Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
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Movie theater magnate T.G. “Teddy” Solomon, who expanded a family theater empire to more than 600 theaters in eight states before introducing the megaplex concept to south Louisiana with his Palace theaters, died Sunday. He was 93.
At the time of its $62 million sale to United Artists in 1986, Solomon’s Gulf States Theatres chain, with movie screens throughout the south, was the largest motion picture chain in Louisiana and Mississippi. Ten years later, Solomon and his sons George and Gary got back into the motion picture business by introducing the first local megaplex theater, the Palace 20 Theatre in Elmwood.
"I've been in the theater business all my life, and my daddy before me," Solomon told the Houma Courier in 2002. "We started out with drive-ins, then went to downtown theaters and then shopping center theaters. But, the Palace theaters are the finest theaters yet in my opinion."
Named after the Solomon family’s first theater, other Palace theaters would follow at Clearview Mall in Metairie, on the West Bank, in Hammond and Houma. Solomon would sell the megaplexes in 2002 to AMC.
"I still love the business more than anything," he told The Times-Picayune in a 1997 interview explaining why he was still active well into his retirement years. "There's no business like show business."
Solomon’s roots in the movie business ran deep. A native of Port Arthur, Texas, he was among the first generation of Americans to experience “talking pictures” with sound an in the 1930s began selling popcorn and ushering at his father’s first theater, which opened in 1927 in McComb, Mississippi.
"By the time I was old enough to realize it, all I knew was picture shows," Solomon told The Times-Picayune. "It's in my blood."
Solomon’s father, a Lebanese immigrant, died in 1948, leaving his son to run what was then a two-screen business. Solomon continued working while studying at LSU. Shortly after graduation, he served four years in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II in the Pacific theater.
After the war, Solomon would expand the family’s business, eventually growing to more than 200 screens in eight Southern states, including drive-ins and multiplexes. The deal to sell the theaters to United Artists in 1986 included 52 theaters with 210 screens in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Florida.
Solomon opened one of Louisiana's first drive-in theaters in 1949, Tiger Drive-In in Baton Rouge. Other local drive-ins run by the company during its heyday included the Airline, Do, Jeff, Westgate and Algiers Drive-Ins. His company would expand to include more drive-ins and multiplex theaters, or theaters with more than one screen, which became the standard in the movie theater industry.
Among those multiplex theaters operated by the Solomon family over the years were the familiar Lake Forest Plaza and Eastlake Cinemas in New Orleans East, the Sena Mall Theater in Metairie and the Aurora Cinema 6 and Belle Promenade Cinema 6 theaters on the West Bank. The family’s company also owned or operated shopping centers in eight states and had other real estate holdings.
After selling his movie theater company, Solomon remained active in the motion picture industry, serving on the board of the National Association of Theatre Owners and chairman of the Louisiana Film and Video Commission, an entity he helped establish.
Solomon was also a well-known local philanthropist. Most recently he and his family made a $5 million donation to the National World War II Museum, where the facility’s new high-tech 4-D theater is named the Solomon Victory Theater in the family’s honor.
In 1982, Solomon donated funds and a gift of land for the Solomon Episcopal Conference Center, a 172-acre retreat and meeting site in Tangipahoa Parish run by the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.
Solomon was also a supporter of the Variety Club, Will Rogers Institute, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and the Foundation for the LSU Health Sciences Center, where he served on the board of directors. He donated funds for the train at City Park and was honored by Junior Achievement, as well as being named Man of the Year and Humanitarian of the Year by the Louisiana Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. He was also honored with the New Orleans Film Society's Celluloid Hero award.
Solomon is survived by his wife, Doris, their six children, 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held Thursday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 6249 Canal Blvd., New Orleans. A Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Solomon Episcopal Conference Center, 54296 Louisiana 445, Loranger, La. 70446, or to the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, 10045 Riverside Drive, Third Floor, Toluca Lake, Ca. 91602.