PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: August 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I visited our Princess today and was amazed at how much the restoration crew has cleaned up since my last visit.  Yes, it’s still quite dirty inside, but at least the floor is now dry and you can even see some color through the dust.  I remember how the Princess looked back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but if I understand the plans, the Princess will look even better than that period.

The roof, as I’ve posted, is on tight and there should be no more rain coming down inside.  The men were tapping chalk lines on the dry auditorium floor when I walked in today.  I don’t know what the line is for, but possibly it’s the line to which the stage will be extended.

I missed seeing them remove the old “silver screen” by a couple of hours, but now the old stage has been completely revealed.  I think the plans call for extending the old stage out quite a distance, so that there is adequate room for plays and stage shows.  I can hardly wait to see some theatrical or musical production on the new stage.  It’s almost too exciting for me to image…it’s like waiting for Christmas as a young boy!

Clearly, there is a lot of work yet to be done, but believe me, the first time I visited the interior of the Princess about 2 years ago, I would not have believed anything could be done to dress her up for company!  Now, seeing the floor dry, and some of the old color peeping through, it is more than promising!

Along the walls of the theater, either in the lobby, in the auditorium, or even up in the mezzanine level, you can see some of the many old colors the Princess wore in her day.  I don’t know which of these colors will be duplicated for the grand opening, but regardless she’s going to be beautiful!

Would it not be great to have a properly lighted digital photo of all the grand color schemes from all her eras?  I think that’s one reason I feel my documentation is so important.  You and I will take it all for granted, after a time, but someday someone will want to look back at the color scheme the Princess débuted in 2011!  The historical record we make over the course of this restoration will possibly be more important to future generations.  Such a record of the past would be invaluable to Frank Sparkman today.

So, we can see progress on our dream.  Every day is a day closer to our Princess’ 85th birthday party!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


The new roof of the Princess is about another week from being completed. The recent rains have set the schedule back a few days, but the work done by Davis’ Brothers Roofing thus far is topnotch! The Princess should be “in the dry” in short order.

However, planning and discussions with other vendors continues, rain or shine. This week Frank Sparkman, Bill Milburn, and Bill Landry met with the proposed marquee manufacturer. Once the façade and marquee are completed, everyone driving by will able to see some tangible progress, and be reminded of the ongoing restoration work hidden inside the Princess.

While others meet to plan the future reconstruction outside, workmen inside were hard at stripping out “the old” to prepare the way for “the new”. In the attached photo, a workman works atop a ladder while Doug Mills, known for his “Heartland Series” work, films his efforts. Sparkman’s crews are used to being the center of attention wherever they are at work on bringing the past back to life! They know they are doing special work on a place very special to the local people. Once finished, we’ll owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Of course, I was hard at work shooting “stills” of Doug shooting digital video! Hey, someone has to do it…and, I’m so proud it’s me!

I walked up on Phil Gibbons, Sparkman’s “construction manager - field representative”, as he was pouring over the restoration blueprints by the light of his flashlight. However, the flashlight was resting in his lap by the time I snapped the photo!

Also on hand Wednesday, Bill Landry and Bill Radice discussed the Channel 15 studio. Radice recently moved to Oakdale, picking Oakdale by doing Google searches for “great places in which to retire”. Bill Radice is a retired sound engineer from New York, who is going to be an invaluable resource for speculating equipment for the TV studio.

Things are coming to gather folks and I think we’ll all be proud of the final result of the restoration efforts in Harriman. We have good people on board, but we need your continued support and ideas.

If you didn’t receive the recent “test” distribution email from us, please send your email address to us. Frank Sparkman, Chris Mason, and others will be sending out updates to keep you informed of progress, and of upcoming events and celebrations!

Just click HERE and say hello to us!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This past Saturday was the last "Crusin' In Harriman" for the summer. The event occurs every second Saturday beginning in April through the second Saturday in August each year. The City of Harriman makes no money on this event, but it does keep the spirit of the city alive by bringing folks together downtown!

While standing in front of the Princess Saturday, looking over the "Crusin'" event on Roane Street, (click to see my Flickr photos) I looked up and saw the yellow “caution tape” flapping in the breeze on the roof of the theater and a single open window over the marquee. It was a reminder of the new roof currently being placed on top, and the symbolism of the open window. Our Princess is about to emerge from her chrysalis!
Over the past two decades, the city has declined. It started with Wal-Mart and K-Mart moving into town, drawing customers from downtown, and the loss of jobs from the closing of the Kraft Mills, Mead Corporation, and the various hosiery companies like Burlington. Finally, in 2000 the Princess closed her doors, and began a slow moldy decay.

Downtown Harriman lost all but a handful of stores, and in the years following, other buildings began to follow in decay.

