Updated: Dec 14, 2022
It was early 1868 and Pulaski, Tennessee, had just suffered a devastating fire to the east side of its public square. While businesses began talks of rebuilding, Mr. Angenol Cox declared his plans to construct a magnificent hall. His hall would sit where a large section of buildings once stood.
His was the first building to go up after the fire. “Pulaski, Tennessee, is to have one of the largest and most magnificent halls this side of Cincinnati,” The Pulaski Citizen announced in June 1868.
The hall was completed, and on Christmas Day of 1868, the hall opened its door with a performance by the Ben Johnson Club. It was a grand day! Citizens in attendance said this of the new opera house, “This is perhaps the finest and most tastily arranged theatre in the South as the enterprising proprietor has lavished money and time in its structure and has adorned it with all the beauties and improvements of the age.”
In spring of 1869, Mr. Cox named the place Antoinette Hall after his wife. Not everyone loved the name, but it didn’t seem to affect the activities. It was booming now and became the focal point of community affairs.
Eventually, Mr. Cox moved away to the Midwest, and the opera house changed ownership. It withstood a series of highs and lows – some very high highs and some very low lows. By the early 1900s, it had finally hit its stride under the ownership of Andrew L. King and the management of A. M. Notgrass. The organization of the Little Theatre Guild brought a lot of buzz and it prospered through the roaring ‘20s.
By the late 1930s, interest in theatrical entertainment was waning, and the opera house closed its doors for good. Little did it know that it would sit empty and closed off for close to 80 years.
Fast forward to February of 2007. The Southern Tennessee Area Arts Repertory (STAAR) was looking for a new building. It just so happened that a space had opened up in a former retail store on the east side of the square.
Tammy Pierchoski, the now Exective Director of STAAR, found the space to be just perfect! They finished up discussions and she was ready to sign on the dotted line when she glanced up at the building and noticed that it had a huge roofline and appeared to have another story.
She asked what was up there and the man said he wasn’t sure. He only knew it was bolted shut. They grabbed some bolt cutters and a flashlight, then make their way up the metal stairs to investigate. What they found behind those doors was unbelievable.
An intact and incredibly beautiful piece of history simply frozen in time. Closed off and unused since the 1930s, the opera house seemed to be silently just waiting for someone to find it. Tammy was elated! It became her mission on that day to see the opera house restored and used once again for the arts.
Since then, STAAR has used the first floor for all their performing arts and other events. They brought the original name Antoinette Hall back and have a very detailed plan for the restoration of the opera house. Plans for concerts, opera, dance, ceremonies, speakers, and more. You may notice large rebar crossing through the center of the room in the pictures. These are to help bolster the walls and keep them straight. The first part of restoration will be firming up the walls and foundation before moving on to more exciting things.
Eventually, they would like to see a restaurant on the roof along with the iconic archways added back. And of course, as many historical details restored as they can! They have a great vision of this being a cultural arts hub for the Southern Middle Tennessee area again.
They have launched a campaign called “Save Antoinette Hall” to partner with others to help restore the opera house. You can find out how to donate and learn more about it at antoinettehall.com.