Orpheum Theatre

208 7th Avenue N,
Nashville, TN 37203

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Previously operated by: Crescent Amusement Co.

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Orpheum Theatre

The Orpheum Theatre was opened September 5, 1910. It was listed in the American Motion Picture Directory 1914-1915. It had dropped movies by 1926 apart from occasional presentations and continued as a playhouse theatre until closing on September 10, 1937. It was demolished in September 1938 for the site to become a parking lot.

Contributed by Ken Roe

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Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on July 11, 2022 at 8:43 pm

Transcribed from The Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, September 4, 1910 pages 14 and 15

Headline: The Orpheum, The Gem of the Wells Theaters, Which Opens Tomorrow

Teaser paragraph: Nashville’s new vaudeville house built at a cost of $40,000. Its location In the metropolitan district of Nashville is Ideal. In its construction, Jake Wells embodied all of his best Ideas gained by experience In the construction of a dozen other theaters in Southern cities The Orpheum’s attractions will come from the high-class Keith circuit. Nashville now has five theaters exclusive of moving picture show places.

Buildings, like individuals, have a character all their own, either admirable or criticisable (sic) and an appearance either pleasing or displeasing. Thus the architectural character of Nashville’s new theater, the Orpheum, which will entertain its first audience Monday night, is in a class to itself, embracing uniqueness and beauty, solidity, comfort, convenience and safety.

All of the experience amassed in the brain of Jake Wells, the owner, in the construction of his numerous other theaters in the Southern States, was brought to play in the architectural, ornamental and useful features of the Orpheum, the result being the most perfect and one of the most beautiful theater buildings ever constructed either by this Southern theatrical magnate or by anyone else in the South.

Exclusive of the moving picture shows, the Orpheum gives Nashville five theaters. They are the Vendome, the Orpheum, the Fifth Avenue, the Grand and the Bijou. The latter theater was the first playhouse constructed by Mr. Wells in the heart of the South. He entered the theatrics business in Richmond Virginia, on Jan. 9, 1899, as manager of the Bijou. In the eleven years since then he has acquired control, either by construction, purchase or lease, of thirty-two theaters in the principal cities of the Southern States, a truly remarkably record.

He built the Gramby In Norfolk, the Bijou in Chattanooga, the Lyric and the Forsythe in Atlanta, the Grand in Montgomery, the Bijou in Evansville, and playhouses with similar names in Knoxville, Savannah and Jacksonville. The Bijou in Evansville and the Bijou in Nashville were constructed at the same time. From the building of all these theaters it stands to reason that Mr. Wells gradually gained a perfect knowledge of theater construction which he has used to admirable advantage in the construction of the Orpheum in Nashville, all of the desirable features of ail of his other theaters having been combined in the design and arrangements of this new theater.

Orpheum Located in Metropolitan District

Rare good judgment was shown in the location of the Orpheum. Situated on Seventh avenue, North, but a few yards from Church street as one goes towards the Capitol. (a 300 word description of the surrounding blocks is omitted from this transcription, ed)

Beauty and Convenience Characterize the Orpheum

Five double plate-glass doors with green tinted frames and ornate brass handles admit the visitor to the Orpheum. He immediately finds himself in a lovely lobby with a tessellated floor, tastefully decorated walls and ceiling, a cozy box office midway between two entrances to the lower floor, and two stairs to the balcony, the whole giving an extremely favorable first impression which increases to genuine admiration as the visitor proceeds to his seat.

An incline so gentle one might imagine oneself on a level floor leads to the orchestra pit, two broad, red-carpeted aisles being in the middle section of the theater and one on each side. The patron will be seated in a chair of latest model and will find it provides the acme of comfort. The seat and front of the chair is covered with brown imitation alligator skin and the hack is tinted in green. There are four boxes, two on the lower floor and two on the upper floor, each seating eight persons. Ranging from the boxes to a point midway of the house on both the upper and lower floors are loges, ten on the orchestra floor and six on the balcony floor, each seating eight persons These loges are provided with neat cane-bottomed movable chairs elevated In the loges somewhat above the floor of the orchestra and of the balcony, with solid railings between thus affording semi-exclusiveness and an unobstructed view of the stage.

Stage and Dressing Rooms Are Spacious and Comfortable

When seated the patron of the Orpheum will face a stage 35 feet in depth and 63 feet in width with a rigging loft height of 60 feet from the floor. The proscenium arch is 20 feet high and 33 feet wide. The asbestos drop curtain represents a rich drapery effect of crimson, ivory and gold. Praise be to the powers that be there is not a word of advertising on the curtain. Only the word “Asbestos' is seen in the center of the painted draperies, wisely placed there to assure patrons of safety in case of fire on the stage. So far as that is concerned however, the Orpheum was constructed under the supervision of City Building Inspector Edward Laurent and wired under the supervision of City Electrical Inspector H. B. Long. All of the arrangements of the theater were heartily approved by them as providing the maximum of safety. Indeed the Orpheum has a larger number of exits than called for by the law, doors opening from the boxes from the sides of the house and in every direction one may turn. Furthermore, the windows on the lower floor are so low anyone could mount the window sill and jump out in ten seconds were it necessary.

