On March 22, 2012, Harriman, and the Roane County, Tennessee area saw a fourth rebirth of their beloved Princess Theatre!
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 Theatre reopened the third time to grand local fanfare, a Universal Newsreel production, and Hollywood actor 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 Theatre Board of Directors accepted a resolution stating that “The Princess Theatre Foundation Board accepts Frank Sparkman as the architect of record, as well as, the design and construction manager for the Princess Complex Project.”
On July 29, 2010, Frank Sparkman, of Sparkman & Associates Architects, Incorporated, began the restoration work. Frank Sparkman had been dreaming of working on this project for nearly ten years prior; beginning to work with the foundation 2000.
With restoration work completed, the Princess held a 2-day grand opening celebration! On the evening of March 22, 2012 the doors were opened to the public and local groups entertained! The full-house saw that the Princess had been restored to its former glory, while being upgraded 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.
On Saturday March 24, 2012, a second evening of celebration was held with Marshal Tucker providing the entertainment.
The Princess once ranked in the large theater 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 seating is down to about 544, plus several large wheelchair parking areas. Still the theater remains in the large theatre category!
The Princess reached the end of a restoration project, with a Tennessee State grant for a “trailhead”, and a TVA grant given after the devastating Kingston ash spill. Without this help, the project would have never been started, or completed.
The restored Princess Theatre is a home to classic movies, reunions, gospel concerts, country, rock, R&B, blue grass, and blues music shows and festivals, and theatre stage productions.
Follow the many concert events by going to the Princess Blog. A critique of every show, complete with numerous photos are normally posted the day following any event.
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!
With the project completed, ownership has been transferred to Roane State Community College. The college will manage and perpetually preserve our dream. 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.