The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee)
Tuesday March 9, 2010
East Nashville’s Roxy reborn
By Nancy DeVille
Its history dates back to the 1930s, a place where families flocked to see movies on any given Saturday afternoon for 12 cents.
Now as the Roxy Theater, at 827 Meridian St. in East Nashville, sits empty and in need of repair, one area businessman hopes to restore the nostalgia that many remember.
Robert Solomon was attracted to the building as a site to redevelop Woodland Studios, his Five Points business that was destroyed by the 1998 tornado that hit East Nashville.
He plans to rehab the facility, for not only a theater that will feature independent films and performances, but he also hopes to include a live high quality studio to give artists a chance to have their acts recorded.
“Most of the original neighborhood theaters have been torn down or are being used for something else,” he said. “If this is going to be a true Music City, we need more things like this. We have a shortage of places for people to put on performances and local theaters like this are wonderful for that.”
The 8,400-square-foot building, which sits just behind Glenn Elementary at the intersection of Meridian and Wilburn, is far from its origins as a movie theater. The 660 seats have been removed, the stage needs rehabbing and new lighting will have to be installed.
Where’s the sign?
Solomon had hoped to obtain the theater’s original vertical sign, which spelled out R-O-X-Y. It was sold to the Tennessee State Museum by the former owners and is now in storage as part of the 20th century collection where it will stay, museum officials said.
Solomon also recently purchased the adjacent buildings, which were once home to Jacob’s Clothing Store and the Red Cross Pharmacy.
Financing in this economy can be difficult, said Solomon, who believes it will take at least $800,000 to get the facility up and running. Work has already begun on the building, and he estimates once funding is in place, it will take about four to five months to complete.
But area residents are joining forces, as many believe this project will complement the area. John Barrett has been actively recruiting volunteers to assist with the renovation on the neighborhood list servs and Craigslist.
“We have so many people in East Nashville who are talented in the trades and are interested in taking what was out of use and turning it into what used to be,” said the Lockeland Springs resident.
“He (Solomon) is aware of what Nashville is missing. The live recording aspect is key for musicians in Nashville.”
White only no more
The original theater was once owned by Crescent Amusement and was open until roughly the late 1950s. The building was brought around 1960 by a preacher and later housed the Nashville Revival Center.
In 1960, the front section of the building, at the corner of Meridian and Wilburn, housed the Roxy Speedwash, a self-service laundry, while the church used the back portion where the theater was once located. In the 1980s, the building was transformed into a production center, complete with a recording studio and 240-seat performance theater.
The movie theater was in walking distance for the now 81-year-old Jimmy Morrissey and was a place he would frequent on Saturdays.
“I hate to see a lot of the things from my years that have been taken away,” he said. “But I’m glad it’s coming back.”
The Roxy was open during the height of segregation, and Sam McCullough recalls his parents talking about it being a place where blacks were not welcomed.
“It was always a sore subject in my family and my parents were glad when it closed,” he said.
“My father grew up in close proximity but was not allowed to go in and watch movies.”
But now the Cleveland Park resident says he’s glad to see it possibly come back, especially as the city celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Nashville Sit-In movement.
“It’s coming back into such a diverse community and where we have interest from all races,” he said. “Wilburn Street used to be a hub of activity and everyone wants to see those historic places brought back up. It’s significant that a place that was once white only, can be a community place where everyone has a part in it.”
Contact Nancy DeVille at 615-259-8307 or ndeville
Sources: Metro Nashville Archives, Tennessean and Nashville Banner archives