Thursday, February 10, 2011

Roxy Theater, Northeast Nashville

by Debie Cox

Major Ernest Hutton, a Nashville pharmacist, opened Red Cross Drugs in 1914, at the corner of Wilburn and Meridian Streets.  The drug store was described in a pharmaceutical publication as "one of the most beautiful stores in the city" with a soda fountain, a tile floor and double show windows.  The drug store was at 301 Wilburn St. and housed in the building was a barber shop at 303 Wilburn St. and other shops at 305 and 307 Wilburn   By the 1930's 301 Wilburn was occupied by Caplan's Dry Goods Store.  In the 1940's the store became Morris Dry Goods and about 1950 the store became Dixie Five and Dime.  
In 1936 Crescent Amusement, owned by Nashville businessman Tony Sudekum, purchased the drug store property.  Crescent Amusement also bought the adjoining lot, to the north, fronting on Meridian Street.  The drug store had originally opened onto Wilburn Street.  Crescent Amusement proposed opening the building to Meridian Street and changing the address from 301 Wilburn to 827 Meridian St.  A request was made to add a small addition on the north side of the building front.  A barber shop located at 303 Wilburn would be moved to the addition on Meridian.   Plans called for altering the existing building along Wilburn to the alley to be used as a movie theater, by installing a balcony, and a heating and air conditioning system.   


The plans were controversial and neighbors appeared at a zoning hearing to protest the theater on Wilburn and an additional store front on Meridian St.  A property owner on the street said at the hearing that a movie theater should not be located in a residential neighborhood and he feared a negative effect on his property value.  After several set backs and appeals the plans were finally approved and by the end of 1937 the Roxy Theater was in business.   The theater marquee was above the Wilburn Street entrance that opened into a small lobby.   


Orville Oeser, resident of the neighborhood, went to work as an usher at the Roxy about 1952.  In 1954 Dixie Five and Dime moved to a building on the opposite corner.  The theater building was once again altered.  The Wilburn Street entrance was closed and the old Roxy sign was taken down.  A new lobby was opened into the old store front at the corner of the building that fronted on Meridian St.  The entrance  was redesigned and a new Roxy marquee was placed at the Meridian St. entrance.  


The new lobby was much larger and had a long case in the middle with candy all around the sides, a popcorn machine on each end and a soft drink dispenser.   The beautiful terrazzo tile floor that had served the drug store for many years now graced the theater lobby.  Northeast Nashville residents have many happy memories of the old Roxy Theater.  It was within walking distance of neighborhood children and a Saturday matinee was a must for those growing up in the 1950's.  Teens took over in the afternoon and couples filled the theater at night.


In May of 1959 Crescent Amusement sold the property to the Nashville Revival Center and the Nashville Revival Center is listed in the Nashville City Directory for the first time in that year. Church services were held in the theater auditorium.  The part of the building that housed the variety store became a self service coin laundry, the Roxy Speedwash, by 1960.  A barber shop continued to occupy the 1937 addition on the north front of the building.  For many years Mr. Roark was the barber.  By the late 1970’s the church was gone and the old theater was being used for storage. 

In 1979 Nashville record producer Aubrey Mayhew purchased the building and an adjoining vacant parcel of land.  Mayhew intended to open a recording studio in the old building.  In 1986 the Roxy Production Center was a reality, with several studios and 16 employees.  Mr. Mayhew had big dreams for the old Roxy.  He planned to construct a Hollywood style soundstage on the adjacent vacant land, with hopes of luring movie production to Nashville.  Although the recording studio did operate for some years, most of Mr. Mayhew’s dreams were never realized.  Mr. Mayhew died in the spring of 2009 and his will instructed that the property be sold.

Robert Solomon had been looking for a place to revive the Woodland Sound Studios for several years when he learned that the Roxy property was for sale in 2009.   Country and Rock stars such as Johnny Cash, The Oak Ridge Boys, Barbara Mandrell, Kansas, Neil Young and Jimmy Buffet recorded albums there.   Solomon owned this business, housed in the old Woodland Street Theater, and it was badly damaged in the 1998 tornado.  Solomon purchased the 8,400 square foot Roxy Theater building in December of 2009.  In addition to housing Solomon's recording studio, the old Roxy will be used as a movie theater, but will focus on live theatrical and musical performances. 
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Roxy Theater, Northeast Nashville by Debie Oeser Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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