The Tennessee Theatre opened its doors on Oct. 1, 1928
It was the end of the Roaring 20's, a happy, progressive decade, still more than a year from the stock market crash that would usher in the Great Depression. On this night, there was excitement and gaiety on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville.
Well-dressed patrons filed into the brand new movie palace in town. They'd been watching its progress for months, anxiously awaiting opening day, and it had finally arrived! Only 60 cents a person to enter! Oh, and a matinee is just 40. And look, kids can get in for a dime for an afternoon show!
What a grand place! No wonder they were calling it "the South’s most beautiful Theatre."
The Tennessee Theatre was designed by Chicago architects Graven & Mayger with a Spanish-Moorish style interior that incorporated elements from all parts of the world: Czechoslovakian crystals in the French-style chandeliers, Italian terrazzo flooring in the Grand Lobby, and Asian influences in the carpet and drapery patterns.
Those that entered that day probably weren't analyzing the architecture, but they were likely ooh-ing and aah-ing at the rich textures and bright colors.
It may not have mattered much on an early fall evening, but guests may also have noticed it was a lot cooler inside the theater. Could that be air conditioning? How wonderful! Some folks may have experienced that glorious invention for the first time at the Tennessee, as it was one of the first public places in Knoxville with AC.
Soon, the patrons filed in to take their places in the plush seats in the auditorium. Oh, look up at the domed ceiling!! Amazing!
There was no concession stand in the lobby, but enterprising folks may have a snack hidden in a pocket or purse. They may have gotten it out as the lights dimmed and they settled down for a couple hours of entertainment.
The main feature was Clara Bow's new silent movie, 'The Fleet's In." You know, she is Hollywood's "It" girl. This movie is about a girl who works in a dance hall who falls in love with a sailor!
But before the curtain opened to unveil the great silver screen, the patrons enjoyed other entertainment.
There was a news reel that could have featured stories like the recent discovery of penicillin, or the horrible death toll from a hurricane that hit Florida. Maybe the Yankees and the Cardinals might have been celebrated for making the World Series.
Patrons also heard live music, performed by Don Pedro and His Melody Boys.
Then there was the Mighty Wurlitzer, and that's a sight to see and hear! This magnificent pipe organ rises from beneath the stage with Jean Wilson adding his accompaniment to the silent picture.
Nearly 10,000 people enjoyed the Tennessee Theatre on opening day, and they kept coming for decades to see their favorite stars on the silver screen. Even during the Great Depression, the theater remained open, providing an escape from the struggles of every day life.