Ryman Auditorium

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Ryman Auditorium
"The Mother Church of Country Music"
"The Carnegie Hall of the South"
Rymanauditorium1.jpg
Ryman Auditorium, facing Nashville's Fifth Avenue North
Former names Union Gospel Tabernacle (1892–1904)
Grand Ole Opry House (1963–1974)
Location 116 Fifth Ave. N
Nashville, Tennessee
United States
Coordinates 36°9′40.6″N 86°46′42.6″W / 36.161278°N 86.778500°W / 36.161278; -86.778500
Owner Ryman Hospitality Properties, Inc.
Type Concert hall
Theatre
Broadcast venue
Seating type Pews
Capacity 2,362
Construction
Built 1885–1892
Opened 1892
Renovated 1901, 1952, 1989, 1994
Expanded 1897, 1994, 2015
Construction cost US$100,000 ($2,624,815 in 2015)
Website
Ryman.com

Ryman Auditorium (formerly Grand Ole Opry House and Union Gospel Tabernacle) is a 2,362-seat live performance venue, located at 116 5th Avenue North, in Nashville, Tennessee and is best known as the most famous home of the Grand Ole Opry. It is owned and operated by Ryman Hospitality Properties, Inc.

Ryman Auditorium was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and was further designated a National Historic Landmark on June 25, 2001.[1][2]

History[edit]

Union Gospel Tabernacle[edit]

The auditorium opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892. Its construction was spearheaded by Thomas Ryman (1843–1904), a riverboat captain and Nashville businessman who owned several saloons. Ryman conceived of the auditorium as a tabernacle for the influential revivalist Samuel Porter Jones.[3] Ryman had attended one of Jones' 1885 tent revivals with the intent to heckle, but was instead converted into a devout Christian, and soon after pledged to build the tabernacle so the people of Nashville could attend a large-scale revival indoors. It took seven years to complete and cost US$100,000 ($2,624,815 in 2015).[4] However, Jones held his first revival at the site on May 25, 1890, with only the building's foundation and six-foot walls standing.[5] Architect Hugh Cathcart Thompson designed the structure. Exceeding its construction budget, the tabernacle opened US$20,000 ($524,963 in 2015) in debt. Jones sought to name the tabernacle in Ryman's honor, but Ryman denied the request several times. When Ryman died in 1904, his memorial service was held at the tabernacle. During the service, Jones proposed the building be renamed Ryman Auditorium, which was met with the overwhelming approval of the attendees.[4] Jones died less than two years later, in 1906.

The building was originally designed to contain a balcony, but a lack of funds delayed its completion. The balcony was eventually built and opened in time for the 1897 gathering of the United Confederate Veterans, with funds provided by members of the group. As such, the balcony was named the Confederate Gallery.[5] Upon the completion of the balcony, the Ryman's capacity rose to 6,000. A stage was added in 1901 that reduced the capacity to just over 3,000.

Under the leadership of Lula C. Naff[edit]

Though the building was designed to be a house of worship, a purpose it continued to serve throughout most of its early life, it was often leased to promoters for non-religious events in an effort to pay off its debts and remain open. In 1904, Lula C. Naff, a widow and mother who was working as a stenographer for the DeLong Rice Lyceum Bureau, began to book and promote speaking engagements, concerts, boxing matches, and other attractions at the Ryman. In 1914, her employer went out of business, and Naff transitioned into a role as the Ryman's full-time manager by 1920.[6][7] She preferred to go by the name "L.C. Naff" in an attempt to avoid initial prejudices as a female executive in a male-dominated industry. Naff gained a reputation for battling local censorship groups, who had threatened to ban various performances deemed too risqué. In 1939, Naff won a landmark lawsuit against the Nashville Board of Censors, which was planning to arrest the star of the play "Tobacco Road" due to its provocative nature. The court declared the law creating the censors invalid.[5]

Her tenure, and her ability to book stage shows and world-renowned entertainers in the city's largest indoor gathering place, kept the Ryman at the forefront of Nashville's conscience and enhanced the city's reputation as a cultural center for the performing arts even as the building began to age.[7] W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Harry Houdini, and John Philip Sousa (among others) performed at the venue over the years, earning the Ryman the nickname, "The Carnegie Hall of the South".[8] The Ryman hosted lectures by U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in 1907 and 1911, respectively. It also saw the inaugurations of three governors of the state of Tennessee.[5] The first event to sell out the Ryman was a lecture by Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy in 1913.[5] While being a trailblazer for working women, Naff also championed the cause of diversity.[7] The building was used as a regular venue for the Fisk Jubilee Singers from nearby Fisk University, a historically black college. Jim Crow laws often forced Ryman audiences to be segregated, while some shows were designated for "White Audiences Only" and others for "Colored Audiences Only", however, photographs show that Ryman audiences of the time were often integrated.[5] Naff retired in 1955 and died in 1960.[6]

