For movie lovers, there’s nothing sadder than an old, abandoned theater – and nothing as glorious as a fabulously restored one.
For a perfect example, look to Lebanon, Tenn., a small town about 30 miles east of Nashville and its Capitol Theatre.
I’ve been visiting Lebanon my whole life, since first my aunt and uncle and now my mother and step-father live there. And even as a kid, I was struck by The Capitol’s faded, forgotten beauty. It reminded me of “The Last Picture Show,” and I longed for someone to see its potential and resurrect it, despite the changes brought by multiplexes and home video.
Now Pam and Bob Black have done just that.
They gave me a tour on Friday, and what a great day-after-Christmas present.
Old Hollywood and On
The Capitol opened with fanfare and a Betty Grable picture in 1949, steps from the Town Square. Like everything else in the South, the theater was segregated, so black people had to sit upstairs. After The Capitol closed in 1981, it came to symbolize the fading core of the town as Wal-Mart and chain restaurants took most of the business closer to I-40 a couple of miles away.
Then, Pam and Bob bought The Capitol and, in 2011, began their meticulous, loving restoration and improvement.
“We felt there was a need to keep it alive,” Bob said. “We heard that someone was going to tear it down, and we couldn’t possibly think of that happening.”
Open since summer 2013, it’s beautiful inside, with original and new Art Deco features; state-of-the-art projection for classic movies; first-class acoustics for live music; and flexibility to host receptions and community events.
It’s no insult to the rest of Lebanon to say there’s nothing like The Capitol in town – or probably anywhere in the area until you get to Music City.
Like a Mini-Fox in Atlanta
Now it reminds me of a smaller version of The Fox Theatre in Atlanta. And I hope Pam and Bob find success with concerts like the Variety Playhouse and others in Atlanta – or the Franklin Theatre just south of Nashville. There’s a magic to places like The Capitol that new projects can’t match.
“We try to use it as an avenue for local events,” Bob said. “There’s really no place around where we can do weddings, corporate events, live music, musical theater, dinner theater… we can try and do about everything that there is. We’re very excited about the acceptance that we’ve had in town.”
In recent years, trendy boutiques have popped up on The Square next to ancient shops selling antiques. And The Square itself is currently getting a facelift.
It’s not too much to hope The Capitol will encourage future redevelopment and vitality in Lebanon. Some high-profile concerts, a smart series of movies, a packed calendar of weddings, class reunions and the like?
Just take a look. (Click on a picture to enlarge it. Mouse over to see caption.)