From Vaudeville stars, Grand Ole Opry performers and silent motion pictures to talkies and the rock and roll of Elvis Presley to today’s diversely programmed Civic Center, The Coliseum Theatre in downtown Corinth has witnessed the changing stage of the entertainment business.
Designed and built in 1923-1924 by Benjamin Franklin Liddon, the 999-seat palatial creation was built for $60,000.
To keep costs down, Mr. Liddon planned the seating capacity to one less than 1,000, the point at which movie royalties rose. The estimated replacement value in 1981 when the property was deeded to Alcorn County was $3 million.
A former resident of the area, Herbert Welch purchased the coliseum from the Liddon family in 1977. He ran the theatre unsuccessfully for about one year and then put it up for sale when progress and competition in the form of a new twin cinema came to town.
The Coliseum had been closed for a number of years ,a buyer could not be found and decay was fast approaching when Herbert Welch donated the property to Alcorn County in 1981. The Corinth Area Arts Council, Inc. Board of Directors were designated as managers and restorers of the property.
Rescued from death by neglect and the elements, the Coliseum became the first focal point for downtown revitalization. It was soon accepted to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Approximately $500,000 has been spent over the years to restore and furnish the property. The funding has come mostly from local private donations, fund-raisers,several foundations including The Kimberly-Clark Fundation; Caterpillar Foundation; Benjamin and Corinne Pierce Charitable Foundation; the Coca-Cola Benwood Foundation; and C.A.R.E ; Certified Local Government grants from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Mississippi Arts Commission, Corinth Area Tourism and recently Alcorn County.
Ledbetter Associates, Architects, in business in Corinth in the 1980’s, assisted in restoration planning with a small grant and many volunteer hours. Restorers, working tediously on authentic detail and took no shortcuts on time or expense especially in the areas of ornate plaster replacement, roof and lobby restoration.
Long-range plans were made for a complete civic center to include adding a 500-seat capacity meeting/banquet room facility in the adjacent courtyard. Funding has never been available for this addition.
Theater walls in soft pinks and blues were repainted with the traditional colors of the early movie era. The pastel shades were thought to create an air of fantasy and set the mood for entertainment and pink was Mrs. Liddon’s favorite color. Restorers took only slight liberties in using two additional contrasting shades of pink and mauve to show off the beautiful gold plaster friezes which Mr. Liddon purchased from a Chicago firm. Important architectural features include lobby wainscoting and grand staircase made from Italian white marble.
The hardwood stage was designed by a New York Company and, when needed, a trap door to the cellar provides a fast exit for performers. Various widths of molding and friezes in classical Greek designs are featured in the auditorium with ornate gold plaster medallions and grills on the ceiling to complement ornate cornice designs.
Stairwells are adorned with mandolin and music designs of applied plaster and gold bombe molding gives equal splendor to the fronts of the mezzanine and balcony seating areas. Four circular leaded, stained glass lights, edged in plaster molding on the mezzanine and balcony levels give the appearance of skylights. A much larger light of the same design provides incandescent light to the auditorium. Original brass fixtures and hardware can be found in the lobby, ticket booth and other areas.
The building which contains more than a million brick, was first cooled by two huge fans, the largest was 108 inches in diameter. After sound came to the movies, a water cooling system replaced the noisy fans in 1932 and used water from a nearby artesian well. This apparatus designed by Mr. Liddon was Corinth’s first air-conditioning system. Another feature which put Corinth ahead of its time was a floor vacuum system also designed by the owner. A large oil drum in the cellar was the canister to receive the debris and connected to a vacuum motor. Long hoses were connected to outlets around the building for fast cleaning
Visitors and newcomers to Corinth are always in awe when first viewing the grand Coliseum and express surprise over the beautiful “music hall” in Northeast Mississippi.
Programs over the past thirty years have included: prestigious artists such as the Washington Ballet; The Norman Luboff Choir; Ballet Mexico de Folklorico ; the presentation of Corinth and Alcorn County’s Sixteen National Historic Landmarks by then U. S. Secretary of the Interior,Manuel Lujan; concerts by the Corinth Symphony Orchestra which uses the facility as home base; large productions by Corinth Theatre/Arts; various traveling educational programs for students; school performances/meetings by Alcorn County Schools; various church meetings and revivals; Gospel Singings; various fund-raiser programs for civic groups; small conventions and meetings; beauty revues for schools and the preliminary revues for Miss Mississippi and Miss Hospitality; dancing recitals; blue grass concerts; and various for-profit performances including rock shows, magician performances, circus performances and other programs. The lobby is a favorite location for meetings, wedding and other receptions.
The Coliseum was presented the 1991 Governor’s Award in the Arts “Design of Public Space Award”, a State recognition. Also, in 1991 the Arts Council received the “Historic Theatre Preservation Award from the League of American Theatres at their annual convention in San Francisco. This award is one of three preservation awards presented in the U.S. and Canada annually. The property had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and was later designated a Mississippi Landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.