Danny Foret (left) and Paul Leslie talk about the restoration of the Grand Theater sign Tuesday on Laurel Valley Plantation in Thibodaux, where the sign is now.

Former theater conjures Grand memories

Danny Foret (left) and Paul Leslie talk about the restoration of the Grand Theater sign Tuesday on Laurel Valley Plantation in Thibodaux, where the sign is now.

THIBODAUX, LA — Nothing but a parking lot remains at 401 Green St., but it was once a focal point of social life in the city.

The Grand Theater was part of historic downtown Thibodaux before it was labeled historic, a time when Fremin’s restaurant was still The Roth Drugstore, when the old Oil & Gas Building was still operational and when people flocked to what is now a Capital One bank parking lot to see the latest flick.

A movie ticket at the Grand Theater cost only a dime. Popcorn cost a nickel.

“This was the place many people got their first kiss,” said Paul Leslie, a retired Nicholls State University history professor.

Residents remember the Grand fondly as a place where they bonded with family and friends, as a major source of entertainment and, at times, as a source of controversy in their small Catholic community.

“It was a good old place,” said Shirley Barrios. “Everybody in my family worked for the theater except my mother.”

Barrios, 75, said she worked at the concession stand throughout most of her high-school years. Her brother and father ran the film room.

The theater was owned by Charles E. Delas, Thibodaux mayor from 1932 to 1954.

Gibbens Robichaux, a life-long Thibodaux resident and amateur local historian, said he remembers Delas well.

“Mr. Delas came in there, and if we were misbehaving, he would throw us out,” he said.

The theater, which opened in the 1920s, remained for nearly six decades, serving multiple generations.
“I wish it was still there,” said Lisa Connell.
Connell, 45, said her father took her and her sister to see “Alice in Wonderland” one weekend, an experience she remembers vividly because of how terrified she was.
“The movie scared us so bad,” she said. “We were in the back too scared to watch it.”
Connell said going to the theater was a special and always memorable experience, a stark contrast to the way children view movie theaters today.
“Kids nowadays, they are so savvy with the world,” she said. “We never got to go anywhere and do too much. Just us having an outing was an event.”
After closing in the late 1970s. It was purchased by ArgentBank with intentions to make the site a parking lot.
“Some see it as a downtown Thibodaux landmark,” reads a May 30, 1995, article in the Daily Comet. “To others it’s a rat-infested eyesore that’s stood vacant for more than 15 years.”
Robichaux said he was there when the demolition began.
“Do I remember?” Robichaux, 80, said. “The Grand Theater was the center of Thibodaux. Four of us were there while they were tearing it down.”
Leslie salvaged the sign, towering 23 feet, and part of the marquee. He and his students repainted the sign and reconstructed the marquee, and both are on display at the Laurel Valley Village Museum, 595 La. 308. Drivers can see the black-, white and red sign from the highway.
“This thing right here was really something,” Leslie said. “It was the cultural focal point.”
Barrios recalls shutting down the theater when “Forever Amber,” a 1947 film based on a novel by the same name, opened in Thibodaux. The movie, like the novel, contained blatant sexual references — once a jarring and unusual feature for movies.
“The priest put a big stink about it, so they had to end up shutting it down,” she said. “The things they rejected in those days. That was bad, that was a no-no.”
Robichaux can remember his Catholic pastor forbidding the community from seeing the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind” because of a now-iconic line uttered by Clark Gable: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
“Most of the people went anyway,” Robichaux said.
Staff Writer Nate Monroe can be reached at 448-7639 or at nate.monroe@dailycomet.com.

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