PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: September 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009


A majority forum of the Princess Theater Board of Directors passed a resolution made by Roane State President Gary Goff, stating thatThe Princess Theater Foundation Board accepts Frank Sparkman as the architect of record, as well as, the design and construction manager for the Princess Complex Project.

Frank Sparkman, of Sparkman & Associates Architects, Incorporated, presented his company’s 32 years of experience and expertise to the Princess Foundation Board Monday evening (09/28/09). Frank Sparkman has been dreaming of working on this project for nearly ten years. Since beginning working with the Foundation in 2000, his architectural firm has chalked up theater restoration experience on projects like: The Princess Theatre in South Pittsburg, TN, The Palace Theatre in Crossville, TN, and is currently working with project leaders on theater projects in McMinnville and Manchester, TN. The firm is also consulting on other theater restorations.

The Sparkman firm’s specialty is the restoration and preservation of historic buildings of all types. The Princess will be restored to its former glory, while bringing the interior up to current building and safety codes. Modernizing the Princess will be done in such a way as to preserve the historic qualities that will one day (hopefully soon) qualify the Princess Theatre to be added to National Registry of Historic Places.

Frank commented that the Princess will be the largest small town theater on which his firmed has worked. The Princess ranks in the large category because of its 900 seating capacity (400 balcony/500 ground level). The Bijou Theatre in Knoxville is only a 750 seat facility.

This resolution should put the project on fast forward, soon after the TVA donation has been received. The “check” should be turned over the Mayor Chris Mason, on behalf of the City of Harriman, in early October. Chris has stated before that he would love to see the project completed in nine months; however, with any project, there are always hidden contingencies that lengthen work time.

Nonetheless folks, we are on our way to seeing the Princess Complex dream come true in our live times!


At a majority forum of the Princess Theater Board of Directors last Monday (9/21/09) evening, the Board passed a resolution, made by Roane State President Gary Goff, stating thatThe Princess Theater Foundation Board acknowledges that all money spent from TVA donations ($1.7M) will be for the renovation and upgrade of the Princess Theater Complex for arts education and cultural events within the city of Harriman.

Other business passed Monday was a resolution to bring Frank Sparkman, of Sparkman & Associates Architects, to the next meeting of the Board. The Board has been working with Frank’s group for several years, and the Princess drawings used in our blog header, and in the sidebar, were Sparkman creations.

More from that meeting in the next blog post.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Gary Baker, Dr. Ahler, and I took a wet and soggy trip to Maryville Saturday to visit the Palace and Capitol Theaters. The Palace was closed, but posters outside demonstrated the use the theater is getting as a music venue.
We found the Capitol Theatre open with several people visiting their coffee and souvenir shop, milling around the lobby, and many were in the auditorium setting up for a wedding. Gary introduced himself to Benita and Heath Claiborne, owners of the Capitol, and we soon had the 50 cent tour, including the auditorium, the basement, the upstairs interactive video game and lecture room, complete with wide-screen, and Heath’s private artist studio.
Turns out Heath’s family have roots in Harriman. There once was a Claiborne’s Market in Harriman owned by his grandfather who was known locally as “Fats”. Heath comes to Harriman often to visit his roots and visit his family graves up in the old Harriman Cemetery.

He shared with us many important and key items for us to remember as we march forward with our Princess project. We will invite him down soon to discuss more of the lessons learned.
Heath mentioned that he had to replace the marquee on his theater, because the city had once forced it removed for safety reasons. However, Heath successful in getting the city to again allow the marquee, so he had it reproduced and hung, complete with LED lighting at a cost of $60K. No longer is the street dark in that area, because the cheap LED lighting permits the marquee to be lighted 24 hours a day!
The Capitol is a “for-profit” venue, and most of the revenue is from parties, reunions, weddings, live music shows, and local play productions. Of course, there is money coming in from the concessions and souvenirs, and the old balcony area permits movies, X-Box 360, Direct-TV and Pay-Per-View, Computer presentations - all on a 20ft. screen. (Check out their upcoming bookings HERE!)
I tried to capture the way they had tiered the theater auditorium floor, but the whole area is painted black, making it very difficult to photograph. Black makes it difficult for the camera to get readings, and the flash is quickly absorbed and lost. Anyway, all the theater seating has been removed and replaced with 6 to 8 table seating, making it accommodate a crowd of 350 party goers! The tables are brushed stainless (maybe aluminum), as are the two wet-bar stations, and buffet tables. The reflected LED shine on these tables and the red accent curtains makes for a beautiful social venue.

