The papers were signed and the deal was done. STAAR Theatre, a community theatre group that had outgrown its old space to the point of even breaking fire codes, had just found a property into which they could grow. After signing by the “x”, Tammy Pierchoski, Executive Director of the STAAR Theatre (Southern Tennessee Area Arts Repertory) and the Board of Directors, walked around to the outside entrance and stepped up the stairs to the second floor with the former owner, Mr. Parr. There, they removed a tiny nail that was barely holding two oversized pillar doors closed. Neither Mr. Parr nor Tammy really knew what was on the other side. 

unspecified-1
Upstairs above the STAAR Theatre where Antoinette Hall was hidden for decades

The doors opened and Tammy burst into tears upon first glance. In shock, Mr. Parr said,  “It looks like you found your new home.”

unspecified
Behind the large, pillar doors a forgotten Opera House still stands

Not many people know that the STAAR Theatre was housed downstairs in what was once a magnificent opera house, originally named Antoinette Hall. It was built in 1868, just a year after a fire ravaged the Giles County Square in Pulaski, Tennessee. 

Imagine. It’s Christmas Eve 1868. Only three short years after the Civil War ended and only one year after a disastrous fire on Main Street, Antoinette Hall finally opened after a year of construction. After a year of construction, the community, said to have been “clamoring for amusement,” celebrated the grand opening with wine fountains flowing. Community seats on the lower level were 75 cents. Tickets in the stunning balcony? A whopping $5. 

unspecified-2
Antoinette Hall as it stands today

The Opera House would remain open until the 1930s after changing hands between various owners, managers, and promoters. Antoinette Hall hosted acts ranging from lectures by former Civil War heroes, to mock trials, to Temperance Movements (halt the wine fountains… sorry). However, not all performances were met with standing ovations. In 1871, the infamous Davenport Brothers came to Pulaski to perform their famous box illusion. The stunt involved tying the brothers up inside a box with musical instruments. Once the box closed, the instruments would sound from inside of it. When the box opened, the brothers remained miraculously tied in their original positions. Witnesses were led to believe supernatural forces had caused their trick to work.  P.T. Barnum, showman extraordinaire, would later include the farce in his book “The Humbugs of the World”.

Of the dozens of performers who graced the Opera House stage, perhaps the best-remembered is Blind Tom.  Born blind and with limited use as a field or house slave, his fate might have been very different except for the musical genius he displayed as a small child in Georgia. In 1850 he was sold away from home and family to new owners who hired him out to concert promoters.  On stage, Tom proved his value, earning the promoters and his owners the equivalent of $1.5 million a year.  Through the years he saw almost nothing of these earnings himself. The bulk of his fortune was divided between owners and a succession of greedy promoters who billed him as a “Barnum-style freak” in their traveling shows.  He died in 1908 after a lifetime on the road and with a repertoire of over 7,000 songs, all learned by ear and played from memory.  Though the condition was neither defined nor labeled in Tom’s day, it is now believed that in addition to being blind, he was very likely autistic.  His poignant story was immortalized by Sir Elton John in the 2013 song “The Battle of Blind Tom.”

unspecified-3
Antoinette Hall

Today, Tammy lights up when talking about STAAR. Through her nine years as Executive Director, she and her all-volunteer team have proven a point – community theater is sustainable. This is good news considering the multistep renovation isn’t going to be easy… or cheap. STAAR Theatre is working with a Nashville architectural firm which will aide in this process. The first phase will be stabilizing the almost 150-year-old Opera House as it is currently being supported by cables. 

Conceptual Rendering created by ESa
Conceptual Rendering created by ESa

A few years ago, country music artist Eric Paslay shot the video for his song “She Don’t Love You, She’s Just Lonely” at the Opera House. Before filming began, engineers were brought in to see if the cables could temporarily be taken down for the shoot. The answer was a quick “No, you may not. And you better secure this place… and fast.”  Tammy describes this moment as the “flame that started us on our path” [to restoration].

