PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: December 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!
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