Grand Ole Opry[edit]

Main article: Grand Ole Opry

Since debuting in 1925, a local country music radio program known as the Grand Ole Opry had become a Nashville institution. Though not originally a stage show, the Opry began to attract listeners from around the area who would come to the WSM studio to see it live. When crowds got too large for the studio, WSM moved the show to various auditoriums around the city that could accommodate the following. However, the Opry was asked to leave both the War Memorial Auditorium and the Dixie Tabernacle due to its sometimes-uncivilized crowds. Naff thought the Ryman would be a perfect venue for such an audience. The show was first broadcast from the Ryman on June 5, 1943, and originated there every week for nearly 31 years thereafter.

During its tenure at Ryman Auditorium, the Opry hosted the biggest country music stars of the day, and the show became known around the world. The entire show was broadcast on clear-channel station WSM, where it could be heard in 30 states across the eastern part of the nation. Portions of the show were also broadcast on network radio and television to a wider audience. Melding its then-current usage with the building's origins as a house of worship, the Ryman earned the nickname "The Mother Church of Country Music", which it still holds to this day.

The Ryman lacked a true backstage area. There was only one dressing room for the men, while women were relegated to an inadequate ladies' restroom.[9] The shortage of space forced performers to wait in the wings, the narrow hallways, and the alley behind the building's south wall. Thus, many performers often ventured across the alley to Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and other bars, where they would drink alongside and sometimes perform for patrons. This practice enhanced the notoriety of the honky-tonk bars along Nashville's Lower Broadway.[10]

On September 27, 1963, Ryman Auditorium was purchased by WSM, Inc. (a division of National Life and Accident Insurance Company and the owner of the Opry) for US$207,500 ($1,598,427 in 2015). As part of the sale, the building was officially renamed the Grand Ole Opry House, though the Ryman name proved difficult to shed.[5]

In 1966, the company made minor upgrades to the Opry House, but soon thereafter began making plans to move the Opry to a new location altogether. Despite the building's deteriorating condition, the lack of air conditioning, and the abundance of unsavory surroundings in its urban neighborhood, the show's increasing popularity would often lead to crowds too large for the venue.[11] The plans, announced in 1969, centered around a larger, custom-built auditorium that would provide a more controlled and comfortable atmosphere for audiences and performers alike, in addition to better radio and television production facilities. The company purchased a large tract of land in a then-rural area a few miles away, where the new Opry theater would serve as the anchor of a grand entertainment complex. The development became known as Opryland USA, and came to include the Opryland theme park and, eventually, the Opryland Hotel. The amusement park opened on June 30, 1972, and the new Grand Ole Opry House debuted on Saturday, March 16, 1974. The final Opry show at the Ryman occurred the night before, on Friday, March 15. The final shows downtown were emotional. Sarah Cannon, known to perform as Minnie Pearl, broke character and cried on stage.[12] In an effort to maintain continuity with the Opry's storied past, a large circle was cut from the floor of the Ryman stage and inlaid into the center of the new Opry stage.[13] The new venue would also feature pew seating, although (unlike the Ryman) they are cushioned.

Facing demolition[edit]

When the plans for Opryland USA were announced, WSM president Irving Waugh also revealed the company's intent to demolish the Ryman and use its bricks to build a chapel at the amusement park called "The Little Church of Opryland".[14][15] Waugh brought in a consultant to evaluate the building: noted theatrical producer Jo Mielziner, who had staged a production at the Ryman in 1935. He concluded that the Ryman was "full of bad workmanship and contains nothing of value as a theater worth restoring."[11] Mielziner suggested the auditorium be razed and replaced with a modern theater.[11] Waugh's plans were met with resounding resistance from the public, including many influential musicians of the time. Pulitzer Prize winner Ada Louise Huxtable, writing for The New York Times, ridiculed the decision, saying: "First prize for the pious misuse of a landmark, and a total misunderstanding of the principles of preservation. Gentlemen, for shame."[11][9]

