The Grove Theater History: 1944 - Present
The Grove Theater in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is a place of history that holds many wonderful memories for Oak Ridgers. The Federal Government built the original theater between 1943-1944. In 1957, the theater was purchased by Oak Ridge Theaters, Inc. The years 1977, 1979 and 1998 saw growth for the complex with the addition of new theaters. The Grove Theater was purchased by Cinemark Inc. of Dallas, Texas, in conjunction with the construction of the Tinseltown Theater in the city center area in 1998. The building remained unoccupied and fell into a state of extreme disrepair until it was purchased by High Places Community Church on February 27, 2004.
The Grove Theater has undergone massive reconstruction efforts since its purchase by High Places. Contributions of time, labor, and finances from High Places and the community have gone into restoring this wonderful piece of Oak Ridge history. According to the Oak Ridge Visitors Bureau:
“The Grove Theater was the newest and largest of the seven theaters in Oak Ridge. It opened on September 30, 1944, and seated 1,000 people. The first movie shown on the big screen was “Hail the Conquering Hero,” starring Eddie Bracken, William Demarest and Ella Rains. Admission tickets were 35¢ for an adult and 11¢ for a child.”
Many are unaware that the Grove Theater was originally constructed as a concert auditorium. It was the source of music entertainment during the Manhattan Project era before it became a movie theater. Its dimensions were carefully engineered to maximize performance acoustics. In its first years of operation, the theater was home to numerous concerts, and included a fine slate of performers, such as the Ukrainian-born violinist virtuoso, Isaac Stern.
Over the years, the old hardwood performance stage at the front of the facility would be ‘walled up’ in order to project films, and the former use of the Grove as a concert venue would be almost forgotten. Many Oak Ridgers were unaware that a beautiful hardwood stage existed behind the movie screens, and the stage would not be seen again by the public until 2008.
Today, through church and community partnerships, the stage has been uncovered and restored. It was lengthened to make room for the Oak Ridge Symphony when it needed a practice and performance hall during the renovation of Oak Ridge High School. Sound Company, an area wide children’s choral group, had already made the Grove Theater their practice home; with the completion of the stage renovation, they officially moved in, making the Grove Theater their base of operations. They were joined by Dance with Me, a local dance troupe, and most recently by the Oak Ridge Youth Symphony Orchestra; all now consider the theater to be their primary home.
Other user groups include the Oak Ridge Civic Ballet, which conducts an annual two-week ballet camp on the big stage; the Oak Ridge Playhouse Summer camp; and the Cumberland Music Association. The theater has also been home to several fund-raisers for local organizations, such as The Oak Ridge Ulster Project, Habitat for Humanity, Contact Helpline, Atomic City Sportsman Club, Second Harvest Food Bank, Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, and many others.
All user-groups are offered use of the theater by High Places at no charge. It was decided early on that the theater would be treated as community space and High Places has worked diligently to keep the theater free and open to all. The theater depends solely on the generosity of the church, user groups and community donations.