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When Oscar came to Knoxville: Aging concrete slabs feature movie stars' handprints, autographs

The blocks include the autographs of three great Oscar winners.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tucked away in a quiet corner of Knoxville is a piece of genuine movie history: the autographs of three Academy Award winners, along with mementos of several other celebrities.

After 50 years of sitting out in the weather, the concrete sections in the Homberg Place neighborhood are weathered and crumbling. But you can still make out the names of the stars: Ingrid Bergman, Cliff Robertson and Patricia Neal, the Kentucky beauty Knoxville always claimed as its own.

RELATED: Stunning beauty: Knoxville archivist recalls work digitizing Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman's home movies

Credit: WBIR
Celebrity handprint in Bearden slab.

All three came here for splashy movie premieres or press visits. They then obliged by kneeling down and putting their mark in cement.

Not quite Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles - but good enough.

Bergman, who won Oscars for "Gaslight", "Anastasia" and later "Murder on the Orient Express", made a movie called "A Walk in the Spring Rain" in 1969 in East Tennessee.

She came back in April 1970 for its premiere at the old Capri Cinema at 5304 Kingston Pike. A cake shop is near the spot today.

As you'd expect, the Swedish native looked as glamourous and stunning in person as she did on the big screen.

"She put her hand prints right there in the cement," said film historian and archivist Bradley Reeves. "That was a huge deal."

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the Capri in Bearden operated as one of Knoxville's premier movie houses.

Robertson came to town in March 1972 to promote his movie, "J.W. Coop". Film fans will remember him for his Academy Award-winning performance in the movie "Charly" in 1968.

Credit: WBIR
Cliff Robertson's handprints from March 1972 visit.

And Neal, who won an Oscar for her gritty performance in "Hud" with Paul Newman, made an appearance at the Capri in October 1977 for a special showing of her 1968 movie "The Subject Was Roses".

Other stars who put their mark in concrete here include actress Tippi Hedren and Stan Brock, who also founded Remote Area Medical.

The slabs are now located outside another former movie theater on Mohican Drive that's the home to a church. The property is owned by a businessman.

Reeves and Knoxville historian Jack Neely say they regret to see the toll the years of being outdoors have taken on the unique artifacts.

Credit: WBIR
A memento from Patricia Neal's 1977 visit to Knoxville.

"To see it now, it breaks my heart, and, you know, I've made various efforts over the years to talk to some people, and nothing's come to fruition,"  Reeves said.

Neely noted the Hedren slab in particular has suffered damage through the years. Hedren's movies include "The Birds" and "Marnie", both directed by Alfred Hitchcock. She won a Golden Globe for her work in "The Birds".

"That would be an interesting challenge for a preservationist," Neely said. "It'd be better if they were in a more public place than they are now because you kind of worry about them being stolen."

Reeves hopes some day they can be saved.

"You always assume someone's going to take care of those, but that's not what's happening now. And I'm afraid we're going to lose this history...especially the Ingrid Bergman moment."

Credit: TAMIS
Ingrid Bergman at the Capri in 1970.