Music, theater, dance — and Elvis — will find a home in the former Gladewater Opry building in time for the holidays.
On Monday, Jackson Foltyn, an Elvis tribute artist, finalized the purchase of what was the Gladewater Opry building in downtown Gladewater. The 30-year-old musical institution closed in March because of the effects of COVID-19.
Foltyn, who lives in the Dallas area, will be moving to East Texas and renovating what started off as a movie theater, the Ritz, from 1932-36 and then The Cozy. Elvis Presley is among the singers reported to have performed there during the 1950s when the building hosted contests for young musicians. As the Gladewater Opry, the building was home to a two-hour country music show each Saturday night, along with other special events, where a number of well-known singers performed over the years.
Foltyn has written Elvis shows that will be staged at the venue, but he said audiences can also expect to see his Rat Pack, Big Band or Neil Diamond shows, for instance. He also plans to bring in mainstream musicals and plays as well as produce bluegrass and blues festivals. He said his connections to the music industry will help him bring performers and shows to Gladewater — Foltyn is also a stage, film and television actor and dancer. He also previously operated a dance and theater company in Plano, describing his 6-year-old daughter with autism as his motivation.
“I want to make this a destination for tourists to come in,” Foltyn said, giving people who are shopping for antiques in Gladewater a reason to spend the weekend, “enjoy really awesome music” and spend money at local hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
It’s a “big mission,” he said, and he admitted to being “excited, scared and nervous.” He’s also confident, though, that he and the community “can make this happen.”
The building will undergo some renovations now, including a new roof, fire alarm system, restructured lobby and conversion of the balcony to a VIP area.
“I guess if everything goes correctly, if God lets me, our first show will be for the holidays,” Foltyn said. He wrote “Christmas in Graceland” and has produced the show elsewhere as well.
“‘Christmas in Graceland’ is not a concert. It’s a show. It’s a musical where Elvis brings Priscilla home to Graceland, and his whole family and his friends throw a surprise party for him when he’s back from Germany.... It will bring the audience as if they’re in his living room,” Foltyn said.
Local auditions will be held to fill some of the show’s roles, he said.
Foltyn hasn’t settled on a name yet, but he expects it will no longer be the Gladewater Opry.
Nicky Clower, a Realtor with Tyler-based East Texas Preferred Partners, handled the transaction for Foltyn. Jeremy Cuba, a Realtor with Texas Real Estate Executives — the Daniels Group in Gladewater, represented the building’s former owner, Nancy Ivy. Ivy and her husband, Jim, now deceased, started the Gladewater Opry in 1992. Their daughter, Gina Ivy Mitchell, helped run the business.
Clower met Foltyn when he was performing an Elvis show at her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. She talked to him then about how he was hoping to do in the future, and he said she told him he should take his Elvis show to the Gladewater Opry.
Then, the Opry closed, but Clower told Foltyn the building was up for sale.
“I think for me, the reason, I wanted it, when I drove there, when I looked at it, it reminded me of every small town I used to drive-through when I used to tour,” he said, and he believes the community will appreciate what the venue will provide in the way of art and culture.
Clower said she’s also “super excited” about her client’s plans for the building.
“Gladewater has so much history that we really need to bring people to town,.” she said. “It’s something you want to keep alive, you really do. You truly want to keep Gladewater on the map, and the Opry has always been a part of that.”
Ivy, the building’s previous owner, said she told Foltyn she’ll support him. It’s bittersweet, she said, thinking back on all the friends she made in the years she operated the Gladewater Opry.
“I’m so excited because it’s going to be something different,” she said.
“It’s very definitely important to the community. It just is,” Ivy added.