The Old Daisy Theatre

Things are often replaced too soon. From shoes to wives, out with the old and in with the new. It applies to so much in life that it seems like it’s nature. We always want what is new and better. And once we have better, the old gets tossed aside to fall apart, rust or just forgotten. Look around your home and you will see things that you once were wowed by now just sit collecting dust, tossed aside by an old cowboy doll.

This habit also applies to buildings. They go up and within a few years, they get replaced because the size no longer is enough or it’s lacking the newest thing to make them shine. This is very common in sports stadiums, one goes up and within a few years, the owners claim that the one billion spent on them is not enough because some city somewhere else got a nicer one.

Drive all over this country and you will see it on main streets and back roads. The new get the glory while the old just fade from memory. Often when the new building is built it far away from the old or if they are next door to each other, the old gets torn down. So on a recent trip to Memphis, Tennessee, I bumped into a case where the glory of the old is across the street from the glory of the new.

Built in 1912 and opened in 1913, what at the time was known as just the Daisy Theatre, one of the last great examples of the early days of cinema is located on historic Beale St. right across from the theatre that was built to replace it, the New Daisy Theatre. After the new building went up, this became the Old Daisy Theatre. 

A historic building, it played an important part in the “Chitlin Circuit”. The circuit was a collection of venues up and down the eastern half of the US in which African-Americans could play safely in. Because of heavy racial segregation, many venues would not allow blacks to perform or attend shows.  

The Old Daisy holds about 600 and has an odd inner design to it. The theatre has no lobby so after entering thru the half dome entrance you face the audience, so the stage faces the street. Many top acts like Tina Turner, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, and many others have played here.  

The day I went to visit the Old Daisy, it was an early Monday morning, and while not open it had  fans taking pictures. With the deep red and gold of the half dome, it called out to a past that makes me a bit misty. When you look across the street to the “newer” Daisy, the new Daisy was built in 1936, it’s a fine place but the touch of class is missing. It looks like it could be on any street in the country, it doesn’t have a wow to it.

Times will change and the things that we own and see will change with it, that is what happens with time. I do a lot of driving all over this country and often I look at buildings falling apart that once shinned with glory, now fading away as a world passes away in a rush to what is new. I’m glad a place as the Old Daisy has a place in this world, the ghosts of yesterday are pleased too.

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