Group will maintain St. Landry cultural landmark

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

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The effort by a nonprofit group to revive the Liberty Theater in Eunice is significant not only because it will preserve a historic building and the programs that have been staged there, but also because it recognizes the value of the St. Landry Parish culture in one of the first places to catch on to that concept.

Curtis Joubert, as legislator in the 1960s and mayor in the 1980s, was one of the first leaders in Louisiana to see both the historic and economic worth of preserving and building upon the traditions of his community and the surrounding area.

As a legislator, he was a staunch advocate for preservation of Louisiana’s French language and culture. As mayor, he led tough fights for creation of the Prairie Acadian Culture Center and for renovation of the Liberty Theatre next door to it.

Over the years, the center’s exhibits, music sessions, demonstrations of local crafts, cooking lessons, and other programs made it a necessary stop on any tour of the area, and visitors often coupled that stop with a visit to the Rendez-vous de Cajuns live radio show offered each Saturday at the old movie house.

The National Park Service supported the theater for years under an agreement with the city, but it has had to end the arrangement because of budget cuts.

The threat of permanently closing the old building  was the catalyst for formation of The Association for the Liberty Theatre of Eunice, which has put together a four-year plan to renovate the theater. The non-profit board includes Joel Savoy, Celeste Gomez, Laura Pitre, Pat Dossman, Charles Seale and Paul Feavel. City officials have given the association the go-ahead and the mayor says he supports paying $350,000 needed for the heating and air conditioning replacement.

“We all know what the Liberty used to be like. What it did for downtown Eunice and the Cajun culture,” Savoy said. He said the group wants the Liberty “to flourish and prosper, finding a renewed role as a center for culture, performance and community pride.”
The Liberty is one of Louisiana’s most iconic concert halls. The Liberty Amusement Co. was formed in 1920 and in 1924 its owners, A. F. McGee, Sr. and Claude Keller, moved the theater to the corner of Park Avenue and Second Street, where it stands today.

The center and the theater have been characterized by tourism officials as “perfect examples of what cultural tourism is all about.” The parish tourism commission noted several years ago that, “not only do they work to preserve our unique heritage, they actively showcase it for everyone to see. That … [attracts] visitors … by making certain that the culture they come to experience is alive, vibrant, and authentic.”

That’s important. A study done for the Louisiana culture and tourism department found that “authentic local culture … is [the one area] most likely to create jobs that will not eventually be lost to lower cost locations.”

“Work like this is important in all of our communities,” in the view of Bill Rodier, St. Landry economic development director. “If we preserve places like the Liberty and the unique music that has been played there, we will maintain an important part of who we are for ourselves and for generations to come, and also for a growing number of visitors who like who we are, how we sing and dance, the good food we eat, and the hospitality that goes along with it all.”

Three things to know about this story:

  • The Association for the Liberty Theatre of Eunice, which has put together a four-year plan to renovate the theater.
  • The National Park Service supported the theater for years but it has had to end the arrangement for budget reasons.
  • The theater and adjacent cultural center have been characterized by tourism officials as “perfect examples of what cultural tourism is all about.”

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