrought iron. To keep the theater cool in warmer weather, a Gulf Breeze cooling system was installed. This consisted of two giant fans that pulled air into the theater from each side of the organ loft and pushed the hot air out through the main entrance. In the lobby, chandeliers hung on each side and the floor was tiled. All electrical work was done by Minden Electrical Company. “Only the best and modern fixtures were selected for the beautiful theatre.” The theater also featured a massive pipe organ purchased from the Robert Morton Organ Company.
The grand opening was scheduled for Thursday, 22 July 1926. The Webster Signal dedicated an entire section of its newspaper to the opening of the Brownie. They also printed a 24-page program. Four thousand copies of this program were distributed throughout North Louisiana. Visitors from across the state were expected to attend. A repeat of the opening was planned for Friday night to accommodate the large crowd.
The theater was at capacity for the grand opening. The advertised program featured The Syncopating Brownies, The Cornfield Symphony Orchestra of Dallas, Mr. Ernest Reams of the Saenger Theater in Shreveport, and a showing of the feature “Kiki” starring Norma Talmadge. Ernest Reams was an organist and was originally from Minden. Those in attendance on opening night were treated to a surprise performance from the famous singer, Gene Austin. He had grown up in Minden and was in town visiting for a few days. He agreed to perform for the opening with the request that, instead of being paid, a contribution be made to the Minden Sanitarium. He performed “But I Do – You Know I Do,” “How Come You Do Me Like You Do,” and was accompanied by his wife, Kathryn Arnold, for “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street.”
The Brownie was replaced by the Rex which operated in this building until 1974 when it closed and the building was razed to allow for expansion of the hospital.
(Jessica Gorman is the Assistant Director and Archivist for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum in Minden and is an avid genealogist.)