PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011


Wow, wouldn't it be great if all of Harriman could be painted as pretty as Tim Plemons and crew are making the exterior of the Princess Complex?!  

I stopped by today and spoke to Tim, his crew was the only thing that was happening today. His crew has really done themselves proud on the interior and exterior painting.  It seems to me Superior Interiors has been on the job everyday.

Inside little has changed other than the addition of the sound board platform and handrails up to the stage.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Magic of the Princess Theater

I am proud to present this guest post from Jerry Lemons.  Not only does it give insight into what our Princess means to him and others in the area, it also gives us a little understanding of why Jerry loves acting.  If you haven't caught him in a Roane State production, maybe you will get another opportunity to see him perform on the stage of this beloved Princess Theatre soon!
A note from the author (Jerry Lemons): The following article was written by me in 1993 while the Princess Theater was still in operation. Given that the Princess has been restored and will soon be opened, I thought it appropriate that the following article be posted...
There aren't many of them left:  the old-time movie theaters, ornate and adorned, yet muted and intimate, with a stage and staircases leading up to a balcony.
Most movie theaters today are sleek, plastic, sterile affairs, totally lacking style, grace, atmosphere--and a stage and a balcony. They are completely contemporary, possessing no history, no past, no magic.
No, there aren't many of those cinema palaces remaining, and the day will probably come when there aren't any left. But until that time comes, there is the Princess Theater.
For as long as I can remember, I've had a love affair with the Princess. That love affair began in the 1950s, when I was just a little kid. Once a week, on Saturdays, I would make a trip to Harriman and go to the Princess. I would enter that majestic building, and it was as if I had entered another world, a world of fantasies and dreams. I would sit in a soft-cushioned seat with a bag of popcorn tucked between my knees and a Coke in my hand, look up at the big wide screen, and for a few hours I would be transported; I would look through a window upon a magical world.
It has changed but little.
Although I no longer make weekly trips to the movies, when I do go to the Princess I have just about the same feeling I had as a kid.
That's because the Princess Theater is a place of magic, a "field of dreams," a very special, wonderful and unique place. In the whole of Roane County there is only one real magical place--and that is the Princess.
As it is, the Princess Theater is registered with the state as a historical place, and well it should be, for it is one of the few old-time movie theaters still operating.
The origin of the first Princess is shrouded in a kind of mystery. There are different accounts of when a movie theater first opened on the site of the present day Princess Theater.
According to Cecil Johnson, present manager of the Princess, "The first Princess Theater burned in 1938 or '39, and it was rebuilt on the same location. I don't know how long the theater was there before it burned."
According to Mr. Johnson, "There haven't been any major changes in the Princess Theater itself; the changes have been in the movies made and in the number of movie theaters in Roane County. The Princess is the only one left, and even though it's the only movie theater left in the county, we haven't raised our ticket prices in ten years."
When I asked Mr. Johnson if he could foresee a time when there wouldn't be any movie theaters, he answered "No. People will always want to get out, go to a theater and watch a film."
That's probably true, and movie theaters will most likely continue to operate. But I wonder...
Will all those theaters be sleek, sterile, lacking in style, grace, atmosphere, possessing no history, no past, no magic? Will the day come when there aren't any old-time movie theaters--the kind that are ornate and adorned, yet muted and intimate, with a stage and staircases leading up to a balcony?
Probably so.
But until that time comes, there is a place of magic in Roane County, a field of dreams. There is the Princess Theater.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


The Princess welcomed hundreds of courteous visitors this past Saturday and Sunday, and created enough buzz to get herself on WBIR's 11PM newscast! Reporter John Henry himself seemed impressed by the positive outlook that beamed from the faces of everyone that came.

People barely looked down long enough to greet each other. The new Princess auditorium even brought tears to some, like long time supporter Freeda Breazeal (on the right below) of Atlanta, Georgia.  She's never given up hope and called frequently to keep up the spirits of those working hard to see the restoration to fruition.

The tour seemed to be what the people of the area wanted; an up close look at what all the talk and disruption on Roane Street has been all about.  Although, the restoration is only about 90% complete, the progress is at a point that you can see what the finished product will look like.  

