Shown here in 1960, the Rogers Theater was a mainstay of Chattanooga cultural life for three decades. Photo from Free Press archives.

Take a close look at this photo. The year was 1960. The epic motion picture "Ben Hur," starring Charlton Heston as the title character, was set to open at the Rogers Theater in downtown Chattanooga.

For baby boomers and members of the Greatest Generation, the Rogers Theater was one of the principal downtown landmarks of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. It was torn down in 1980 as movie theaters began to migrate to suburban areas. It was on the block now occupied by EPB.

"The Rogers Theater is prominent in many mid-century downtown Chattanooga photos," says Sam Hall, curator of, where this and hundreds of other legacy photos of the city reside. "It represented one of the last of the 'grandiose' movie theaters of the century."

History sources tell us that the Rogers opened in 1951 in the 900 block of Market Street, but the theater was so big it had marquees on both Market and Broad streets. It contained more than 1,200 seats, and for years was one of three primary downtown theaters. The others were the Martin and Tivoli theaters.

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(Read more: Remember when, Chattanooga? Coca-Cola mystery photo is from 1954 Tyner High School yearbook)

The Rogers was reportedly named for Emmett R. Rogers, a Chattanoogan and manager for Eastenn Theaters, the company that built and originally operated the Rogers Theater. Emmett Rogers was said to be a graduate of Chattanooga High School and the Art Institute of Chicago. He was also the first manager of the Tivoli Theatre.

By the time the Rogers was demolished in 1980, the Chattanooga Times noted that the once great theater had "fallen into disrepair."

In the 1960s the Theater was also used for travelogues. One newspaper post from 1966 invited viewers to "an armchair trip to London and Paris." The Rogers was remodeled in 1969, and the first film to show in the renovated auditorium was "Midnight Cowboy," starring Dustin Hoffman. The renovated theater featured rocking chair seats.

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