An historic epicenter for music and stage performances in the “Music City” of Nashville, the Ryman Auditorium, has unveiled a new face following a $14 million expansion by Nashville-based firms Hastings Architecture Associates and R.C. Mathews Contractor.
Improvements included a new restaurant named Café Lula, after longtime Ryman promoter and manager Lula Naff (1904-1955), a custom-built 100-seat theater on the second floor, a gift shop double in size, and a ticketed tourist attraction, The Soul of Nashville, an interactive video experience that gives visitors a crash course on the “rollercoaster” history of the Ryman and its emblematic hometown.
“This expansion is a testament to the strength of our music industry and our cultural significance,” said Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in a statement. The statue of Thomas G. Ryman, the riverboat captain and businessman who built the Ryman in 1890, has been returned to the plaza after being removed for protection during the renovations.
Ryman built the auditorium portion of the building, untouched by the 2015 renovations, after being so moved by a speech by evangelist Samuel Porter Jones that he named it the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Its famed church pews and stained glass windows remain unchanged, with renovations limited to the portion of the venue that was added in the early ’90s.
The Ryman’s status as one of the most sacred live music rooms in the country was sealed—and revoked—when it became home to radio show Grand Ole Opry, which moved to another location after 31 years at the Ryman. The auditorium did not host another show for 20 years, and fell into irrevocable disrepair.
When it returned in 1954, equipped for the first time with dressing rooms and the latest sound and lighting technology following an $8.5 million revitalization, it resumed hosting sold-out shows, but its overcrowded facilities were stretched to breaking point.
The expanded box office, more restrooms, and bars and concessions stands recessed into spacious nooks in the lobby should help to manage the overflowing crowds, and keep the Ryman’s world-class acoustics, originally built to project the voice of Sam Jones, at the forefront.