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Former Clabon Theater in Treme partially collapses Wednesday

The building at 1031 Claiborne Avenue has been blighted for decades, but the front of the building has detached from the structure and partially collapsed.

A historic building partially collapsed in Treme Wednesday afternoon, temporarily closing down one lane of traffic near Claiborne Avenue and Ursulines Avenue.

The building at 1031 Claiborne Avenue has been blighted for decades, but the front of the building has detached from the structure and partially collapsed.

City Inspectors say it could collapse further.

The owner’s daughter, Brandi Williams, said she wants to turn the site into a hotel, but city records show multiple recent code and maintenance violations, including “demolition by neglect” in 2016.

“We’ve been trying to get a permit from the city to do front-end work, because the building is made of steel on the inside, all the steel framing,” Williams told Eyewitness News Wednesday.

In April, Williams’ mother, Tracy, filed a request for a repair permit for the property. She submitted several photos showing the condition of the building, and wrote to the city, “Building has a bulge in it. It has to come down and be reframed immediately. It is a hazard.”

The Williams family was met with months of red tape before the partial collapse.

“I don’t know if it was wind damage, wind damage with the rain. But when it’s sitting for this long and you’re not able to do anything with it, their expectations happened. It failed. It should have failed. That’s what they [the city] wanted to happen,” Brandi Williams said.

The building at North Claiborne and Ursulines has a long, rich history.

The building first opened in 1913 as the open-air Harlequin Theater, a building with no roof and shells paving the floor. It opened again on Christmas Day in 1938 as the Clabon Theater.

“I never did go to a movie there,” historian Jack Stewart reflected.

Stewart co-authored the book “There’s One In Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans.” The book details 1031 North Claiborne’s slow evolution from segregated theater, to Black-only theater, to movie set, to disco, to church.

“Well as an air-dome it was just kind of a low-end theater. You didn’t know when you were going to get rained on or whatever,” Stewart said. “It kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger until it you know, had a balcony and everything in it.”

A photo of the Clabon Theater in its prime still hangs at the Pyrtania Theater Uptown.

For historians like Stewart, it’s a tribute to what once was, and the fight to keep New Orleans history from crumbling away.

The building has been vacant for some time. There are no reports of any injuries.

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