New Entrance, New Era for Marigny Opera House

Sharon O'Brien

Since 1847 when architect Theodore Giraud designed the former Holy Trinity Church, generations of New Orleanians have passed through its iconic doors on St. Ferdinand Street.  From baptism at the beginning of life through the funeral mass at the end, the structure was a familiar, well-loved portal in the spiritual life of Marigny and Bywater until its deconsecration in 1997.

When word got out that the Marigny Opera House (MOH) was changing its entrance from St. Ferdinand Street to Dauphine, there was some regret that the original doorway would lose its importance.

Founder Scott R. King understands. Like other alterations to the structure, fabrication of the elegant new seven ft. portal on Dauphine Street is the latest iteration in mandated requirements to improve safety and access for participants and audiences. “Obviously, you’re going to need an impressive entrance to the theatre — an architectural statement that signals that you’re entering a beautiful theatre.”

The commanding bronze arch echoes the shape of all of the arches in the building, with Marigny Opera House in large metal letters on one side of the gate and Soli Deo Gloria on the other. (Bach ended all of his religious works and some of his secular ones with SDG – to the glory of God alone.)

Creation the new entrance was inspired by a design by New Orleans architect Rick Fifield with input from San Francisco designer Jeff Marcus who created the MOH logo as well as Steven M. Donnelly of Metal One Studios on Royal Street who fabricated the gate. 

Crafting the gate became a true collaboration, very much in the spirit of the nineteenth century German crafts people who lived near the church.   “I have tremendous admiration for craftsmen, people who actually build things,” King says. “Rick recommended Steve to us, but what happened when Steve was studying the design was that he brought new insight and ideas on how to make the gate more beautiful, less heavy and less expensive to build.“

Relocation of the entrance has a number of benefits, all of which enhance the comfort and convenience of audiences, performers and staff.  The initial Church layout was designed around a procession moving towards the altar table, with pews at one end and the altar at the other.  “Working with the original configuration meant that the first thing audiences entering the building saw was the back of the risers,” King explains.

He and co-founder Dave Hurlbert have been transforming the building into a “church of the arts” for the past five years, working through ravages caused by hurricanes and years of neglect. “The first thing we did was to save it from the elements. Water was coming in when it rained and there termites, raccoons and other vermin. Cats Claw vines and other vegetation had to be fought back.”

With a number of significant infrastructure enhancements like the new light board, the entrance on Dauphine signals the beginning of a new era for MOH that will see development of additional structures and a garden along the Dauphine side of the building. In addition to providing a scene shop, dressing rooms and other support for the theatre, the plan also includes a house for King and Hurlbert, who feel that living and working in the same space is key to what they’re are trying to accomplish.