MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - One of the most historic theaters in Memphis will soon become nothing but a pile of dust and memories.
The W.C. Handy Theater in Orange Mound was once a major entertainment center. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton says the theater was the first place he ever saw the legendary Rufus Thomas perform.
After getting complaints about the abandoned building for years, the city decided to tear it down.
The historic theater opened just after World War II. It was a time when people were kept apart in Memphis by the color of their skin. So there were white theaters and black theaters, and none of the African American theaters were any finer than the W.C. Handy.
The guts of the theater seem so shaky that one good sneeze could bring the walls down. The W.C. Handy Theater has been empty for decades. It shows the results of nobody caring for it, which is too bad. There was a time when this place had it all.
"Oh, yeah, very fine...just like any other theater. It had nice seats and everything," said Orange Mound dentist Dr. Charles Pinkston.
You'll have to take Dr. Pinkston's word for it. Unless you heard the big bands of Basie, and the rhythm and blues shouter Big Joe Turner yourself, use your imagination. Those days have been long gone for the W.C. Handy Theater.
"It was quite an asset at one time, when Duke Ellington and all those musicians came here," Pinkston reminisced.
Mayor A C Wharton said this was Orange Mound's Broadway at one time.
"This was the place," he said. "Unfortunately because of the lack of maintenance and attention, we see what we have now."
The theater has been anything but an asset in the last twenty years or so. Most people know it as a boarded up shell on a busy street in the middle of an Orange Mound neighborhood that's looking a lot better these days. So, the old place had to go.
"Once people see we're earnest about cleaning up these areas, we won't have any problems with getting commercial prospects coming in here," Wharton said.
Nobody has figured out the cost of tearing down the building. You're going to be interested because city taxpayers are picking up the tab on this teardown. The city feels it can do the job cheaper than an outside company.