Theodore George Solomon Sr., philanthropist and movie theater operator, dead at 93

Credit: Solomon familyCutline: Theodore George Solomon Sr.
Credit: Solomon familyCutline: Theodore George Solomon Sr.

Theodore George Solomon Sr., a philanthropist and pioneering movie theater operator who introduced the multiplex to the local area, died Sunday at his home here.

He was 93.

Solomon, who went by “Teddy,” was born to a Lebanese immigrant on Jan. 5, 1920, in Port Arthur, Texas.

A graduate of LSU, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, he served during World War II as a member of the U.S. Army Air Forces.

After the war, he married Doris Carwie in 1949 in McComb, Miss., where his family lived.

Solomon relocated to New Orleans with his wife and six children in 1969.

While he would go on to build and operate his own theaters, Solomon got his start in the industry as a boy working at the silent movie houses his father and uncle built.

He joined the family business in 1948 when he formed Gulf States Theatres.

In seven decades in the movie business, Solomon would go on to operate everything from indoor single-screen theaters to drive-ins and stadium-style multiplexes.

During his career, Solomon grew his family’s single movie theater into more than 600 theaters and drive-ins in eight states.

Solomon sold his empire of more than 300 drive-in theaters in 1972. He and his six children later bought back half of that business and transformed it from a portfolio of drive-ins to one with more than 240 indoor screens.

Solomon sold that company in 1986.

Solomon revolutionized the local movie-going experience after he saw his first stadium-seating theater in 1995. Soon after, he opened the first Palace Theater, which boasted 20 screens and plush seats.

Solomon and his sons, George and Gary, would go on to open four more Palace Theaters in the New Orleans area before he sold them to AMC in 2002.

The National Association of Theatre Owners in 1975 elected Solomon president of that organization. As president, he worked to change the way films are bid upon. He also began the Louisiana Film Commission, which would help bring movie and television production to the state and help establish it as “Hollywood South.”

Beyond the movie industry, Solomon was known for his philanthropy.

The Solomon Episcopal Conference Center and the Will Rogers Institute were some of the organizations that benefitted from Solomon’s generosity; the Solomon Victory Theater at the National World War II Museum and the train ride at New Orleans City Park are some of the amusements Solomon helped to fund.

Solomon is survived by his wife, Doris Carwie Solomon; three sons, George, Gary and Glenn; three daughters, Gloria Carter, Gladys Brown and Glenda Bradley; 16 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 6249 Canal Blvd., New Orleans. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m.