Performers will be delighted with the dressing rooms. None better fitted or more comfortable can be found in a New York theater. Each dressing room has hot and cold running water, mirrors, comfortable chairs, wardrobe hooks, wide windows, electric fans and plenty of incandescents (sic) at the proper places for the performer to get in costume and make-up.

The stage has been equipped with entirely new scenery, of course, the variety of sets being sufficient to suit the character of any vaudeville act or sketch. This scenery and the decorations represent the artistic work of Toomey & Volland, widely known scenic artists of St. Louis, who have decorated all of the theaters constructed by Mr. Wells, having formed a connection with him when they decorated the Bijou in this city years ago. One can find nothing to criticize but everything to commend in the general-features of the Orpheum. The principal color scheme is green and gold with a daub of crimson to give it tone. The woodwork resembles green tinted mission furniture. Chocolate colored draperies adorn the boxes. The footlights are of all tints for varied effects. Elaborate arrangement for cooling the house will enable attractions to be given with comfort to patrons throughout the summer months, while the heating arrangements are so equally elaborate as to assure warmth in every nook and corner. There is not an uncomfortable seat in the house nor an undesirable one from the point of view.

On the balcony floor is a retiring room for ladles where a maid will always be in attendance. On the same floor Manager George Hickman will have his private office with a reception room adjoining.

Holders of balcony seats will have access to a pergola-like veranda overlooking Seventh avenue which is to be lighted with elevated rows of tinted incandescents, giving a dazzling and lovely effect.

With the exception of seven or eight rows in the balcony, all seats will be covered by coupon tickets purchasable a week in advance of each week’s vaudeville bill, thus preventing crushes at the box office at the hour of each performance.

A matinee will be given every day, the price of coupon tickets of admission to all parts of the house except the boxes being 25 cents. Night prices will be 50 cents for all seats on the lower floor except for seats in the boxes and loges, the price of which will be 75 cents. Reserved seats in the first two rows of the balcony will be 50 cents, the next seven rows 35 cents, and all other rows in the rear of the balcony 25 cents.

The Orpheum will present high class vaudeville attractions exclusively booking the best attractions of the Keith Circuit and entirety changing the bill each week.

Experienced Theater Men Will Cater to Patrons

It is already very well known to theatergoers that George Hickman is to be the manager and Oscar Altman the treasurer of the Orpheum

Mr. Hickman engaged with Jake Well when that gentleman first broke away from the diamond and into the theater business as the owner and manager of the Bijou in Richmond nearly twelve years ago. He has been with Mr. Wells ever since that time, coming to Nashville about five years ago as manager of the Bijou. His length of service with Mr. Wells is convincing evidence of his steadiness and ability.

Mr. Altman has been in the theatrical business all of his youthful life. He began as a programme (sic) boy at the Bijou when the Boyle Stock Company was there and the theater was known as the Grand. Every season he was promoted and has risen step by step from programme boy to Treasurer. Several times he left Nashville, his birthplace, to go on the road as Treasurer of some company, and for one season he was a Treasurer under Thompson & Dundy at the Hippodrome in New York, but he always drifted back to Nashville, and now considers himself a permanent fixture in this town as the Treasurer of the Orpheum.

Both Mr. Hickman and Mr. Altman are congeniality personified. Each is a prince of a good fellow and each possesses a legion of friends.

Nick Rooney was the contractor of the Orpheum and Milton Belt the superintendent of construction. Both men have been with Mr. Wells for many years and they declare themselves prouder of Nashville’s Orpheum than of any theater out of the dozen they have constructed for the Wells circuit.

R H Eubank, of Richmond, is to be the stage manager. His experience and competence assure perfect staging and smoothness of performances. Incomparable Rudolph Moehl is to be the director of a splendid orchestra. All employees of the Orpheum have been selected with great care as to their ability and gentlemanly character. Pessimists have declared that Nashville had enough theaters without the Orpheum. But the logical way of looking at the matter is that the more theaters the more theater-goers, since each new theater provides a larger opportunity for educating the public to the value of the theater as a place where one may forget dull care and keep in touch with one of the highest art in the world — the art of amusement.