However, there is something new on the horizon that gives us, those who still care and remember, hope. That hope comes from a dream that started with Gary Baker and Muse Watson. The dream was that children of Roane and surrounding counties would have a place to learn about "the arts". The facility is to be called the “Princess Performing Arts, Education, and Conference Center", and is to be perpetually operated and funded through Roane State Community College.

The dream begins with the restoration of the old Princess Theater (the building) and ends with the move toward a Princess Theatre (the art). The dream is not to routinely show movies there as a major function of the restoration project. However, if some local resident creates their own movie then there would be a special premiere showing. There will probably be special occasion movies, i.e. "Thunder Road" during Crusin', or holiday movies ("White Christmas, A Christmas Story, or It's A Wonderful Life") to highlight the seasons. But, the real dream purpose for the Princess is to showcase "live entertainment" while providing a learning experience for local students.

The dream is to provide a center where Roane State and high school students can come and learn "hands-on" about careers in the arts. Planned is a local TV station (Channel 15), a live entertainment facility, utilizing the 900 seat auditorium of the Princess and the newly designed stage, and later a conferencing center will come online.

But, the point to remember is that students will run the total operation of the TV station, and have hands on experience when live entertainment is presented on the Princess stage. It may be a theatre production of the Roane State, or area high school, drama department, or a music concert presented by local groups. All the productions will be beamed live or taped from the TV station to multiple counties!

The best part, is that students will gain experience that will serve them in future careers in the arts, radio, TV, or the theatre.

From this, downtown Harriman will reap the benefits of foot traffic on the sidewalks once again. Apartments will constructed within the old classic buildings, and store fronts of antique, boutique, specialty food shops will open, bringing jobs and further restoration and spirit back to "our hometown"!

While the dream was all about "some day", it has moved into the "coming true" column with the windfall, which came at the expense of other’s dreams, to the Princess Foundation after the Tennessee Valley Authority awarded $1.7M to the city of Harriman, specifically for the restoration of the Princess.

People who lost their property and homes, after the devastating "coal ash spill" for the Kingston Fossil Fuel Pant near Kingston in 2008, were rightly upset over this grant, and the other education and restoration awards to Roane County. However, this blessing cannot be overlooked or refused. We must carry on with the dream regardless of what God, or fate, sends our way.

The only dreams left now are those of limitless possibilities for the community! Whatever we can imagine now has a stage waiting for us to produce it, show it, and enjoy it!

This is our collective dream. Beyond this it is still our HOMETOWN. Please, PLEASE, get involved and continuing dreaming. It is all up to us may be our last opportunity to make it just like we remember it.

Let me also give you a heads-up. Property values Downtown Harriman will be going up once people begin to see investment opportunities gained from having more foot traffic downtown. Pat Mynatt told me Saturday, while I was cooling off from the heat, that she started her “Red Door Antiquities” shop now in order to get ahead of the rush! I think that was a wise decision...don’t you!?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I was there Monday morning when Davis Brothers’ Roofing made their first inspection of the work they have ahead of them on the Princess Theatre.  Rickey Davis (center below) walked the roof and gave his assessment to architect Frank Sparkman (left below).  It was the consensus opinion that the entire old covering will have to be replaced.  The roof has been leaking over the past 3 to 5 years, but amazingly enough the structural steel was not rusted.

Project Supervisor Bill Milburn (right below) described the Princess as being “built like a tank”!  The steel under the old roofing still held its bright original orange paint.  Bill talked about his amazement with the 30-inch wide main girder and 17” thick walls that show how structurally sound the Princess was and is.  It was all done to make the building as “fireproof” as possible in 1939.

If you remember the postTHE PRINCESS THEATRE – A TEMPLE OF THE ARTS“, a reporter noted thatSince this was after the second fire at the theater, the first one was in 1932; additional effort was put into advertising the building as “fire-proof”.

The builder even covered the roof in gypsum, hidden under 3 layers of felt and tar!

Cheaper “cello-tex” plaster could have been used in the walls and ceiling for around $350, however, the architects, and Crescent Amusement management, believed the $5500 for 3 coats of the Sabinite plaster’s acoustical and fire-proof properties was worth the extra cost.

After the 56 tons of steel was erected, workers began laying the 17” thick brick and cinder block walls, and pouring the first red “color pigment” concrete ever poured in Harriman.

The new “bonnet” will take at least three weeks to complete, but it has to be done prior to any inside work.  Once the inside is in the dry, the “real work” of restoration can begin.

The Princess was not the only building in Harriman getting a new roof this week.  Workmen could be seen on both the Farnham and old Edwards buildings.  It seems a lot of people are into preserving Harriman’s Historic Buildings.

After the roof, you should be able to follow the reconstruction work on the façade of the Princess, and later the new marquee will be installed.  All the while, the Princess will be getting cleaned up and dressed up inside. 

If you are like me, you can hardly wait to see her all dressed out, looking like she’s supposed to…a real Princess!
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