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The Historic Ruffin Theater History

The original theater was opened in 1909 as the Palace Theater by Mr. J. H. Paine.

In 1924, the theater was purchased by Mr. L.L. "Buck" Lewis. Mr. Lewis remodeled the building into a luxurious theater with a beautiful lobby, balcony, a fifteen by forty-eight-foot stage, and a twelve by fourteen-foot modern screen.

On June 23, 1927, William F. Ruffin buys the Palace theater and added it to his already large collection of theaters (Ruffin Amusement Company)that operated in West Tennessee.

On June 23, 1934, Mr. Ruffin remodeled the Palace Theater putting his own touches on it as well as expanding the theater 23 feet and putting in a larger screen.

January 29, 1936, the Palace Theater was destroyed by fire leaving a blackened brick exterior, some of which remains today. It is said that the only thing that survived the fire was the popcorn machine.

Ruffin vowed to rebuild within the year and true to his word, on July 27, 1936 he reopened the grand art deco style theater, which, was the most modern playhouse of its time. The construction included the most modern sound and projection equipment by Western Electric, the latest model of General Electric air-conditioning system and the best heating systems. It had the finest quality carpet, a bigger stage and screen, and new seating. He changed the theater's name to the Ruffin Theater, a name he said worthy of the expense and love that went into its resurrection. The new "Ruffin Theater" would seat 640 people. The new theater opened with the showing of Earthworm Tractors starring Joe E. Brown and Bullets or Ballots starring Edward G Robertson. There were three shows daily, 3pm, 7pm and 9pm. The ticket price was twenty-five cents for adults, and ten cents for children up to 12 years old.

On March 16, 1955, Elvis Presley appeared on the Ruffin Theater Stage in a small time Grand Ole Opry type of show.

Mid-1970, the Ruffin Theater closed and remained dormant for years. The building fell into a state of disrepair.

In 1979, The Covington Little Theater reorganized as a corporation under the name of Tipton Fine Arts Council. Billy Ruffin, son of the original owner offered the building to the Tipton Fine Arts Council on a 3 year lease with an option to buy. The Tipton Fine Arts Council (later Tipton Arts Council, Inc.) set to work to renovate it. Their purpose was to make the Ruffin into a performing arts theater for Tipton County.

In 1980, the first Tipton Fine Arts Council production, Brigadoon, was underway. The council, as agreed went on to purchase the building for $60,000 dollars.

As new rules and regulations came about, the Ruffin went under an expansion in 2009 with an addition to ensure that the building was up to the American Disabilities Act standards. This addition also provided a storage area for props and costumes.

In 2016, the Ruffin's lobby was freshened up with new paint and carpet. A new sound system and new seating was also installed.

It has undergone several renovations through the years, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places (#92000248) in 1992. Some of those facelifts modified it from its humble beginnings as a ‘Moving Picture House’ to a full-fledged 640-seat theater with a large stage.  With a freshly redesigned lighting system and a new state-of-the-art 32 channel sound system, the Historic Ruffin Theater can accommodate anything from a major stage production to a large concert.

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