By CHRIS TALBOTT, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Workers have begun stripping away history at Ryman Auditorium.
A crew began gently removing the Nashville landmark's 61-year-old oak floorboards with pry bars Saturday morning. That's the first step in a two-week renovation that will leave the storied "Mother Church" of country music with a new Brazilian teak stage.
"We're going to take it off with kid gloves," said Mike Bohler, senior project manager with Beech Construction Services. "We'll remove it as easy as we can and save as much as we can and try not to damage it."
The old floorboards will be taken to a new location and stored. Gaylord Entertainment officials have not yet announced what will be done with them.
The stage at the National Historic Landmark needs replacing because of age. It's just the second stage in the Ryman's 120-year history and it won't stand up to another refinishing. The boards have become permanently scuffed and marked, and the ones pulled up for reporters on Saturday were just a half-inch thick.
An 18-inch strip of the blonde oak will be left at the front of the stage to commemorate the auditorium's rich history. The teak, already stacked in a corner, is slightly darker.
Dierks Bentley talked fondly of the stage during the final standalone concert Thursday, placing a piece of duct tape over a few loose boards.
"There, it's fixed," he joked.
Keith Urban, Charley Pride and Steve Wariner were among the final performers to walk the floorboards Friday night during a Grand Ole Opry performance.
The Oak Ridge Boys got some of the evening's loudest applause when they laid down "Elvira" one last time before the renovation.
"That's one more 'oom poppa oom poppa mow mow' for this stage," Joe Bonsall said of the song's memorable chorus. "It's history."
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