In a summer-long series in honor of its 95th birthday, StoryBoard revisits an era when Memphis almost lost its last great theatre palace: its survival during mid-1960s urban renewal; its struggles during the unrest of the late 1960s; and its often-overlooked 5-year revival
“We’re not out of the woods yet. We could still become a parking lot.”
~Hillsman Lee Wright, Orpheum project manager, in September, 1978
In the fall of 2018, StoryBoard Memphis published a feature article on the mostly-unknown and almost-forgotten history of the revival of the Orpheum Theatre by a young group of professionals in truly grassroots, “two boards and a passion” style, who with the help of key influencers and many others, brought life back to downtown and to the historic theatre from 1975 to 1980, before the Pat Halloran era began.
Our November 2018 article appeared only in print, and due to space limitations, there was a great deal of story, history and artifacts left on the editing room floor. Well, here online, we won’t be limited by space. And later this summer, in honor of this November’s 95-year birthday of the Orpheum, we will be publishing a comprehensive feature-length, multi-part history of an era when Memphis almost lost its last great theatre palace.
Featured this summer will be previously unpublished interviews and untold recollections from the people who were there, more artifacts from the period, and more interactive links and recordings to the stories that shaped the period that saved the Orpheum from the ravages of urban renewal bulldozers.
We are inviting you the public to join in as well, by sharing your memories of the Orpheum during those ragtag days of revival. The revival was preceded and heavily influenced by the theater’s rich history as well as the tragic events and urban renewal destruction in Memphis from the late 1960s and early ’70s; our updated history will include those stories as well. So as you submit your memories, please include only your personal memories from the theater’s heydays in the 1940s-’60s, the late 1960s to early ’70s declines, and revival period between 1975 to 1980. For example, if you attended shows during those revival days, let us know!
Your comments may be used as quotes to be included in our feature story.
Use the comments section below for your comments and your personal 1960s to 1980 recollections.