The marquee was lit for a short time during the tours, but there is still more neon to be added to it and the front of the building.  However, the hopes are now for a January/February grand opening.

I almost came to tears myself when I saw Cecil (Johnson) and Dub (Harmon) coming down the aisle!  Wow, I was overwhelmed with the emotion of seeing them once again in the Princess.  All the days gone by passed again through my mind, and brought back to me the whole reason I agreed to take on the documentation of the restoration.  It was because of these men, who have been special to me since 1967!  They spent so much of their lives in the Princess and I shared a lot of those special moments and to see them, together, there once again was an emotional moment.

Cecil even said that he would still be there working had he had the $30,000 for a HVAC system in 1999, but the building wasn't his and he didn't have the cash to invest in a building he didn't own.  So, he closed shop.

So, there they were, three of the last managers of the Princess in the auditorium together.  James W. (Dub) Harmon, Cecil Johnson, and now Megan Anderson.  I especially loved this shot of Dub and Cecil standing by the old ticket stub box that they stood by for decades.  If given the opportunity, they would do it all over again.

Megan and the other volunteers did a wonderful job of leading visitors through the Princess and telling the Princess story.

Still documenting the history of Harriman and Roane County were Dr. Joe Williams, Gary Baker, Gerald Largen, and Lewis Spivey. 

Over in the old Dr. Zuckerman part of the lobby Megan had erected a collage of "before and after" photos.  Visitors were amazed at the condition of the Princess prior to restoration, and how much it had changed over the course of the project.  Many stood there a long time, ate Ruby Tuesday finger foods, and discussed their past lives at the Princess.  

Now a new chapter begins, and I have a feeling this one will be the best!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


The Cornstalk Heights Historical Community Organization holds its 21st annual "Historic Harriman Christmas Tour" this coming Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 10-11).  For the 14th consecutive year, the group will make available a commemorative Christmas ornament, and this year the ornament features the Princess Theatre!  The shiny orb will be available for $18.50 at the stop #5 on the tour, the "Hospitality House".
Diana Knobloch (center) stopped by the Princess volunteer meeting earlier this afternoon to give me my ornament early; so I could photograph it and show everyone.  Isn't it pretty!?
The collector ornament is deep blue with gold lettering, with an image of the Princess created from an original 1939 photo.  This piece will long be remembered as the ornament that was issued at the end of the restoration.

Remember too, that the Princess is part of the tour this year, and "Historic Harriman Christmas Tour" ticket holders will be given a sneak peek at the theatre. 

Ticket holding visitors at stop #10 on the tour, will be greeted at the old Margrave Drug entrance, shown the new concessions area, complete with a Christmas Tree, the old concessions area, then ushered through one door of the auditorium, down the aisle and around in front of the stage, back up the opposite aisle, and back into the old lobby, and then offered Ruby Tuesday catered refreshments in the west lobby where Dr. Zuckerman once had his optometry office.  

There will be a display of "before and after" photos in this area, and you will be amazed at the transition our Princess has made.  Visitors may then leave through this lobby door.  The main, old entrance, doors will be locked.  The only way in is through the "Margrave" entrance (east side of the Princess), and the only way out is through the "Zuckerman" (west side of the Princess) door.

The restrooms will NOT be open, and no one will be allowed in any other section of the theatre on this tour.  The theatre is still under construction so it would be dangerous to venture off the allotted path through the theatre, plus you might get paint on your clothes!  The tour should take one between 10 and 15 minutes.

Doors to the homes and the theatre open at 12PM on Saturday and 1PM on Sunday.  Doors close at 6PM on both days.

Tickets are available for purchase now at the following Harriman locations:
Harriman's Carnegie Library, 601 Walden St.
Rocky Top General Store, 316 Ruritan Rd.
Red Door Antiquities, 505 N. Roane St.

Tickets can be purchased the day of the tour at the following locations:
Temperance Building, 330 Roane Street

Volunteers met this afternoon with Megan Anderson to prepare for the tour, and got their first look inside since the seats and carpet had been installed.  They were thrilled at what they saw for the first time.
Jean Penley sat in one of the new sets and told Bill Milburn about getting kicked out of the Princess back around 1957 for dancing in the aisle during a "sock hop" movie.  She plans on dancing in the aisle again some 54 years later when the Princess officially opens!