However, Roy Acuff, an Opry stalwart and a major stakeholder of Opryland USA, was purported to say, "I never want another note of music played in that building," and led the unsuccessful charge to tear down the Ryman.[16] Acuff, a staunch supporter of moving the Opry to a modern home, told The Washington Post in 1974, "Most of my memories of the Ryman auditorium are of misery, sweating out here on this stage, the audience suffering too... We've been shackled all of my career."[15] Acuff notably hated the dressing room situation at the Ryman so much that he bought a nearby building just to have a bigger one.[15]

Members of historic preservation groups argued that National Life & Accident (and Acuff, by proxy) was exaggerating the Ryman's poor condition, saying the company was worried that attachment to the old building would hurt business at the new Opry House. Preservationists leaned on the building's religious history, and gained traction for their case as a result. The outcry led to the building being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. In 1974, United States Senators Howard Baker and Bill Brock, along with the assistance of the United States Department of the Interior, pleaded with National Life to preserve the building. National Life deferred the decision on Ryman's fate, and the building was ultimately saved from demolition.[5][9]

Ryman Auditorium
Ryman Auditorium is located in Tennessee
Ryman Auditorium
Location 116 Fifth Ave. N
Nashville, Tennessee
Coordinates 36°9′40.6″N 86°46′42.6″W / 36.161278°N 86.778500°W / 36.161278; -86.778500Coordinates: 36°9′40.6″N 86°46′42.6″W / 36.161278°N 86.778500°W / 36.161278; -86.778500
Area 1 acre (0.40 ha)
Built 1891
Architect Hugh Cathcart Thompson
Restored 1952, 1989, 1994
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 71000819
Significant dates
Added to NRHP May 6, 1971[17]
Designated NHL January 3, 2001[1]

Dormancy[edit]

Eventually and without fanfare, the Ryman Auditorium name returned to the building to differentiate it from the new Grand Ole Opry House. Following the departure of the Opry, the Ryman sat mostly vacant and decaying for nearly twenty years as the neighborhood surrounding it continued to blight. Avoiding the wrecking ball several times, the building continued to stand with an uncertain future. In September 1983, soon after National Life & Accident's parent company, NLT Corporation, unsuccessfully fought off a hostile takeover bid by American General Insurance, the building was included in the sale of all of the WSM & Opryland properties to Gaylord Broadcasting Company (later Gaylord Entertainment Company) for US$250,000,000 ($591,964,584 in 2015).[11][18] Despite the absence of performances, the building was never shuttered, and still held such significance as an attraction that it would remain open for tours.[14][9]

Major motion pictures continued to be filmed on location at the auditorium, including John Carpenter’s Elvis (1979), the Loretta Lynn Oscar-winning biopic, Coal Miner's Daughter (1980), Sweet Dreams (1985) (the story of Patsy Cline), and Clint Eastwood’s Honkytonk Man (1982).

Revival and renovations[edit]

In 1989, Gaylord Entertainment began work to beautify the Ryman's exterior. The structure of the building was also improved, as the company installed a new roof, replaced broken windows, and repaired broken bricks and wood.[5] The building's interior, however, was left mostly untouched.

In 1991 and 1992, Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers performed a series of acoustic concerts at the dilapidated building, in which no one was allowed to sit on or beneath the balcony due to safety concerns.[19] Some of the recordings were released as an album entitled "At the Ryman". The concerts' and album's high acclaim are given near-universal credit for the renewed interest in reviving Ryman Auditorium as an active venue.[20][19]

The Ryman hosted a concert and one-act play "The Ryman: The Tabernacle Becomes A Shrine" on May 18, 1992 to celebrate the building's centennial.[5]

In October 1992, executives of Gaylord Entertainment announced plans to renovate the entire building and expand upon it to create modern amenities for performers and audiences alike.[5] In September 1993, renovations began to restore it into a world-class concert hall.[14] In the renovations, the auditorium's wooden pews were restored. They are original to the building and continue to serve as the auditorium's seating. Both far-reaching ends of the U-shaped balcony (which had previously extended all the way to the building's south wall) were removed, and new backstage facilities were built inside the original building, while a new structure containing a lobby, restrooms, concessions, offices, and a grand staircase leading to the balcony was constructed and attached to the east side of the auditorium. This also resulted in the Ryman's main entrance being moved from the west side of the building (Fifth Avenue North) to the east side (Fourth Avenue North), where an outdoor entry plaza also greeted visitors. Notably, the renovations resulted in Ryman Auditorium becoming air-conditioned for the first time.

