The former Claborne theater in Treme partially collapses on Wednesday

The building at 1031 Claiborne Avenue has been devastated for decades, but the front of the building has detached from the structure and has partially collapsed.

A historic building partially collapsed in Treme on Wednesday afternoon, temporarily blocking a lane of traffic near Claiborne Avenue and Ursulines Avenue.

The building at 1031 Claiborne Avenue has been devastated for decades, but the front of the building has detached from the structure and has partially collapsed.

City inspectors say it could collapse further.

The owner’s daughter, Brandi Williams, said she wants to turn the site into a hotel, but city records show several recent breaches of regulations and maintenance, including “demolition through neglect” in 2016.

“We were trying to get a permit from the city to do front-end work because the building is steel on the inside, all the steel framing,” Williams told Eyewitness News on Wednesday.

In April, Williams’ mother, Tracy, submitted an application for a repair permit for the property. She submitted several photos showing the condition of the building and wrote to the city, “The building has a bulge. It needs to come down and be redesigned immediately. It’s a danger.”

The Williams family faced months of red tape before the partial collapse.

“I don’t know if it was wind damage, wind damage with the rain. But when it sits that long and you can’t do anything with it, their expectations have been met. It went wrong. It should have failed. That’s them [the city] wanted to happen,” said Brandi Williams.

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The building at North Claiborne and Ursulines has a long, rich history.

The building first opened in 1913 as an open-air Harlequin Theater, a roofless building with shells on the floor. It reopened as the Clabon Theater on Christmas Day 1938.

“I never went to the movies there,” mused historian Jack Stewart.

Stewart co-authored the book There’s One In Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans. The book details the slow evolution of 1031 North Claiborne from segregated theater to blacks-only theater, movie set, disco, and church.

“Well, as an air dome, it was just kind of low-end theatre. You didn’t know when it was going to rain or whatever,” Stewart said. “It kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger until it had a balcony and everything in it.”

A photograph of the Clabon Theater in its heyday still hangs in the Pyrtania Theater Uptown.

For historians like Stewart, it’s a tribute to what once was and the fight to keep New Orleans’ history from crumbling.

The building has been empty for some time. There are no reports of injuries.

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