Ray Charles. Merle Haggard. Jerry Lee Lewis. Loretta Lynn. Willie Nelson. Garth Brooks. Doc Severinsen. Wilco.
Those performers may have different musical styles, but they have one thing in common – they all played at the historic Temple Theater in downtown Meridian.
Erected 1923-27 by the Hamasa Shriners in Moorish Revival style, the theater was among the finest music palaces in its heyday. Today, the Temple Theater takes its place among a host of downtown Meridian landmarks, such as The Threefoot Building and Weidmann’s Restaurant.
Generations of Meridianites have enjoyed countless performances held there, both live and on film. Long before the multi-screen movie theaters came to the city, many current residents still fondly remember times when they spent leisurely afternoons or evenings at The Temple.
“We could present our six Royal Crown Cola bottle caps for admission and stay for movies and cartoons,” Penny Corbitt says. “It was called the Popeye Surprise Party. It was held on Saturday mornings for the summer. Your admission included cartoons, one after another, and the host would give away prizes.”
Now, Elliott Street, executive director of The Grand Opera House Restoration and the founder of the Company of Angels, Inc., is spearheading efforts to preserve and restore the Temple Theater, much like he and the Threefoot Preservation Society did for that historic building.
“In six years, The Temple will celebrate 100 years," Street said. "We want to ensure this beautiful venue is around for the next 100 years. It’s up to the next generation to take this project on. We want to promote the Temple as we did The Threefoot building, and one person cannot do it all.”
Street's vision is to refocus the Threefoot Preservation Society’s purpose to secure an endowment for the Temple. He hopes to host a zoom meeting in the near future to organize volunteers and canvas support.
According to Street, The Company of Angels, Inc. is a 501C3 corporation, with three affiliate organizations. Any organization that wishes to take on the efforts in preserving the Temple can operate under their organizational umbrella.
Last year, grant money was limited, and that, along with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has created a hardship for the theater.
Temple Theater owner Roger Smith is responsible for its day-to-day operations, but with cancellations and COVID-19 limitations placed on performances, Smith says he's struggling to maintain the historic building.
Today, The Temple Theater still has 16/35/70 mm projection capabilities. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and with visions of tunnels, catacombs, and secret passages, many are interested in touring the facility. The 1600-seat theater and the 600-seat ballroom make it the ideal place for live music concerts, special events, and theatrical productions.
Street urges interested parties to contact him at email@example.com. Donations may be made to The Company of Angels, Inc. Threefoot Preservations Society Endowment for the Historic Temple Theater. P.O. Box 1691, Meridian, MS 39302.