We expect to learn a lot from these “fact finding” jaunts, and it will be beneficial for us to invite the Claiborne’s, Jim Young from Crossville, Len Tucker from the Fox in Atlanta, and our good friends from South Carolina, John Coles and Mark Tiedje, down for a little Q&A.
My lesson learned for the week…don’t paint the inside of a large auditorium BLACK! This terrible for photography and I want to take a lot pictures of the new Princess Theater and at my next reunion party!
There are more venues to visit in a very short time, so there is more to come.
More photos at FLICKR.

Monday, September 21, 2009


When the Harriman High School Class of 1953 came to town back in August of last year to remember their good times, they did not forget the memories of the Princess Theater. Before their reunion party, they brought their memories and pompoms down to the Princess to cheer on the efforts to restore a part of their school days, and their hearts! Imagine how happy they were this week to find out that the Princess Foundation has been given $1.7M to do just that.

We would like to thank Freida Breazeal, who now resides in Marietta, GA, for the lone of these reunion photos. Although she only makes it back to Harriman a couple of times each year, she keeps up with Roane County and the Princess progress. She also never forgets to send Mayor Chris Mason and Gary Baker letters and emails of thanks, like the one printed in the previous post. She had faith and confidence in those supporters that have fought hard for the past 9 years to get the Princess, and the associated complex, fully funded.

It won't be long before the Class of '53 can have their reunions inside the Princess!

The Princess belongs to everyone, so keep cheering the work forward!

Friday, September 18, 2009

This is truly a “Legacy Moment” for the Princess!

From Jim Young in Crossville:
I have been reading some of the backlash about the funds to restore the Princess and I have to say, all you need to do is look at what the Palace Theatre did for downtown Crossville to find the benefit for Harriman. The Palace was a derelict building for many years. The total cost of the project almost 10 years ago was 1.2 million and the community auditorium was worth approximately $2 million when it was done. It stays busy much of the time now bringing a variety of local and out of town guests to Crossville. The Palace has been a boon to Crossville and the next step the city is looking at now is revitalization of the downtown area as economic development. Having been where you all are with the Palace I know the feeling! But the hard work begins now! Good luck and God Speed!

Jim Young was vice president of Downtown Crossville Inc. that spearheaded the restoration of the Palace and currently serves as Chair of the Crossville city council's Palace Advisory Board.
Muse Watson is thrilled with the good news the citizens of Roane County received about their Princess Theater Wednesday. He sends the following message:

I am so excited! When I first talked to the manager about buying the theater some 12 years ago, I was afraid the local business men who were also interested in buying it were going to try to tear it down. When we met we found that we had the same aim. To restore it. My dream went a little further, but that was because I was in the industry and had dreams of what could happen there.

I dreamed of putting on shows. A "Prairie Home Companion" meets "Hee Haw" show for Saturday night that we would film and edit and I would try to syndicate for cable or PBS. A Saturday morning, "Parents get some time" show where we have the kids learning and entertained for a couple of hours and give the parents a break and the kids learn about the arts. A Sunday morning show of Gospel music. Maybe a political discussion show where my rule would be that if either of the hosts interrupts the other…they are fired. LOL

I envision a musical instrument lending library where children who can not afford instruments to learn on get to borrow them from folks who used to play and have them at home. We maintain them and return them when the owner's ask for them, but as long as we have them we make them available to the kids.

I want to ask our public school officials to give us a wish list of things they need to take the place of arts education lost to budget cuts, and give our kids arts education again.

With our broadcast curriculum started at Roane State we will train our own television technicians. Our shows will be training grounds for our students and entertainment for the public. The tourist coming to the show may be the best economic boost we can provide the region.

There will be a conference center where we can have classes, re-unions and graduations and local groups can meet there. I would hope the Babahatchie Band would make their home there and have Tuba Christmas there at Christmastime. Our local radio and TV station will air our shows and give us a great way to communicate what is going on at the center to the public. Plus, there will be additional shows to be put on by Roane State and local talent just for the radio and TV stations. What a laboratory we will have for kids to learn about the arts thru radio and TV broadcasting.
I ask the Mayor in negotiations with the cable provider to run a fiber optic cable to their up-link to facilitate my selling the shows to cable networks and this fiber was completed this month. So we are ready to produce our shows, edit them for sale to cable and entertain and educate our public.

We have produced two shows at the Roane State Theater in our series "Tennessee's Front Porch”... and they were well received. A DVD of our last installment called "Appalachian Dreams" is being edited as we speak.

We can do this...and I hope those fans around the world will soon be able to watch what we are doing in Roane County, Tennessee... Watch for us! We can do this!

