Do you have memories to share? Belcourt collecting tales of theatre's history ahead of 100-year anniversary

Belcourt 100-year anniversary
Posted at 9:40 PM, Jan 24, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As much as Nashville has changed over nearly 100 years, one place has managed to stay with us through all that time. Now, that place wants your help in sharing the stories that span a century.

When the box office opens up, what's playing is the classics, the cult favorites, the retro, and the films leading the Academy Awards conversation.

Many people have stories of the Belcourt Theatre.

"I think the first thing I saw here was a John Waters movie," laughed the front-of-house manager and public historian T. Minton.

Minton has a new interest in the many who took a seat in one of these darkened rooms.

The place opened in 1925 as Hillsboro Theater, a silent movie house. The first film it showed was called America by director D.W. Griffith.

"The stage behind me and the proscenium arch is all original to our first-day opening," Minton said, sitting in the 1925 hall.

Minton is part of a new effort for the theatre's 100-year anniversary, which is coming up in two years.

"We are trying to collect people's stories through an oral history project," she said.

With this many years, there's a whole lot to say. Since 1925, the Belcourt's played host to many theatre companies — and even the Grand Ole Opry at one point.

You may remember there was a scare in the late '90s. During reports the theater was losing money, a date was announced for closure. Many believed the Belcourt was about to be lost forever.

"It's a major cultural loss!" said one patron, speaking to NewsChannel 5 in 1998.

However, the Belcourt's story continued. With work needed on the plumbing and electrical systems, the theater began a major renovation in 2015, leading to the Belcourt we see now. The area surrounding it couldn't be more different than in 1925.

Inside the theater, Minton finds one consistency that's important to the Belcourt Stories Project.

"We have always been supported by the local community," Minton continued. "We want to be able to tell the story in a clearer way."

On the Belcourt site, you can find a place to record stories. They're looking for anyone, from those who stuck up for the place in the harder times, to those whose aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents were part of the theatre's earliest days. Along with stories, the Belcourt's also hoping this call will lead to submissions of pictures, ticket stubs, and programs from way back.

"Ordinary peoples' stories matter, and it's ordinary people that are the agents of history," said Minton. "We've always been a neighborhood theater. We would love to know what this space has meant to people."

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