Downtown Hammond News

The History of the Columbia
Madison Chauvin
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The History of the Columbia

Towards the end of the Roaring ‘20s, what would become the crown jewel of Downtown Hammond, the Columbia Theatre, opened its doors. In 1928, the Louisiana Amusement Company of Baton Rouge revealed the movie palace in Hammond, a beautiful and ornate building that was the tallest building in the city at the time. It had 1,200 seats and a stage for theatre and motion pictures. It also had air conditioning and a Robert Morton Wonder Organ!

The opening of the theatre was a huge community event, closing East Thomas Street as people celebrated. The debut film was The Cardboard Lover, a silent film. “Talkies” were being introduced around this time, and the owners, who also owned a Columbia Theatre in Baton Rouge, soon brought them to Hammond as well.

Not long after it’s opening, the times took a dark turn. The stock market crashed, and the Great Depression hit Hammond and the Columbia in the 1930s. The Columbia accepted IOUs as admission for their shows and performances. As if times weren’t bleak enough, after being sent home mid-movie after the news of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the theatre mainly showed news reels about the war for the next couple of years. A bomb was even displayed in the lobby during this time.

Times began to look up after the war, as the film industry boomed. But more and more patrons of the theatre stayed home with their new televisions instead. Larger, sprawling shopping malls, more television, and multi-screen movie houses took a toll on the Columbia, as it became part of a spiraling statistic of losing Downtown businesses nation-wide. This caused the Columbia Theatre to close in 1972.

By 1977, the theatre began to undergo renovations to not only show film once again, but to utilize the stage for a local theatre group, the Columbia Players. Hammondite Wiley Sharp spearheaded those renovations, but by the early 1980s after property owners changed multiple times, it was yet again abandoned. Hammond’s First Guaranty Bank became its proprietor, and though it was a burden, they did not entertain an offer to demolish it.

The end of the 1980s had brought many changes to Hammond and to Downtown. By this time, the Downtown Development District had formed, and director Marguerite Walters knew the Columbia could not stay in its current state. Harriet Vogt, the director of Fanfare at the time, joined forces with Walters to save what could be a huge generator of economic development for the DDD and the city. Southeastern’s Fanfare also was outgrowing itself, and needed a bigger and better home.

Walters and Vogt enlisted the help of attorney Rodney Cashe to make the Columbia a 501(c)(3), thinking that it would operate best under a foundation and board of directors. Since termites were threatening the structure, Senator John Hainkel and U.S. Rep. Robert Livingston helped get crucial funding as the City of Hammond provided insurance and leased the property.

By 1994, Holly and Smith Architects began a restoration study and designed renovation plans. Southeastern took ownership and operation of the theatre at the suggestion of Senator Hainkel at the end of the process, and then President Sally Clausen took the “leap of faith.” The DDD, SLU and the City of Hammond received $4.9 million in capital outlay funds and federal grants to not only restore the Columbia, but purchase the two adjacent buildings for dressing rooms, offices and conference spaces.

The Columbia Theatre reopened its doors in January of 2002, thanks to the hard work and believing of Hammond and Downtown leaders!

(Parts adapted from https://columbiatheatre.org/about-columbia/history-of-columbia - visit for more details)

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