Friday, December 2, 2011


Now that I have your attention, let's talk about the marquee first!

I don't know about you, but for me the project is over when I see the word "PRINCESS" on the marquee again!  Of course, the project isn't over, but the light at the end of the stage (so to speak) can been seen from here!
James and Adam put up all the letters in Princess today, and will put up the two "theatre" words tomorrow!  The big red letters really looked great and now the only thing better for me will be to see the neon lights against a darken sky!  
I stopped in around 1PM today to get the historic hanging of the "P", came back by after a short trip to Wal-Mart to see PRIN up, and then back through this afternoon to see the full word.  I must say it was a little emotional for me.
Inside workmen worked hard at installing the beautiful carpet.  The carpet is a Regal copyrighted pattern that they let us have, and the streaks of burnt orange will really make the Regal seats pop!  It could not have been a better match.  I think the carpet was what excited Megan the most, and I almost agree, but the PRINCESS out front just has to be number one for me.
Upstairs, the guardrails have been installed around the handicapped seating area.  Pay no attention to that one lone isn't placed yet and not turned in the right direction!

The Princess will be open for a quick walk-thru on December 10th and 11th during the Historic Harriman Christmas TourYou must have purchased a ticket for the Christmas Tour prior to entering the Princess.

Saturday, December 10, 12 - 6 pm
Sunday, December 11, 1 - 6 pm
Tickets are $15 for adults; $5 children under 12
Tickets can be purchased the day of the tour at the following locations:
Harriman's Carnegie Library, 601 Walden St.
Red Door Antiquities, 505 N. Roane St.

Please note that the Princess restrooms will not be open, due to construction, and the tour will be limited to a walk down one auditorium aisle, around in front of the stage, and back up the opposite aisle and back to the lobby.  Refreshments will be available in the lobby area.  Entrance to the theatre will only be through the "Margrave" building to the right of the Princess, and exit will be out the little lobby area on the left of the Princess.  The main lobby doors will be locked.
You will be thrilled at the restoration work that has been done!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


While these aren't the colorful letters we'll see soon, they are the clear plastic backing for the marquee letters.'s good to see "Princess" on the front of the theatre once again!

Watch closely as the red and blue letters (shown in the previous post) go up!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I stopped by Rocky Top Sign and Neon today and spoke with owner James Ryan.  We discussed the Princess project, and how things are getting rushed toward the end, and how much pressure he was to get the marquee up!  Naturally, any restoration project is going to be pushing to get it's most visible part up and functioning.  In the case of the Princess, it's the marquee that's the most visible!

I just happened to mention how much I wanted to be there when the first letter, hopefully the "P", was hung to take the historic photograph.  He said, "Why don't you take it now?"

As my granddaughter would say, "What!"

Yes, there they were, all spread out on his shop floor.  I was so happy to see them, and they surprised me too!  In my mind's eye I could see dull looking flat letters fastened to the front of the black and white sign that's now hanging there.  Nope, they will be raised letters, some 8 to 10 inches deep, and in the most brilliant red and blue baked on paint...just like the blueprints illustrate!

Each letter is outlined in a white stripe about an inch wide.  Each letter will have neon that will flash just like the original once did.  I know I've spoken about LED, but that's for the lights beneath the canopy.  The letters will be fitted with the latest in neon technology.

Look closely at the clear plastic letters laying on the new concessions counter (below) and 
you'll see that these plastic letters will enclose the back of each red or blue letter.  The clear plastic shapes attach to the marquee, enclosing the backside of each letter, and allow access for the electrical connection that will light up the neon letter shapes on the front of the letters.
The marquee will be as it looked in 1939 (above), which is much more beautiful than what most of us grew up knowing.  Double click the photo to see them larger!

CLICK HERE  to see what most of us remember.
In the '39 photo, you can easily see that the letters are raised, both the PRINCESS and the THEATRE letters.  You will also note that it is correctly "THEATRE".

Well James, I still want to be there when you hang the "P", but I'll have to say this was pretty exciting too!  Thanks!
Inside I was pleased to see that all the seats are now in place.  It now looks like a theatre!

