Princess Performing Arts, Education, and Conference Center
On March 22, 2012, Harriman, and the Roane County, Tennessee area will see a fourth rebirth of their beloved Princess Theater!
The birth of the Princess came in 1926, but the theater was heavily damaged in 1932 by fire. In 1939 the theater was completely gutted by yet another fire! Ten months after that January fire, its second and most devastating fire, which caused an estimated 50,000 1939 dollars' worth of damage, the Princess Theater reopened the third time to grand local fanfare and Hollywood well wishes.
After closing in 1999, a dream has been ever present in hearts and minds of many area residents. But maybe that dream burned most with Muse Watson and Gary Baker who had the idea of buying the Princess about the same time, however, in the beginning they were competitors. Muse heard that a “Harriman Business Man” was also interested in buying the Princess. Muse just knew that this “business man” was going to buy it first and “put in a parking lot”! So Muse calls Gary and they realize they have the same dream, a dream to preserve the Princess and create a place that children could come and learn about “the arts”. Not only could they learn about the arts, but come away with an educated experience that would serve them in careers in the arts and media. After talking it over several times, they decided to join forces, and together they bought the Princess. Later it was turned over to the City of Harriman, and is now waiting to be turned over to Roane State Community College.
In September of 2009, a the Princess Theater Board of Directors accepted a resolution stating that “The Princess Theater Foundation Board accepts Frank Sparkman as the architect of record, as well as, the design and construction manager for the Princess Complex Project.”
Frank Sparkman, of Sparkman & Associates Architects, Incorporated, has over 32 years of experience and expertise in theater restoration. Frank Sparkman has been dreaming of working on this project for nearly ten years, and began working with the foundation back in 2000.
The firm’s specialty is the restoration and preservation of historic buildings of all types. The Princess has been restored to its former glory, while bringing the interior up to current building and safety codes. Modernizing the Princess has been done in such a way as to preserve the historic qualities that will one day (hopefully soon) qualify the Princess Theatre to be added to National Registry of Historic Places.
The Princess will be the largest small town theater on which the firm has worked. The Princess ranks in the large category because of its 900 seating capacity (400 balcony/500 ground level). The Bijou Theatre in Knoxville is only a 750 seat facility. Naturally, seats have gotten larger, as we, as a people, have grown, so some space will be lost. Still the theater should remain in the large theatre category!
The Princess has reached the end of a restoration project, with only final touches and amenities remaining to be done, that will give the theater a new purpose and lease on life. The restoration project has been a long journey that began with a “dream”, a dream that almost didn’t happen due to lack of funding. However, with a Tennessee State grant for a “trailhead”, and a TVA grant given after the devastating Kingston ash spill, funding has been made available and the project is complete, with a Grand Opening scheduled for March 22, 2012!
The restored Princess Theater will be home to classic movies, reunions, gospel concerts, country and blue grass music shows and festivals, and stage productions. Since Roane State will have two theatre stages, more plays will give more students experience in lighting, prop building, sound engineering, TV and video camera and editing equipment, and, of course, the art of acting and directing. Remember too, that whatever happens on the Princess stage can be broadcast out on Comcast’s broadband network to numerous counties in East Tennessee, or even picked up from the fiber and up-linked to satellites that could take productions nationwide!
The Roane State/City of Harriman’s Channel 15 studio, which began broadcasting in December of 2010, itself will have the latest in sound engineering and recording, video/sound editing, switching, CGI set generation, and video cameras. It is conceivable that locally produced television programs could be uplinked to buyers like National Geographic, Discovery, and others. This is exactly how shows like “Dirtiest Jobs”, “Pickers”, “Pawn Shop”, etc. get produced and sold to cable channels. They originate in small studios by someone locally who also has a dream!
Roane State Community College will manage and perpetually preserve our dream. Once the restoration is completely finished, ownership will be transferred to RSCC. Through their educational funding, they will be able to add the new facilities to their funding care. This will mean that the floors will be swept, the lights will burn, the water will run, and the heat and air will run. The benefit to our children is that they can come to Roane State and prepare themselves for the future by taking “Mass Communications and Art” courses. These credits will be transferable to other four-year institutions. However, our students will have the added experience of actual hands-on television and theater productions work. Classes are already underway at the downtown Channel 15 TV studio location.
Check out the new Princess Theatre website at http://www.princessharriman.org/!
“The Princess Performing Arts, Education and Conference Center” exemplifies a place where culture will be continually given to the residents of Harriman and the entire valley area. This historical facility is part of the local culture and lives in the hearts of those that were privileged to have enjoyed a Saturday matinee, or a weekend date with their first loves, there. This culture will be passed on to succeeding generations through movies, plays, music, and a unique learning experience. The Princess Theatre will also win over the hearts and minds of visitors to the area for years to come.
Seasons Open: The Princess will be open year around.
Hours Open: The lobby (Tennessee Trailhead) will be open M-Sat., 9 to 5
Fees: Depends on performance.
Several wheel chair parks have been included on both the auditorium and balcony levels. Access to the balcony will be from a new elevator. Hand rails have been put up in strategic locations in the lobby. The lobby level restrooms are equipped for handicapped visitors, while the mezzanine level restrooms will remain vintage.
The theatre and marquee will utilize new LED technology for lighting.