Chattanooga is home to the Tivoli Theatre, a fabulous historic showplace known as the “Jewel of the South.” For over 85 years the grand old theatre has entertained Chattanoogans, offering everything from silent movies to Broadway blockbusters.
The Tivoli opened on March 19, 1921 following two years of construction. Construction cost was close to $1 million--a lavish sum for its day. The Tivoli's interior reflects the Beaux Arts style popular for movie palaces of the 1920s. Its high domed ceiling, grand lobby, crystal chandeliers and elegant foyer were designed to transport patrons to a world of richness and splendor. Designed by the Chicago-based architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp, the Tivoli was built to accommodate both silent movies and live stage productions, making it state-of-the-art for its time. More innovations followed. In 1924 a $30,000 Wurlitzer organ was installed. And in 1926 the Tivoli became one of the first public buildings in the country to be air conditioned. Also in 1926, Paramount Studios bought the Tivoli, making it part of the Paramount-Publix theater chain.
Throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the Tivoli reigned as Chattanooga's premier movie and variety theater. However, with the emergence of television in the 1950s its patronage declined. Forced to close in 1961, the Tivoli narrowly escaped demolition.
In 1963, a grant from Chattanooga's Benwood Foundation allowed the Tivoli to reopen after a partial renovation. The Tivoli was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and was purchased by the City of Chattanooga in 1976 for $300,000.
In 1979, the Chattanooga Arts Council (now Allied Arts) received a $25,000 grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation for a feasibility study on restoring the Tivoli to its former glory. It wasn't until 1986, however, that the State of Tennessee made $3.5 million available for renovation. A private campaign raised another $3.2 million, and the City of Chattanooga contributed $300,000.
After a two-year renovation, the Tivoli reopened to rave reviews on March 29, 1989. In addition to a complete cosmetic overhaul, the Tivoli's technical improvements included new dressing rooms to accommodate up to 70 performers, new state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, a hydraulic lift orchestra pit, and new "green room" and rehearsal facilities. Stage depth was increased by over 14 feet to meet the requirements of today's concerts and theatrical tours.
From 1920s "picture palace" to community showplace for the 21st century, the Tivoli still offers Chattanoogans the finest in entertainment and cultural events. The Tivoli is the home of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association, and also welcomes a wide variety of touring companies each year. With offerings from blues to bluegrass and classical to country; plus dance, opera and the best of Broadway, the Tivoli is at the center of Chattanooga's cultural life. Its elegance and intimacy have made it a favorite of audiences and performers alike.
The Tivoli Theatre is located at 709 Broad Street in downtown Chattanooga.