Historic Tivoli Theatre is Still Thriving Today

By Chase Monroe, Greenwood Community High School, Ethan Palgon, Johns Creek High School, and William Ximenes, Bloomington High School South

There are many large theater franchises, but none can compare to Tivoli. Tivoli Theatre, located in Spencer, IN, has been a staple of the small town for nearly a century. It was opened 95 years ago on December 21, 1928, when all the workers were just volunteers. Due to neglect, economic shifts and changing entertainment preferences, the historic gem came to the brink of extinction in 1999. After nearly being torn down, Tivoli was bought out by Owen County Preservation in 2005 and restored by Cook Medical in 2013 with millions of dollars in funding.

The theater was preserved because of its historical significance and symbolism in the community. When the theater reopened in 2013, much of its original character was preserved. Les Jordan, a board member of Tivoli Theatre, said that “everyone was elated when they saw old architecture. The starlight roof was a new edition. The theater gave the community a place to go locally.” What is unique about the theater is that it draws people locally and from other cities. The renovation was completed quickly as opposed to other historical theaters near Spencer. Tivoli remained just as relevant in modern times as it did 95 years ago by retaining the original atmosphere and preserving old sculptures.

The concessions and tickets are more affordable, differentiating them from more extensive theater franchises like AMC or Regal. “It is a cost-effective place to go with families,” said Andrea White, the theater’s director. “I wanted everyone to have the same experiences as when I was a kid. During that time, it was just a place to come and get away. All the volunteers gave their hearts to the theater, which is different from other theaters.” The theater has also become a great family-friendly location to enjoy, partaking in fun competitions and activities like rewarding free movie tickets to whoever dresses up the most like Barbie.

The most significant achievement of the movie theater was making it through the COVID pandemic. They kept it open so customers could rent the entire theater or films. One gentleman rented the room for his pregnant wife to surprise her on her birthday and watch her favorite movie. During COVID, they also gave the option for customers to rent films. The theater was worth preserving because of its beautiful venue and importance to the community. “The building initially seated 500 people but now only sits 258 with replicas of the original seats. It revived the downtown area and gave people a place to go for enjoyment,” says White. “It wasn’t until the theater reopened in 2013 that we saw the downtown grow again. Instead of going to Bloomington, they could see a film locally.”

The renovation made the building more functional while retaining its originality. The building became an Indiana landmark, and because of that, it was a significant cause for its preservation. It was one of the first air-conditioned buildings in the state, giving people a place to escape the heat during the summers.