The ultimate goal is to have the STAAR Theatre serve as a regional multi-cultural arts center. When Antoinette Hall made its grand entrance, it brought a surge of commerce and visitors to the town. One can only imagine what a grand reopening could do for the Main Street district of Pulaski.

Tammy adds, “For more than 200 years, Pulaski’s public square has continuously maintained a healthy mix of retail, professional and governmental occupants. STAAR Theatre has returned the arts back to the community’s main street. Restoration of historic Antoinette Hall and its reuse as a regional center for the arts would ensure the vitality of arts education and programming for generations to come.”

unspecified-4
Giles County Court House built in 1909

Currently, the STAAR Theatre has “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” in production. There are 101 in the cast, with 60 under the age of 12. On show nights you can find  Tammy in the ticket booth… but only after she’s taken a stroll through the parking lot to read the license plates and marvel at where all the cars are from, and then taking a moment to pause in gratitude.

unspecified-5
Current exterior of the STAAR Theatre

Visit the STAAR Theatre and Center for the Arts / Antoinette Hall online HERE to keep up with the event calendar and preservation progress! 

Do y’all have any hidden treasures like this in your town? Let’s hear about it in the comments below:

main street crew neck banner

 

 

24 Comments

24 thoughts on “Abandoned Antoinette Hall: The Secret Stage”

  1. Emma Cousens

    Blacksburg, Virginia. The Lyric Theater. It’s jot as old as the Staar in Zpulaski, but it is from the 1930s. It has been in continuous operation since opening except for the time it was under restoration. I worked at the now closed Lyric Shop next door during high school in 1966-67 and occasionally would fill in at the lobby session stand. There is a story of the building being haunted and I am one who has seen the apparition on several occasions when I would be in the office part above the Lyric Shop. Today the Lyric shows movies, occasional live shows and benefit functions for the immunity.

  2. Nina Stefanick

    Fascinating ! I love the history of old abandon places. I love that the USS United States luxury vessel is docked in Phila. I can visit it anytime. Keep up the good work on finding old wonderful places.

  3. Deb Strobel

    Dear Friends from Antique Archeology!

    In Columbus Indiana we have an old theater. It is called the Crump. I believe it started out as an opera house in the late 1800s. It has been in continual use off & on for many years. In fact, John Mellencamp used it for a venue for a film or video a few years back. He is from Seymour Indiana which is about 15-20 miles south of us and I think he now resides (somewhat) in Bloomington Indiana, home of I.U., Indiana University where the illustrious Bobby Knight used to coach. Remember the famous chair throw?

    Columbus Indiana is a pretty cool town. The whole area (all around us) has lots of back roads with older farms that might provide some good free style picks.

    Love the show! Love the integrity you display. You always treat people with respect. You bring out the human side of folks. Everyone has a story and you seem to find it.

    God Bless and Happy Picking! Keep finding the forgotten!

    Much love to all,

    Deb

  4. Ron Adams

    I learned to be a film projectionist in 1978 and have watched projection go from side-by-side projectors to a single projector platter system to digital. Love old theatres and try and visit ones when I travel. In my own town of Columbus, Indiana there is the Crump Theatre. Built in 1889, the Romanesque Revival architecture structure received an Art Deco renovation in 1941. Closed for years now, the Crump’s only audience is ghosts.

    1. Diana Flagg

      I visited the Crump theater a few times. You can see the grandness even in the ruin. I also witnessed the ghosts in the theater via our audio recordings. On three different visits at 8:45pm you can clearly hear a young girls singing “it’s raining its pouring…” It was exciting and eerie. This is the sad part, I heard the theater was going to be demolished and all that beauty lost forever. It’s like you always say on your shows, if we don’t preserve it then it’s lost forever.

