MEMPHIS, NEW MEMPHIS, CRISP'S GAIETY and LEUBRIE'S are all associated with the 82 Jefferson address.  For a very long time, the theatre building at 82 Jefferson was considered the most important theatre of Memphis and more often than not, it was written about as "The Old Memphis" even when the article might be about "The New Memphis" or "Leubries Theatre".  That practice created major problems for  the modern day historian.

To further confuse the issue, there was already ANOTHER "Memphis" Theatre at 18 Washington Avenue, and when this "New Memphis" Theater opened, the first Memphis Theatre  soon began calling  itself the "Old Memphis".



The location of the Memphis Theatre was "on Jefferson, near 3rd, or on NE corner of Jefferson/3rd", according to the Memphis Directories.  The theatre's name  changed every time a new manager took over or when the theatre was renovated.  The sequence of names was Crisp's Gaiety .  New Memphis Theatre  .  Memphis Theatre  .   Leubrie's Theatre .  New Memphis Theatre.  It's no wonder that the newspapers gave up and simply called it "The old Memphis Theatre",  But of course that caused more confusion because of that  OTHER "Old Memphis" Theatre on Washington.


      Jefferson  near 3rd




CRISP'S GAIETY THEATRE . Listed in the 1857-59 Memphis Directories.   The Jefferson theatre was originally constructed in 1857 by James Wickersham and opened briefly as the "New Memphis Theatre".   He built the lavishly decorated theatre at a cost of $40,000 and it was the first Memphis building constructed for the sole purpose of a theatre.   It was soon leased by W. H. Crisp who re-opened the new theatre under the name of "Crisp's Gaiety Theatre.  It was very successful in its inaugural year and famed opera diva Jenny Lind first sang in Memphis at Crisp's Gaiety.  After a short tenure Crisp left Memphis by 1960 to enlist in the Confederate army. 

    W. H. Crisp  

Before leasing the "New Memphis" Theatre, W. H. Crisp had previously been associated with another theatre on Washington Avenue between Main and Front.  Of course its name was "Memphis".   (Are you confused, yet?  You will be) 


Jenny Lind

Crisp's Opens - 1857

Ad - 1857

Nashville 1858

Nashville 1858

Ad - 1859


William H. Crisp was married to Eliza, also an actor.  Together they traveled to theatres in Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.  William generally managed-leased the theatres and they both performed.  They had a son, Charles F. Crisp.   Although Charles was born in England, he eventually settled in Georgia with his parents.   Acting was not a career choice for him.  He became a prominent politician ... Congressman from Georgia and Speaker of the House.  The letter (below) was written by William to his son, Charles in 1854.  It is in the collection of Francis J. Crown, Jr., who has shared it with this website.


Eliza Crisp

Crisp Bulletin 1860

Detail 1960

Crisp Envelope 1854

Crisp Letter

 Letter, page 2

Crisp's son


And thar other "Memphis" Theatre on Washington?  During most of 1857 they continued using the name "Memphis".  But toward the end of the year they added their manager's name, "Ash's Memphis Theatre".  In 1858 for the first time, they added street names.  And toward the end of 1959, after the Crisp's Gaiety name reverted back to the original "New Memphis", they began calling themselves "Old Memphis Theatre"


1857 - Memphis

1857 - Ash's


1858 - Streets

1858 -Streets

1858 Ash's Old

1859 - Old


The "Old Memphis" Theatre on Washington gradually declined.  They experimented with German Theatre, briefly changing their name to "German Theatre" and then back to "Old Memphis".   By 1865, the theatre changed its name to "National" and then for the rest of its history had a different name about every 2 years - but never "Memphis" again.  *


1859 German




NEW MEMPHIS THEATRE . The  "New Memphis" is listed from 1860-1872 at 82 Jefferson.    In 1860 the Jefferson Av theatre was taken over by C. W. Thompson who changed the name back to the original "New Memphis" .  The third season opened at the theatre but was swiftly closed by the outbreak of the Civil War.  Between 1866 and 1868 performances began again, but the theatre had financial difficulties, made more difficult by Thompson's death.  His widow took over but it proved too difficult for her.  The 1862 - 1866 newspaper ads (below),  are  the earliest we have found.  One is for Laura Keene in "The Poor of New York" - in the 3rd week of performances. 


82 Jefferson Bldg


Daily Appeal Story and Poster 1862

1862 Daily

1865 Daily



1866 Ledger

Appeal 1866

1866 Ad

Laura Keene

1866 Ad


Pasquel Brignoli

Angiolina Ghioni

Peak Family Swiss Bell Ringers

Charlotte Thompson

Edwin Adams


      1867 1867 Review

 Daily 1868

Daily App 1869

Daily 1869

Daily 1869

Shares 1871


The New Memphis Theatre tickets (below) are very rare.  They are for the Memphis Mardi Gras.  Holders of  tickets were invited to a "Tableaux Presentation" at the theatre and then stayed for a grand ball afterwards.  It's not known why these 1874-1878 tickets are printed with "New Memphis" because these dates would actually make them "Memphis" tickets.  Just a little more added to the confusion.


1874 Ticket         

1875 Ticket

1877 Ticket

1878 Ticket


MEMPHIS THEATRE . The Memphis Theatre is listed in the Memphis directories in 1876-1878 - at 82 Jefferson.  After a renovation the name was changed to "Memphis" .  Spaulding and Bidwell leased the theatre around 1869.  They remodeled and added boxes and improved the gas lighting system.  They also added a beautiful new chandelier.  They renamed the theatre  "Memphis" and it opened as "one of the best in the south".  Some of the great names of the time began appearing here.  Yellow Fever outbreaks had major effects on the theatre attendance, but it hung on, mainly because it provided a valuable escape from the problems of everyday life.  But these lean times resulted in unpaid taxes and in 1878, the theatre was sold to brothers Lou and Ellis Leubrie for $10,100.