Also, I can't get over how much the actual photo above looks like the blog header!  The drawings were a better depiction of what we were to see than any of us ever thought.

Everything seems ready for the carpet!
To the rear of the stage a strong trap door has been built to cover the stairs down to the basement, giving the stage an extra three or four feet of performance space.
Out in the lobby, the terrazzo has been filled and sanded down, and over in the concessions lobby the elevator doors are on and the lift is operational.

Hang on won't be long now!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Just last week the restoration drew praise from those passionate about preservation, the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance, who announced that Harriman’s effort was a winner of the 2011 East Tennessee Preservation Award!

This week, due out soon, watch for an article and photo spread in the Knoxville Metro Pulse magazine.

You'll probably see better photos than I've been providing, so please don't miss it.  Pick up a copy of the new issue due out today or tomorrow, or go on line by clicking on the link provided above.

In the meantime, since the "Pulse" is doing an exposé, I might as well post some of my own "full" interior shots!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I visited the Princess today and walked into the "concession" area, where Dr. Tappan used to have his practice, and then made my usual rounds through the auditorium, upstairs to the balcony, and back stage.  I came back to where I came in and there sat the new concessions counter!  It hadn't been 15 minutes!
So, it just goes to show you that things are happening rapidly at the Princess.  Most things are on schedule, but there are a few "hard to find" items that are making an opening a little hard to define.  
I've decided that I don't care...I want it open, but I want it to be presentable too!

With a project this bold and complex, an opening date has always been a moving target. I'm thinking that a 2011 opening is a bit ambitious, and that January is looking better.

In the meantime, I'll try my best to keep you up to date with all the changes that are happening.  Believe me, it is really coming together well and everyone has done a terrific job!

 New instrumentation has been added to the "art deco" walls, like these alarm and HVAC controls, but the paint scheme is really looking great.  The paint crew is working everywhere it seems; trying to cover up old paint, but mostly trying to stay ahead of the scratches and dents the construction causes.

The elevator is almost ready...I scared the maintenance man today with a surprise flash!  You can see here that there are a lot of wires, chains, and other gadgets to install.

The new restrooms are being fitted with vanities and sinks, and these additions are going to mean so much to us later.  Remember when there were only 2 to 3 stalls in both old bathrooms?  Well, we should not have to wait in line long in the future!

And, if you're as old as me, you can remember the era of segregation when black citizens had separate restrooms upstairs. [Thankfully we don't have to endure that degradation anymore.]

Those spaces are now rooms for part of the HVAC systems.  We can now enjoy the new facilities, up or downstairs, together; as it should have been.
The seats are still being assembled and they are working both the auditorium floor and the balcony area. 
However, never fear...the opening will be as soon as possible, and we would not want it to be too soon!  The Princess needs to open looking her best.

Don't you agree?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


For twenty-five years, Bill Landry has been the voice and face of The Heartland Series on WBIR, Channel 10. In fact, retired Knoxville News Sentinel Senior Writer, Fred Brown, describes Landry as “East Tennessee’s favorite uncle, the one with all the good stories that have become so familiar and popular.

The Heartland Series premiered in 1984 to showcase the 50th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Landry quickly emerged as host, narrator, and co-producer of the show. Over the twenty-five years, the “Heartland” team produced 1,900 short 3 ½ minute features and 150 half-hour specials. The show received four Emmy awards, two of which Landry won for direction.

Landry grew up in Chattanooga, and earned a degree in literature from the University of Tennessee and a master’s of fine arts degree from Trinity University and the Dallas Theater Center. He wrote and produced a one-man play about Albert Einstein called Einstein the Man and traveled 38 states and two provinces in Canada to give over 1,000 performances, which he continues to do. The book, Einstein the Man was published in 2000 and multiple copies given to every school within the state of Tennessee. 

From 1982-1984, he worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority before beginning work on The Heartland Series, one of the longest-running productions in regional television history.

Today, Bill and his wife Becky live in a log cabin built in 2007 in Blount County, Tennessee. Appropriately, it sits adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Bill will be at David Webb's Rocky Top General Store, in South Harriman, on Saturday, November 12, 2011 to sign copies of his new book, "Appalachain Tales & Heartland Adventures." 

