Despite several renovations in its century-long lifespan, this auditorium has retained its original wooden stage. This means that on a tour of the storied venue, you’ll walk the same planks that James Brown, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley once did when they performed here. However, it wasn’t always just shrieking teens and thrusting hips.
This art-deco behemoth, recognized for its labyrinthine brickwork and effusive gorgeous decorative panels lining the lobby, was built in 1929—designed to honor the servicemen and women of World War I. While the 3,200-seat auditorium did host a range of plays, boxing matches, and circus acts, the building was, before too long, entangled in another World War: upper offices became barracks for the next generation of soldiers, while the basement housed an early aircraft warning system that came to be known as radar. “The ‘Muni” was the point of departure for young men shipped off to battle as well as their point of return—living or otherwise.
The basement later served as a city clinic and morgue presided over by celebrated and—at the time—controversial physician and coroner Dr. Willis Butler, one of the first medical professionals to treat opioid addiction as a physiological ailment rather than psychological.
Ultimately, the 3,200-seat auditorium is best known for being the “Cradle of the Stars,” home of the now-iconic Louisiana Hayride, a variety country music program. Beginning in 1948, the Hayride offered the rural music genre one of its first urban platforms as well as an early-career Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Slim Whitman, and Elvis Presley. The show became so popular that by the mid-1950s it was broadcast on TV and radio as far north as Canada and as far west as California.
While the program ended in 1960, other legendary acts including Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Harry Connick Jr, Diana Ross, and Jack White all performed at the ‘Muni. It’s rumored to be haunted by a host of performers, spectators, and soldiers, which is understandable—there are certainly less eventful places to spend the afterlife than this storied auditorium.
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