In addition, a large statue of Thomas Ryman was erected as part of the outdoor entry plaza, and life-size bronze statues depicting Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl were placed on one of the Ryman's pews inside the new lobby.

The first performance at the newly-renovated Ryman was a broadcast of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion on June 4, 1994. Keillor said he was inspired to create A Prairie Home Companion while reporting on the final Opry show at the Ryman in 1974 for The New Yorker.[21] Following that, the Ryman played host to an extended residency of the original musical Always... Patsy Cline, about the life of the legendary singer which starred Mandy Barnett in the titular role.

The return of the Opry[edit]

On Sunday, October 18, 1998, the Opry held a benefit show at Ryman Auditorium, marking its return to the venue for the first time since its final show on March 15, 1974. The show was well-received by fans, performers, and management alike, and so the decision was made to host the Opry's regular shows there on January 15 & 16, 1999 as part of the celebration to commemorate 25 years at the new venue.[22]

Beginning in November 1999, the Opry was held at Ryman Auditorium for three months, mostly due to the success of the January shows, but partly due to the ongoing construction of the Opry Mills shopping mall (which replaced the Opryland USA theme park in 2000) next door to the Grand Ole Opry House. The Opry has returned to the Ryman for the three winter months every year since, allowing the show to acknowledge its roots while also taking advantage of a smaller venue during an off-peak season for tourism and freeing the Grand Ole Opry House for special holiday presentations.[22] While still officially the Grand Ole Opry, the shows there are billed Opry At The Ryman. The Ryman also served as the primary venue for the Opry in the summer of 2010 while the Grand Ole Opry House was undergoing repairs after damage from a devastating flood.

The Ryman today[edit]

In January 2012, it was announced that the Ryman's current stage would be replaced after a 61-year run. The stage had been the second for the Ryman and had lasted far longer than Ryman officials had expected it would. It had been installed in 1951. The stage was replaced with a medium-brown Brazilian teak.[23] It retained an 18-inch lip of the blonde oak at the front of the stage, similar to the way the Ryman stage was commemorated in a circle of wood at the new Opry House. Beneath the stage, the original hickory support beams were kept and reinforced with concrete foundations, crossbeams and joist work that helped triple the stage's load capacity and ensure that the venue would remain viable as a concert venue in the upcoming years.[24][23]

Gaylord Entertainment Company, the venue's owner since 1983, took the Ryman's name when it transitioned into a real estate investment trust in 2012. The company is now known as Ryman Hospitality Properties, Inc., and the Ryman Auditorium is contained within its Opry Entertainment Group division.

In 2015, the Ryman underwent another US$14,000,000 renovation and expansion, in which most of the 1994 structure was demolished and rebuilt.[25] The original building was left untouched and remained in use throughout. The renovation includes more lobby space, plus expanded restrooms, concessions, and gift shop, as well as a restaurant called "Cafe Lula", named in memory of Lula C. Naff.[26] Also added in the 2015 renovations is a 100-seat theater which houses a short holographic film that serves as the first exhibit on the building's daily self-guided tours. The film is entitled "The Soul Of Nashville", and features an actress portraying Naff presenting the history of the Ryman. It contains an original song performed by Darius Rucker, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill and the Fisk Jubilee Singers.[25]

Opry Entertainment Group stages weekly shows at the Ryman year-round. In addition to the Opry at the Ryman shows in the winter, the auditorium plays host to Opry Country Classics each spring and autumn, and Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman each summer. All are broadcast on WSM.

The Ryman has also served as a gathering place for the memorial services of many prominent country music figures. Tammy Wynette, Chet Atkins, Skeeter Davis, Harlan Howard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Billy Block, George Hamilton IV and Jim Ed Brown have all been memorialized from the Ryman stage.[5]

The renovation of the Ryman, combined with the construction of other attractions such as Bridgestone Arena and Wildhorse Saloon, helped to revitalize Nashville's downtown district into a destination for tourists and locals alike in the mid-1990s.[9] Since then, the Ryman has become one of the most venerable performance venues in Nashville, providing an intimate experience for concertgoers, and proving to be a popular stop for performers of many different genres of music and comedy, despite immense competition in a city known for its many venues. Experts have praised Ryman Auditorium's acoustics, calling them among the best in the world.[27]

Notable events[edit]

The venue hosts alternative rock, bluegrass, blues, country, classical, folk, gospel, jazz, pop, and rock concerts, as well as musical theater and stand-up comedy.