The available information about the Memphis Theatre is confusing to historians because the newspapers weren't too helpful.  They referred to the theatre as "The Memphis", "The New Memphis" and "The Old Memphis", sometimes in the same article.   The photo on the right is identified as "The Memphis".  Since the date is 1875, it must be "The Memphis" on Jefferson.


The Memphis 1875


82 Jefferson - today


Memphis Daily 1870




    1872 Ad


Civil Rights. - 1875

Open  -. NY Spirit -1875

Ticket 1877-78


Horace Greeley

John G. Saxe

John Sousa

Milton Nobles

Satsuma's Troupe

        "Jim Bludso"


1875 1876 1876 1877 1877 Review

1878 Review


Mrs. Moulton

Edwin Adams Dr. J.J. Villers Georgia Minstresls Mrs. D.P.Bowers Tom Thumb

Marie Aimee


LEUBRIE'S THEATRE . Listed in the Memphis Directory in 1880-1886 at 82 Jefferson.  The Leubrie Brothers, Jacob, Louis, and Ellis, bought the Memphis Theater in 1879 and changed the name to Leubrie's Theatre.  They owned the theatre for 5 successful years.  The new manager was Joseph Brooks, assisted by Frank Gray, who would later manage the Lyceum Theatre.  The management team brought all sorts of different acts  to the city, including magic shows, lectures, literary figures such as Oscar Wilde, and famous actors like Lillie Langtry and Mrs. Scott-Siddons.  Sarah Bernhardt's first American tour played there in 1880-81.  It was indeed "the leading theatre of Memphis" for the next decade, attributed somewhat to the fact that it had no major rival in the city.  Between 1885 and 1886, Brooks again remodeled the theatre and increased the seating capacity to 1200 seats and the size of the stage to 45 x 37.  And the Leubrie Theatre began publishing a weekly


program called "The Mirror"  But by 1886 the Leubrie's business fortune reversed and the brothers were compelled to sell.  Once again the old  theatre name changed back to the original "New Memphis Theatre".

< Very Rare 1885 Leubrie's Program - with Carrie Keating Concert  >

1885 Review

Carrie Keating

Richard Arnold


Joseph Brook

Frank Gray

Bernhardt 1880-81

Oscar Wilde 1882

Lillie Langtry

Mrs. Scott-Siddons


NY Mirror 1878

Theatre sold - 1879

Theatre sold - 1879


Leubrie's ad 1880


NY Spirit 1881

NY Mirror 1882

NY Mirror - 1882

NY Mirror 1884

NY Mirror 1885

1885 Remodel



1882 Notice

NY Mirror 1888


Leubries promotion

Leubrie Bros graves


 In 1887 the name goes full circle -  back to "New Memphis"
The name changed back to "New Memphis Theatre" from 1887 to 1891.  In September of 1891, the theatre hosted the play "Below Zero" and after midnight, a fire broke out and the building burned to the ground.  That was the end of the theatre at 82 Jefferson...

New Memphi s1890



Mirror 1887-88

Flood Relief 1888

NY Spirit 1888

NY Mirror 1888

NY Mirror 1890

FIRE 1891       




            FIRE 1891

FIRE 1891

FIRE 1891


In 2016 we came across this interesting TRADING CARD for the "Memphis Theatre" which features the play "Oh!  What a Night".  Actor Gus Williams toured this play from 1885 to 1888 and it stopped in Memphis on 3 different dates.  The trading card refers to a performance in 1877- placing it at The "NEW Memphis".   The Card is printed with "Memphis Theatre" and the 1887 newspaper item (below)  just gave up and called it "The Theatre".  The play also appeared here in 1885.  Of the three 1885 newspaper items, one lists it at "Leubries Theatre", the 2nd lists it at "Memphis Theatre", and the third  lists it as "The Memphis".


Gus Williams 1887 "Theatre" 1885 "Leubrie's Theatre" 1885 "Memphis Theatre"

1885" Memphis"



Actor James Booth Roberts - 1852 letter from a "Memphis Theatre"...

This rare 1852 letter was written by actor James Booth Roberts while he was appearing at a Memphis Theatre.  He is writing to the manager of a new St. Louis Theatre about future work.  We have not been able to confirm the Memphis Theatre where the actor was appearing, but it almost had to be either "Crisp's Gaiety" or "The Memphis" Theatre.   Historically, the letter is important in showing the early acting profession, before agents, and we thought it should be published.   It's also a verification that well known, established actors appeared very early in Memphis on a regular basis.   


James B. Roberts 1865

1852 Letter

Roberts Obit1901

Roberts-later years

Roberts Bio 1901    


The letter was written to George T. Collins before the opening of his People's Theatre in St. Louis:

"If you have an opening I shall be happy to play with you for Six or Twelve nights; besides the Legitimate, I have everything complete for the Corsican Brothers which I have played with the greatest success in Pittsburgh, Chicago & and am now getting it ready here. With a very little expense it will run a week or more. Be pleased to let me hear from you at your earliest leisure, and if favorable, state when I can open, what certainly you can offer, or what amount you will share after nightly with a half clear Benefit on the Sixth night."


* The FIRST Memphis Theatre and others are on another page of this website >  Click here





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