Amid all the disheartening coronavirus news, the Tivoli Theatre on Broad Street turned 99 years old on Thursday.
Unfortunately, not even the theater is able to help itself observe the birthday in a fitting way, as it, too, is closed. A sign on the marquee says, “Tivoli Foundation Events Postponed Until April 3,” although it does end with the upbeat wish, “Stay Healthy Chattanooga.”
It was March 19, 1921 – a Saturday – when the Tivoli opened with multiple showings of the silent movie, “Forbidden Fruit,” by Cecil B.
DeMille. Mae Murray, a famous silent movie actress of the time, was a special guest at the opening and stayed at the Hotel Patten and gave an interview to a local reporter at the time.
The Rapp and Rapp-designed theater would quickly become one of Chattanooga’s most beloved landmarks with both its look and offerings. Although downtown theaters like the Bijou were already around and ones like the State would open later, none was ever to surpass the Tivoli in terms of ornateness or being so beloved.
The theater is full of as much history as architectural detail, too. Dancer Ginger Rogers reportedly performed there early on in one of her earliest stage performances, it became air conditioned in 1926 with a Carrier commercial unit, and hundreds flocked there in early 1940 over more days than normal to see “Gone with the Wind.”
It closed in 1961 as a movie theater, but it reopened in 1963 as a performing arts center leased and later owned by the city of Chattanooga. The city spearheaded a renovation and stage enlargement that was completed in 1989.
In 2015, the theater became part of the non-profit organization, the Tivoli Theatre Foundation, with the Knoxville-based AC Entertainment later hired to handle bookings and management.
The Tivoli’s 99th birthday/anniversary has come at a time when no one is in a celebratory mood, even though many believe the building itself is always worth celebrating.
And maybe it does need a little touchup work in places, and perhaps we wish it had a little more leg room to match the bigger bodies of 2020.
But here’s to hoping the powers that be plan a major 100th birthday celebration worthy of what the theater has meant to Chattanooga.
By then, hopefully the health crisis will have long passed and we will be in the mood to party and celebrate like a college kid on spring break!