Memories Live On
In 2001, the city received a grant from the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation for $474,000 to renovate the Oldham Theater. The building was constructed in the 1930s in the art deco style, and is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It was operated as a movie theater until the 1970s.
Discussions on renovating the beloved landmark extended over several years. When engineers evaluated the structural soundness, extensive deterioration was found in the original brick walls of the building.
In phase one of the two-phase rebuilding project, the facade was restored and a building housing a city welcome center was built to replace the demolished back portion of the structure. The city requisitioned construction of an exact reproduction of the front facade. A replica of the original marquee was incorporated into the design.
The second phase is planned and will include new audio/visual technology that will restore the building to an entertainment venue for live events and film productions.
On March 13, 2001, Sparta lost one of its beloved entertainers -- bluegrass legend Benny Martin. Martin was thought by many to be the world's greatest fiddler. Martin invented the eight-string fiddle. His career spanned five decades. It began at age 13, when he played the fiddle with Big Jeff Bess on the WLAC-AM radio station in Nashville. Martin played the fiddle with Flatt and Scruggs from 1952 to 1953. He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Museum Hall of Honor posthumously in 2005.