Muse Watson

From Freida Breazeal, 1953 HHS Graduate, former teacher and basketball coach (’59-’60):
This day would never have come to pass had not YOU (Chris Mason) been so totally dedicated and involved to help make it happen, Chris!!! We, as present and former residents of Harriman are indebted to you for your commitment in helping to SAVE our hometown. Words fall far short in trying to sufficiently thank you for all of the long hours, hard work and perseverance to such a noble cause.

This is indeed a happy day for not only Harriman but all of Roane County and I thank you for your personal efforts in making it a reality. Please share my gratitude with the City Council for their support and ongoing endeavors to fight for the betterment of Harriman. I have already been in touch with Gary Baker, who has been the ongoing and unrelenting catalyst to make this dream for all of us...come true. It just goes to show what focused teamwork CAN accomplish!!!
I am notifying my classmates of this wondrous good news and we will closely follow the undertaking and completion of the Arts Education and Conference Complex on Roane Street in Harriman with high interest and anticipation!!!
Freida Breazeal
(In the next mayoral election is it possible for me to obtain an absentee ballot? :) )
From Len Tucker of the Fox Theatre in Atlanta:

This is great news! I’m happy to hear that good fortune has been sent to “The Princess”. You’re right, prayer and hard work can accomplish a great deal. I hope to see the theatre someday soon.

Best Regards,
Len Tucker

From Mark Tiedje of the South Carolina Theatres website:

Hi J. Paul,
Thank you. This is GREAT news! We did put a small announcement on our home page to let our visitors know too. We never doubted your success for a moment. After that wonderful show “Appalachian Dreams” we knew the Harriman community had a winner. With the outstanding community spirit we observed, we knew this project had the kind of support it needed.

Congratulations to everyone involved. This is truly a “Legacy Moment.” We look forward to hearing more as developments occur. We especially look forward to returning to Harriman to see the dream realized.

All our best wishes,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009



The Roane County Economic Development Foundation announced today the projects that will be funded with the money TVA donated on Monday (9/14/09) for the restoration of Roane County, Tennessee.

Today (9/16/09) the Foundation announced the “approved” projects that the $43 million earmarked for Roane County economic development. Those specific projects were:

$5 million: Kingston sewer improvements

$32,000: Rockwood paving improvements

$1.7 million: Princess Theater complex renovation in Harriman

An approval for $32 million for the Roane County school system expansion is anticipated to come very soon.

The $1.7 million for the restoration of the Princess "complex" area in Downtown Harriman, could actually have been included in the promised $32 million that will be directed toward the Roane County school system, since the theater, and the two adjacent buildings, will become an Arts Education and Conferencing Center managed by Roane State Community College. However, it is important to highlight the Princess Project because this project will have a long lasting effect on the County’s educational system, and bring new life to Downtown Harriman area.

Most people think the Princess will become a “movie theater” again, which is far from the truth. True, there may be times a special movie, especially ones created by local movie makers and/or the arts departments of Roane State and the local high schools, is shown and premiered at the Princess Theater, but the truth is the primary purpose of the auditorium segment of the Arts Education and Conferencing Center “complex” (see area #3 in the photo above) will be for arts and event productions, large scale teleconferencing meetings, reunions and similar party and planning events, and live music.

Area #1 (in photo above) is slated to become a TV and radio station operated by the students of Roane State Community College. Area #2 will become part of the lobby of area #3, an area that will showcase art and memorabilia. Area #4 will be used as project related offices, teleconferencing management/control areas, and dressing areas for the various events, shows, and live music.

The result of such a “complex” will be the enhancement of arts education in the area which results in entertainment for the citizens of the area.

As Harriman Mayor Chris Mason said today, “This Princess project will have more of a positive impact on the downtown revitalization than anything else we could have done. The best thing about this project is that it will expand our youth’s education throughout the region and that is what really motivates me to keep going on this project.

The Mayor went on to say, “Today I have the pleasure to let you know that the RC economic dev. board voted unanimously to give the Princess Foundation for Arts Education and Conference Center $1.7 million for the project. This, combined with the grant will fully finish the project and make it the most technologically advanced building in our county. It will be an extension of RSCC campus where all of our youth will be able to participate and take classes in media production, lighting, stage production, sound design etc. It will bring tourists in from out of town to watch shows on the weekend as well as be the catalyst for economic growth downtown.

I want to thank everyone that has participated in this LONG endeavor including the Harriman City Council that formally passed a resolution requesting that this project be funded. THIS IS THE BEST NEWS THAT HARRIMAN HAS HAD IN THE LAST 40+ YEARS!! This project WILL change the downtown as we currently know it and will change the lives of so many youth in our region.

The projected open date will be Summer 2010.

Thanks again…the future is bright for the City of Harriman!”

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