Namesake: Princess Theater in Harriman, Roane County

5:32 PM, Jan 6, 2012   |    comments
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The only thing more vivid than the colors of the Princess Theater in downtown Harriman are the memories the venue rekindles for people who grew up in the small town in Roane County.

"When I walk in this theater, I think about sitting right there watching Star Wars," said Chris Mason, mayor of Harriman. "I've heard so many stories of other people walking in here and finding an old favorite seat where they may have seen a particular film.  There are a lot of special memories here for people."

Mason helped lead the revitalization of the Princess Theater.  The 900 seat venue nearly rotted away during a decade of vacancy.  A blog details the multi-million dollar restoration project that now has the crown jewel of Harriman shining bright. 

"The colors are going to stand out to you the most. When you look up at the ceiling stripes and the Art Deco, to think this is exactly what it looked like in 1939 has a 'wow' factor."

The Princess Theater has a history of rising from the ashes.

"This Princess [Theater] was actually started in 1926 by Crescent Amusement Company out of Nashville.  The original burned and was rebuilt in 1939 as a fireproof theater.  That was apparently a big deal in those days to have a theater that was fireproof."

When the Princess Theater reopened in 1939, a special section of the Harriman newspaper declared it "the South's most modern, fire-proof show house."  The latest version of the venue will not only accommodate movies, but also live theater productions.

"We extended the stage out about 15 feet.  The screen used to be the only thing on the stage.  Now we'll be able to have plays and live theater here," said Mason.  "The main tenant here is going to be Roane State Community College, so it will be fully alive with youth and education."

From the old light fixtures to the push-button ticket booth at the entrance, the painstaking restoration effort has remained historically accurate. 

While the life of the theater has been rather dramatic, the story behind the name "Princess Theater" does not have much of a local fairy tale behind it.

"I'd like to tell you somebody thought his daughter was a princess and then built the theater, but that's not the case," said Mason.  "Princess was a very common name for theaters."

Movie houses throughout the country have a long history of using royal names to describe their venues.  Frequently-used monikers for theaters include words like regal, palace, and princess.  There are multiple cities in Tennessee with a Princess Theater.

Harriman's theater has reclaimed its throne as the centerpiece of downtown.  A future as a venue for Roane State Community College and the entire community may finally allow the Princess Theater to live happily ever after.

"We have rebuilt this for everybody in the region.  It brings back a lot of emotions and a lot of memories that are special to people," said Mason.

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Note: Namesake is the renamed title of the series formerly known as 'Why do they call it that?'

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