  5. Sondra Cline

    My secret desire and I am almost 67 years, is to be an archaeologist. Instead of I became an advertising Manager. I hate mundane repetitious work. At least in advertising every project was New which was kind of like discovering a treasure. I want to dig in the dirt and find things. Just like you do with your travels all over the country. It’s a treasure hunt. I love to watch your show. It reminds me of one of my favorite shows HGTV used to have which was “behind closed or those walls”. Or something like that. It was amazing what people found behind mantles and under floorboards when remodeling old homes. Still treasure hunting. My husband finally bought me a metal detector. I love your show and the fun you have. Best regards. PS I loved loved the story about the opera house. A big thrill event. i would have loved to be there when they first opened the door to see everything inside that had been there for years.

    1. Tammy Pierchoski

      It was like walking into a movie set for National Treasure! That’s what we felt upon entering this lost Opera House! Antoinette Hall is a stunning piece of art and history that we cannot wait to breath life back into! It will surely take a village on this one, folks….but we CAN “Save this Place”!

  6. Aida L Beasley

    Love your story of the opera house ? did you just visit or did they let you pick if any thing would love to know? The building is so beautiful just love it. thank you mike and my cute bear frank you guys are the best keep up the great picking be safe.
    Mrs Aida Beasley.

    1. Tammy Pierchoski

      There is not much to “Pick” Only a few old signs and a couple of 1900’s theatre seats is all that remains inside….sadly. Was to much fun to share this place with Pickers and this audience who understands the value of history and art and why it’s important to “save this place”!

  7. Phyllis A Hawley

    Check out the Alles Brothers Furniture Store in Mt Vernon, IN 47620. PH: 812-838-2712; owner is Gary Alles. This is a two story ancient structure, with second story housing an old theatre/opera house facility, unused, of course. Both floors are chock full of furniture, where EVERYONE in our area gets their furniture…for all but electrical appliances. We had a fire 9 yrs ago, and Alles products grace our newly rebuilt home. Lovely. I have no knowledge how long this business has been in the Alles family, but I’d bet at least three generations.

    We have visited both your stores, two times in IA, once in TN. Great places, great fun. Watch your show ALL THE TIME!

    Cheers, Phyllis & Dick Hawley, Mt Vernon IN

  8. Virginia Fisher

    Danielle, I have a friend in Bradenton FL who was telling me about her trip to the Dali Museum in St. Pete to see the Freda Kahlo exhibit. I did not know if you knew the exhibit was there.

    My friend and I were so excited because I had just watched the episode of Pickers where you made the devine find of Freda stuff.

    Anyway, just wanted you to know if you get down that way.

    Gengie

  9. Bill Walsh

    Theatre I remember, sadly, no longer exists.
    In 1970 I was working in Manchester, NH. Around the corner from my work, on the west side of Elm st, about 100 ft north of Bridge st stood a dress shop with an ornate facade that looked like it once hosted a marquis. On a lunch break, I wandered in there, and asked if there had ever been a theatre there. The proprietor said there had been, and led me through a back door in a small dressing room. I foind I was in the outer lobby of a theatre. To the left, through ornate doors, we entered the inner lobby, with candy counter and popcorn machine still in place. Through another set of doors, we were in the theatre itself, with balcony above us, all the plush seats still in place, box seats on each side with heavy curtains, orchestra pit (empty) and stage with curtains. Other than the dust, it looked like it was ready for the next performance.
    My mother, who grew up in Manchester, remembered that it still served as a movie theatre in the mid 30’s.
    Through to 70’s until about 2000, the entire block remained with declining vacancy rates, when it was pulled down to leave an empty hole for about 10 years.
    Today there stands a medium high-rise apartment building that stands about 30% empty.

  10. Nicolas Tipple

    If you happen to travel through Columbia County, NY give me a call. (518) 424-5365 (cell). I don’t know of a lot of possible pick sites, but south of Germantown, NY a person seems to have a sort of RR museum.He has a number of RR signs outside his place, and I would imagine he has a lot of RR artifacts on his property, although I have never visited his place. Something to think about, however.

    Nick Tipple

  11. Allen Wright

    My home town has two historic theaters, the Palace, which is in sore need of restoration and the Royal theater which is used by the community theater group.

Leave a Reply to Lauren Wray Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>