NEW ORLEANS — The Grand Theater, once a popular movie theater, has been abandoned for years. Last night, however, it caught fire and the familiar sight in New Orleans East will soon disappear.
Fire erupted in the theater late Friday night, sparking a battle between flames and 50 firefighters.
"It was pretty lit up in that one theater. The seats all burned, and obviously it was bad enough to where the roof collapsed. But it was confined to one theater." New Orleans Fire Chief McConnell said.
Once a hangout spot for so many, the Grand is now a deserted building -- abandoned since Hurricane Katrina. Many residents say the building is a symbol of the neighborhood's struggle to recover the storm.
"Unfortunately, this is a building that is another example of people; the property hadn't been taken care of, it got into a very dilapidated condition," McConnell said.
While the fire was contained within hours, the damage was done. New Orleanians who live in the East once again say something needs happen with the building.
"If the roof caved in, fix it. Fix it. Fix it and do something with it. They've got all these buildings out here just abandoned, just doing nothing, and what's the point?" said Brette Berfect, a resident in the East.
"What's the point of having it? In some spots it still looks like Katrina and that's ridiculous," she said.
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For Dawn Hebert with the East New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission, the story of the Grand Theater parallels the story of the neighborhood where it stands: Once thriving; now, all but forgotten.
"We're really just annoyed because we want economic development in New Orleans East. But this is hampering our perception and we don't understand why it has not been addressed by the new administration," Hebert said.
NOFD officials said the building will be demolished, threatening artist 'B-Mike's' well-known anti-violence mural on the east side of the building.
Still, many say they are hopeful whatever replaces the old theater will be the beginning of a revival of the East itself.