Miscellany[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Ryman Auditorium". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  2. ^ Dr. Frank J.J. Miele, Patty Henry, Kira Badamo, and Shannon Davis (2000). National Historic Landmark Nomination: Ryman Auditorium / Union Gospel Tabernacle (PDF). National Park Service.  and Accompanying eight photos from 2000 and two historic photos (see photo captions page 20 of text document) PDF (32 KB)
  3. ^ Williams, Peter W. (2000). Houses of God: Region, Religion, and Architecture in the United States, p. 123. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06917-X.
  4. ^ a b "Captain Tom Ryman". Ryman.com. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Ryman Auditorium Timeline". Ryman.com. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Lula C. Naff". Ryman.com. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c "Cafe Lula". CafeLula.net. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  8. ^ "The Story of Music City". VisitMusicCity.com. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Rau, Nate (July 14, 2014). "40 years after facing demolition, Ryman poised to grow". The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee). Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  10. ^ Hight, Jewly (November 4, 2010). "How Tootsie's Orchid Lounge helped change country music and Nashville in just 50 years". Nashville Scene (Nashville, Tennessee). Retrieved July 2, 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Escott, Colin. The Grand Ole Opry: The Making of an American Icon. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  12. ^ Fay, Byron (March 9, 2002). "March 9, 1974-Final Saturday Night at the Ryman". Fayfare's Opry Blog. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  13. ^ Smith, Loran (January 24, 2013). "A visit to the Grand Ole Opry brings precious memories". The News-Reporter. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Oxford University Press, USA. 4 January 2012. pp. 444–. ISBN 978-0-19-992083-9. 
  15. ^ a b c Smyth, Jeannette (March 16, 1974). "The Grand Ole Opry Ain't Po' No Mo'" (PDF). The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.). Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  16. ^ Lanham, Charmaine. "How Love Saved The Ryman". CharmaineLanham.com. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  17. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  18. ^ "Ryman Hospitality Properties". Answers.com. Retrieved July 1, 2015. 
  19. ^ a b Cooper, Peter (January 19, 2012). "Peter Cooper On Music: Emmylou Harris celebrates 20 years with Opry". Tennessean.com. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  20. ^ "Emmylou Harris Revitalized the Ryman". Saving Country Music. October 4, 2010. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  21. ^ Jensen, Elizabeth (May 13, 2011). "New Host Needed:Be Prepared To Fill Big Shoes". The New York Times (New York City). Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  22. ^ a b Fay, Byron (January 25, 2010). "Grand Ole Opry Ryman Reunion Celebration-October 18, 1998". Fayfare's Opry Blog. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  23. ^ a b Paulson, Dave (January 30, 2012). "Ryman Auditorium to get new stage". The Tennessean. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  24. ^ a b Smith, Hannah. "New Stage Coming to Nashville's Ryman Auditorium". Nashvilleonthemove.com. Retrieved 1 February 2012. 
  25. ^ a b "Nashville's Historic Ryman Auditorium Unveils "Soul Of Nashville"". Ryman.com. June 8, 2015. Retrieved July 2, 2015. 
  26. ^ Paxman, Bob (June 9, 2015). "Holy Renovations! Ryman Auditorium Unveils Expansion and New Services". Country Weekly. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  27. ^ "History". rymanauditorium.wordpress.com. June 25, 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  28. ^ Edward Morris (2007-04-20). "News : Josh Turner Rocks Ryman Crowd for Live CD". CMT. Retrieved 2012-02-01. 
  29. ^ "Calendar of Shows - Opry.com". Search2.opry.com. 2011-05-24. Retrieved 2012-02-01. 

References[edit]

  • Eiland, William. Nashville's Mother Church: The History of the Ryman Auditorium. Nashville, 1992.
  • Graham, Eleanor, ed. Nashville, A Short History and Selected Buildings. Hist. Comm. of Metro-Nashville-Davidson Co., 1974.
  • Hagan, Chet. Grand Ole Opry. New York, 1989.
  • Henderson, Jerry. "A History of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, 1892-1920." (Ph. D. Diss., Louisiana State University) Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1962.

External links[edit]