It's from 12:00 -- 3:00.  There will be hot cider and warm fellowship!

See you there!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


No, the Princess isn't quite ready for you yet, but your seat is being stalled this week, and one will be reserved for you on opening night!  The new seats, which were donated by Regal Cinemas, are being assembled, piece-by-piece...literally (see photo), this week and are being install according to Frank Sparkman's engineering drawings.  It appears the seating will be five abreast on each side, with 10 in each of the middle rows.  This configuration promises the most seats for the floor space, but until they are all in, the exact count can't accurately be determined.

The six seats shown are in each of the back corners of the main floor auditorium and offer space for a wheel-chair bound patron and three companions at each of these four rows.

The comfy cushioned seats look brand new, and are burnt orange with black trim.  The burnt orange will probably match a pattern in the carpet yet to be installed.

I was also pleased to see that the cracks patched in the terrazzo had dried and been ground down, and it appears to be a perfect match!  Again, I can hardly wait to see it all polished and sealed, and looking like new again.

Out front, Tim Plemons and crew, have painted over the weather-proof paneling beneath the marquee, and gives us hope that soon the entire Princess will be "spic'n span" and inviting us in.

However, one of my greatest finds today was this scene in one of the upstairs rooms of the Tappan building.  The ceiling has been repaired, but the walls and everything else still awaits further work.  These upstairs rooms will not see full restoration until much later down the road, but will be important to the Princess Complex in the future.

But, I couldn't help but try and capture the lighting that streamed in from outside and played on the old wooden floor.  We should remember, that these old 1890's buildings are treasures in themselves, and we should be appreciative of the second chance we are getting to see and use them in our live time.  Roane Street is full of such treasures, and they all stand waiting for someone with vision to turn them into useful spaces for a new generation.

Friday, November 4, 2011


It used to be that I'd have to wait a month to see real change in the progress at the Princess.  Now, if I don't go every few days, I can miss out on lots of little changes.  Things are really, happening at a fast pace now, and it won't be long before you will see a notice posted here for a grand event!

James Ryan and Adam (forgive me I forgot his last name), of Rocky Top Sign & Neon, are busy most days putting on the metal face of the marquee.  He begins this week finishing up the neon at his shop, and I plan on dropping by to capture a few great moments in neon for history.

I was under the misconception that the marquee was going to be a giant one-piece sign that a crane would have to hoist into place.  Not so!  The frame of the marquee is all wood, some having to be molded into a curved shape that goes up first.  It is then wrapped in black and white metal, which has a plastic shield on the outside to protect it from scratches during installation.  That will be peeled off once the sign is completed covered.

The metal will protect the wood from the weather and keep the marquee sturdy and shiny for years to come.  Over this will be the neon...more on that later.

Inside, Tim Plemons and crew are still painting the vast interior, which has included the auditorium floor.  Some time next week the burgundy seats donated by Regal Cinemas will be bolted into place.  It will then look like a theatre inside as well.  I'm not going to publish any more wide shots of the interior until after the grand opening.  We want it to be a total surprise to you when you walk into the auditorium for the first time!

However, I will post a close shot or two of the seats just to tease you!

The new bathroom additions are being completed, and the ladies will happy to know that there are six new stalls in the Princess, besides the original ones.  The men too will have new extra facilities to enjoy, and there will be drinking fountains conveniently located throughout the lobby area.

The elevator lift and loading platform are in place, awaiting the actual elevator compartment.  This will make seats in the balcony more convenient to everyone, including the handicapped.

Almost unnoticed under foot in the lobby is the work being done to restore the original terrazzo flooring to its original shine.  The breaks in the beautiful old flooring are being properly filled, ground, sanded, and buffed to bring it back to life, and give it at least another 70 years of life!  I can hardly wait to see this floor returned to even better luster than I remember from my time in the sixties.  

Put it all together and you have a reborn venue; perhaps a transformation from a mere theater to a grand theatre.  She will be ready again to receive the title she was once given by newspapers and newsreels as a "temple to the arts"!
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