Silent Cinema in New Orleans, 1890-1920

In 1896, William “Pop” Rock opened Vitascope Hall, the first movie house in the United States, to start the era of mass film exhibition in the United States. Located on Canal Street, New Orleans, the theater was short lived but led to a renaissance of nickelodeons and movie houses up and down the street. Showing five-minute reels rented from local distributors, the first film economy in the city was based on the growth of the exhibition venues.

In New Orleans, two exhibitors, Josiah Pearce and Sons and Herman Fichtenberg, dominated the local market. There were a variety of distribution licensors and equipment rental companies as well, including Metro and Consolidated Supply Company.

In this time of wildcat speculation, several attempts were made to establish film studios in the city. The first prominent producers, including Selig, Howe, Lubin, Lasky, and Kalem, were drawn to the city in order to establish winter quarters away from the central shooting locations in New York and Chicago. A number of homegrown companies also sprung up. The most prominent operations, Nola Film and Diamond Film, went bankrupt due to the lack of national distribution networks as well as questionable business practices.

By 1920, Hollywood had become the media capital of the U.S. as well as much of the globe. New Orleans declined as a theater capital as production and distribution companies clustered in Southern California.