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Ridgefield: Overlooked Belle Meade Theatre

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Ridgefield was purchased by Anthony “Tony” Sudekum (1879-1946) and Nettie Elizabeth Fessler Sudekum (1882-1963) in the early 1920s on Harding Rd.

They married in 1904. His family had owned a 102 acre farm on Granny White Pike which in 1920 they sold for development. Ridgefield was just southwest of Tinsley’s Totomoi and down the street from Judge Waller’s Red Gables estates.

Sudekum with partner Wiley J. Williams opened Dixie Theater in 1907. Then, Sudekum with partners owned and was president of Crescent Amusement Co., formed in 1912, with several theaters in Davidson County (Elite, Orpheum, Princess, Rex, Roxy, Capitol, State, Belle Meade, Belmont, Melrose, Woodland, Madison) and others in the rest of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. Crescent grew to own and operate over 145 theaters across the southeast. Sudekum built the Hippodrome Roller Rink arena in 1914 which opened at 2613 West End Ave. (site of the current Holiday Inn Select across from Centennial Park). It was billed as “the South’s largest, finest roller rink.” It was primarily a roller skating center and could host other entertainment events from boxing and wrestling matches to concerts and dances. It operated from 1914-1968. He opened the Princess Amusement Comp.

In 1924, in the Nashville city Directory, Sudekum was listed as president of these companies: Hippodrome Motor Company, Crescent Amusement and Union Ice Cream Company. In addition, Sudekum was president of New Southern Milk Condensing Co. in Nashville, IL. He also owned two farms in the area: Brentwood Hills and Edenwold Farms (near Old Hickory in 1923). The Brentwood Hills area farm was south of the Lipscomb property on the east side of Granny White Pike. The main structure burned in 1919. In 1920, Sudekum hired developers to subdivide and sell parcels of the land. The area is now called Duncan Wood.

In 1940, Sudekum’s grandson, Kermit Stengel, and another local developer commercialized the front part of the Ridgefield estate. They constructed the suburban theatre, the Belle Meade Theater (1940-12991), and made a short office park called Belle Meade Town Center facing Harding Rd. The theatre was among the grandest in the South. The front lobby held scores of celebrity signatures on tiles, and held numerous celebrity pictures on the walls. Moon Drugstore and a couple retail shops were opened. Moon Drugs remained open until the mid 1980s. Although the movie theatre closed, the historic Belle Meade Theatre facade has remained intact after all the years.

After Tony’s death, his family gave money to the Nashville Children’s Museum, and the funds were used to purchase a star projector. In 1952, the state’s first planetarium opened and was named for Sudekum. The museum is now the Adventure Science Museum.

After Sudekum’s death, Nettie sold Ridgefield, and the home was razed about 1950. Chowning Square Apartments has been on the back side of the property since 1975. Stengel’s son Marc still owns the 4-acre tract. The Sudekums named Ridgefield. Ridgefield Dr. which cuts between the end of Woodlawn Dr. and Kenner Ave. and Ridgefield Way remind us of the home. [Editor’s note: I knew grandson Anthony “Tony” Sudekum Johnston, wife Pat, and sons Bart and Chris. Tony died in 2018.]


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