May 2000

ETD employee reviving Clinton’s landmark Ritz theater

An East Tennessee theater landmark is about to make a comeback 13 years after it closed its doors, thanks to the efforts of ORNL’s Dena Brock.

Dena Brock
Dena, a secretary in the Engineering Technology Division, is manager of the Ritz Theatre in Clinton, which will reopen soon to show old and first-run movies, and host concerts and other community events. Her family purchased the theater in 1995 and has made its reopening a family project.

The Ritz, located on Main Street across from the Anderson County Courthouse, was constructed during World War II under the direction of the War Production Board, which cited Clinton’s close proximity to Oak Ridge. When it opened in November 1945, it was called by many “the most modern theater in the South.” During the heyday of the motion picture industry of the 1940s and early 1950s, it hosted packed houses six days a week for all of the great movies of that era. As the movie industry dwindled during the late 1960s, so did the Ritz, and it closed it doors in 1969.

Theater goers in Clinton and the surrounding area will be able to again enjoy the art-deco environs of the Ritz.
In 1972, a country music show called “The Red Speeks Show” was started at the Ritz. At one time, Speeks hoped to present a show each Saturday night that would rival the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The shows were even broadcast on local radio for a time. By 1987, however, the Speeks show had lost its luster and it faded into memory. The Ritz has remained closed until now.

“The theater looks like the classic theater that it was in the 1940s,” said Dena, whose father, Dean, was a supervisor at K-25 for 27 years prior to his retirement. “We have repainted the inside but have kept the original design. We haven’t changed anything other than doing some revamping and remodeling as well as bringing the theater up to date as far as fire and handicapped access codes are concerned.”

Dena said the Ritz will show a variety of movies from the old classics to the modern.

“We’ll show first-run movies, but we also want to show such old favorites as ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Gone With the Wind.’ We hope to charge just $5 for a movie.

Dena said the Ritz will be available not only for movies and concerts, but also for gospel sings, weddings, receptions and other meetings. “We’re open to any and all ideas,” she said. —Fred Strohl


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