Contact: Marianne Todd
MERIDIAN, Miss.—“Glorious and gilded” is the Mississippi State University Riley Center, said the editors of Southern Living magazine, who have listed the late 19th century Meridian performance venue among “The Most Beloved Historic Theaters in the South.”
In the list of 11 venues, the MSU Riley Center topped New Orleans’ popular Canal Street Saenger Theater, which gained fame during the rise of the silent movie era just as Meridian’s Grand Opera House—as it was known then—came to a close in 1927. The opera house would later be restored and reopened as the MSU Riley Center nearly 80 years later in 2006.
The downtown Meridian gem that, according to Southern Living editors “transports you to turn-of-the-century performance via incredible acoustics and opulent finishes” has long been adored by local and regional visitors and now graces Southern Living’s 12.3 million reader base alongside such luxurious historic venues as The Lyric Theater in Birmingham and The Fox Theater in Atlanta.
“Southern Living is a long-established magazine with a remarkable reputation for integrity,” said Terry Dale Cruse, associate vice president and MSU-Meridian head of campus. “To be honored among such distinguished theaters is a testament to the yearslong hard work and collective effort put forth by Mississippi State and incredible support from our partners at The Riley Foundation and Friends of the Lady philanthropic society.”
In its nod to the bygone beauty, Southern Living paid homage to German-Jewish immigrants Israel Marks and Levi Rothenberg, who built the theater and the adjacent Marks-Rothenberg Department Store.
“The building’s striking exterior, with its Empire details and Mansard roof, was designed by Gustavus Maurice Torgerson, who was also the architect of Meridian’s original City Hall,” wrote the editors, who detailed the path to the structure’s rebirth. The Riley Foundation gave the initial $12 million gift toward the $27 million restoration project—which began in 2000.
After the opening gala in 2006 that included star-studded performances, the theater now provides an eclectic offering of entertainment along with a state-of-the-art conference facility set behind a fully restored facade. Additionally, through support of The Phil Hardin Foundation, thousands of school children enjoy educational performances annually.
The Riley Center served as the catalyst for the revitalization of downtown Meridian and now stands proudly in the center of growth adjacent to the recently renovated Marriott boutique hotel, the historic Threefoot Tribute Portfolio Hotel, which offers its own unique and complementary art deco design.
To see the list, visit 11 Most Beloved Historic Theaters In The South (southernliving.com). For more information, visit msurileycenter.com.