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'We're meant to save it': Tennessee theatre group finds secret stage dating back to 1868

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A Tennessee theatre group looking for a new home stumbled upon the surprise of a lifetime:{ }Tennessee’s oldest surviving opera house, Antoinette Hall, in Pulaski, Tennessee. (FOX 17 News photo)

PULASKI, Tenn. (WZTV) — A Tennessee theatre group looking for a new home stumbled upon the surprise of a lifetime.

Tammy Pierchoski is no stranger to the stage. Serving as an advocate for the arts in Middle Tennessee at STAAR Theatre, she’s a natural storyteller. Perhaps her favorite is about discovering Tennessee’s oldest surviving opera house: Antoinette Hall.

More than a decade ago, Pierchoski was part of a growing theatre group on the hunt for a new place to perform. A friend told her to check out an old clothing store near the southeast corner of the Pulaski Square.

“We decided to come take a look and walked in the street level and thought sure, we can put a stage here and a tech booth there and make this our home,” Pierchoski said.

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While preparing to casually sign the lease on the bed of a pickup truck, what she saw next would soon become her mission.

“I looked up. I saw this Mansard roof on top and said so is there another floor up there because this is really a tall building. He said, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t been up there.’ So, he said, ‘I know that there’s a padlock and a chain, so let me get some cutters.”

With cutters and a flashlight in hand, the theatre board anxiously followed him up the metal staircase.

“He cut the padlock, we walked to the end of the hallway to these beautiful double doors, opened them up, and found Antoinette Hall again.”

Pierchoski immediately knew they came across a hidden gem. Neglected for years, the opera house still held its beauty with French-inspired architecture, a slanted stage, and a horseshoe balcony filled with intricate details.

“My heart was absolutely in my throat,” Pierchoski remembers.

Even with the incredible find, the owner agreed to sign the lease. STAAR Theatre later buying the space that hadn’t seen an audience since the 1930s.

“I was so stunned to know that this had been shut away since the 1930s, and I just knew that it was divine intervention that a theatre group landed in this space. We’re meant to save it,” Pierchoski said.

She decided to do her homework and learn all about their new space.

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In 1867, the entire side of the Pulaski Square where Antoinette Hall sits, burned down. The year after, Angenold Cox was commissioned to build something to lift the town’s spirits.

“It’s after the war, reconstruction era, so he decided to build this community center to bring people together,” Pierchoski explains. “He did that in the form of an opera hall, and he named it Antoinette Hall after his wife. It was later named the Pulaski Opera House, but we kind of feel like it needs to go back to her birthname. Our goal is to bring Antoinette Hall back into the spotlight.”

For years, it served as a place for the entire community to gather and a haven of expression for opera singers, authors, community theatre groups and traveling shows from as far as New York and Chicago. The building’s unique exterior architecture was removed in the late 1900s and it eventually became a clothing store.

Now, the space is often used for country music videos, photoshoots, paranormal investigations, and tours to the community.

With a sparkle in her eyes, Pierchoski undoubtedly loves to unveil the historic opera house to people for the first time.

“Many of our very own people in this community don’t know that Antoinette Hall is there, so when we bring people in, I like to open the doors and let them take it in for a moment in silence just because it’s so stunning to see the stage, to see the balcony, all of the architectural elements,” Pierchoski said.

While most are left speechless and could hear a pin drop when the opera house doors open, Pierchoski hears screams of potential.

“I feel like when you walk in there, you’re stepping back in history. You can actually feel a sense of what might have been going on in that time,” she said. “We just long to be able to preserve that and let people experience that for many years to come.”

It’s why she wants to combine STAAR Theatre and the space above it, Antoinette Hall, into a regional cultural arts center in Giles County.

“Our goal is to maintain this cultural arts center and add in classes, adding in spaces for teachers to teach, and then the crowning jewel will be Antoinette Hall on the second level restored to her glory, so that we can entertain multiple disciplines of the arts and our community for generations,” Pierchoski said.

Pierchoski’s part of the team working to secure funding in order to restore the building and preserve its historic character. She believes Antoinette Hall could be like the “Ryman’s little sister” to Middle Tennessee and hopes to one day see country legends like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn grace the stage.

For more information about the preservation of Antoinette Hall click here.