(The following appears on page 14 separate from the main article)

In addition to reflecting credit on the management for the general pleasing design the Orpheum Theater is convincing argument of the ability of Nashville firms to furnish the best of material and carry out the plans of the builders in a way which could not be surpassed by concerns which make a specialty of this character of work. Manager Hickman stated that it was their intention of providing only the best, both in the construction of the building, and its conveniences for the patrons, and in the things which assist in telling of the high-class productions which will be presented from week to week during their season. Among the Nashville contractors and supply houses which have contributed to the pleasing appearance and comfort of Nashville’s newest theater are the Fulcher Brick Company who furnished the brick and erected the structure; the Nashville Bridge Company, structural steel; Phillips & Co., roofing; Herbrlck & Lawrence, plumbing, heating system, switchboards, wiring and chandeliers; Charles A. Howell, painting and decorating; J. H. Fall & Co. hardware; Castner-Knott Dry Goods Company, draperies; F. A. Leatherman, pianos; Nashville Railway & Light Company, lighting; Howe Ice & Coal Company, Howe’s Distilled Water; Cassetty Coal Company, coal; C. R. & H. H. Hatch, printing; and the Nashville Photo Engraving Company, halftones.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on July 12, 2022 at 6:59 pm

Transcribed from “The Tennessean” Nashville, Tennessee, September 22, 1938. Pages 1 and 2

Headline: Famous Old Orpheum Theater To Be Wrecked Seventh Avenue Playhouse Featured Scores of Stage Celebrities;

Was for Years City’s Only Refuge of Professional Legitimate Drama


The ghosts of play and player that haunt the stage of the Orpheum Theater must find another home.

This week workmen will begin tearing down the Seventh Avenue playhouse that, for a decade, was Nashville’s only refuge of the professional legitimate drama.

Some of the most illustrious folk of the theater have trod its boards - Minnie Maddern Fiske and William Faversham: Otis Skinner and Margaret Anglin and Chauncey Olcott and Robert Mantell.

But it has been four years since its auditorium and stage have been polished up to receive a visiting celebrity; it has become a white elephant to its owners, so the space it occupies will be leased out for a parking lot. For more than 15 years it was leased by the Crescent Amusement Company. That lease expired the first of this year, according to Charles F. Lovell, secretary of the Percy Warner Corporation, which has been the owner of the building for several years. ‘We didn’t want to tear it down,” Lovell said. “We’ve tried to rent it to someone who could utilize it. But we haven’t been able to do that, so we will lease the space for a parking lot.”

As nearly as Lovell could recall, the Orpheum was built about 25 years ago. Until 1919 it shared with the Vendome Theater the function of housing the touring attractions coming to Nashville. Then the Vendome became a movie house, and for the next 10 years the Orpheum was Nashville’s only legitimate theater. Beginning with the season of 1929-30, though, Ryman Auditorium has brought all the touring companies coming to Nashville, and since that time the Orpheum has been lighted only intermittently. Stock companies also have played their part in the history of the Orpheum, and the Orpheum, in turn. has had a share in providing a stepping-stone to fame for several stock company players.

The most conspicuous of these from the strictly contemporary viewpoint was Ralph Bellamy, now a successful leading man in moving pictures. He was the leading man of the Bellamy Players, who operated profitably for three months in the spring and early summer of 1928 and for four months again in the winter and spring of 1929. In the winter of 1932-33 a group of local drama enthusiasts sponsored the Orpheum’s most recent stock company. Its leading woman, for the 10 or 12 weeks of its existence, was Shirley Booth. Miss Booth, two years later, became famous on Broadway as leading woman of the smash-hit, “Three Men and a Horse.“ The juvenile of this company, Henry Richards, has just opened on Broadway n the revival of "Lightnin.’”

But long before Miss Booth played here, there were the Burgess Players in the summer of 1921. The juvenile of that company was Robert Armstrong. A few years later Armstrong was the leading man of “Is Zat So?“ and when the play finished its Chicago run, he went to Hollywood to embark on a successful career in pictures.


After the 1933 stock company closed, the Orpheum has been open only occasionally. In December 1934, it was used by the Selman Players for their production of “The Drunkard.“ Earlier that same year, Vanderbilt used it for its last "Cap and Bells Show” and around that same time it had its last celebrity - Cornelia Otis Skinner - in her character sketches.

The last time it was used professionally was two years ago. A burlesque company played there for four or five weeks. But it had its share of fine plays and great players.

Possibly its most glorious night since the war was that of April 6, 1928, when an all-star company, headed by Minnie Maddern Fiske, played Sheridan’s “The Rivals” there. The company Included Chauncey Olcott, Tom Wise, James T. Powers and Lola Fisher.

Rivaling this was Harry Lauder’s engagement there March 8, 1937. A month later Madge Kennedy and Sidney Blackmer played the Orpheum In “Love In a Mist.” A year later a touring company gave Deems Taylor’s opera. “The Klng’s Henchman" In the theater.

(Appropriately, following immediately below this final paragraph on page 2, are Death Notices. ed.)

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