Historic Tennessee Theatre - Est. 1928 Knoxville, Tennessee


The Official State Theatre of Tennessee

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Historical Timeline

The Historic Tennessee Theatre has a long and colorful past.

Historical Timeline

November 1927: Chicago-based contractor George M. Fuller breaks ground between Gay and State Streets, beginning construction of the Tennessee Theatre.

October 1, 1928: The Tennessee Theatre, owned and operated by Publix, opens. The first movie shown is "The Fleet's In," starring Clara Bow.

1932: Wilby-Kincey assumes ownership of Theatre after Publix goes bankrupt.

1935 : Helen Hayes stars in a live stage production of "Mary of Scotland."

1936: Double wedding held in a palace: Brothers Claude and Ben Easterday married their fiancees during a double wedding at the Tennessee Theatre. The brothers were the winners of a contest sponsored by the Knoxville Journal newspaper that awarded them an all-expense paid wedding and a host of gifts provided by local merchants. The ceremony was a public event. "There were more than 2,000 people at the wedding, and they were lined along the streets trying to get into the theater," Claude R. Easterday recalled in 2001. "The Tennessee was completely lit up with candles like a big cathedral."

1937: Billy Barnes becomes the house organist. He performs four times daily until 1942. "The Popeye Club," a children's club for Saturday matinee showings, is formed.

1940: Glenn Miller and his Orchestra perform at the Theatre.

1949: Wilby-Kincey sells out to Paramount Theatres, transferring ownership of the Tennessee.

July 29, 1953: "So This Is Love," the story of Grace Moore's life starring Kathryn Grayson and Merv Griffin, had its world premiere at the Tennessee Theatre.

October 1953: New projectors, sound equipment, and curved Cinemascope screen is installed for enhanced film viewing. "The Robe," the first Cinemascope movie, is shown.

June 1958: "Thunder Road" premieres, with star Robert Mitchum in attendance.

1960s: ABC/Southeastern Theatres assumes ownership and operation of the Tennessee.

October 17, 1963: Actor Robert Preston attends the world premiere movie adaptation of James Agee's "All the Way Home," which also starred Jean Simmons and Knoxville native John Cullum.

April 28, 1965: Actor Anthony Perkins attends the premiere of his movie, "The Fool Killer."

1966: Theatre is refurbished. Seating capacity is diminished from 1,996 to 1,545.

October 3, 1968: "Bill Wallace of China," a biopic of the Baptist missionary, attended by stars Gregory Walcott and Jo Helton.

March 25, 1969: "The Eagle," starring Rudolph Valentino, is the first silent movie (accompanied by the sounds of the Mighty Wurlitzer) shown at the Tennessee.

November 1977: Theatre closes, ceasing operations for the first time in almost 50 years.

March 1978: Tennessee Theatre Classics, a local organization, re-opens the Theatre to show vintage films.

September 1978: Theatre closes again.

October 1979: Ralph and Robert Frost lease Theatre from property owner C.B. Atkins to present vintage films. Bill Snyder becomes the resident organist for the Tennessee.

October 1980: C.B. Atkins assumes operations of Theatre.

1981: Dick Broadcasting purchases the Theatre and renovates the interior in time for the World's Fair.

April 1, 1982: The Tennessee Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

July 5, 1982: Movie premiere of "The Six Pack" attended by star Kenny Rogers.

1983: Appalachian Ballet and Knoxville Opera Company begin using the Theatre for annual productions.

1985: Tennessee Theatre becomes the home of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra's Masterworks concerts.

September 10, 1987: "The Curse" premieres, attended by its director David Keith and star Claude Akins.

April 29, 1989: Actress Patricia Neal attends the world premiere of her movie, "An Unremarkable Life."

1996: The Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation, Inc. is formed. AC Entertainment is contracted to manage the Theatre and book events.

1999: "Knoxville's Grand Entertainment Palace" is named the Official State Theatre of Tennessee.

2000: Regal Cinemas donates new film projectors and sound system to the Theatre.

October 2000: The Mighty Wurlitzer is removed to be restored by master organ rebuilder Ken Crome.

October 1, 2001: The Tennessee celebrates its 73rd birthday in grand style with a special performance of the reinstalled Mighty Wurlitzer, featuring guest organist Lyn Larsen. The Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation officially announces its campaign to completely restore and renovate the Theatre.

December 2001: “First Monday” (now “Mighty Musical Monday”) free Wurlitzer concerts begin.

May 29, 2002: Concert & Live CD/DVD Recording of folk artist Nanci Griffith.

June 2002: Knoxville firm McCarty Holsaple McCarty, Inc. selected as prime architect for the restoration project.

October 2002: Knoxville’s Denark Construction selected as general contractor for the restoration project.

February 9, 2003: Bill Cosby performs two shows as a benefit for the Theatre’s restoration campaign.

June 2003: Theatre closes for renovation and restoration with live telethon and screening of the movie "Showboat," simulcast on WATE-TV 6. Wurlitzer organ console moved to Millers Building for safekeeping during construction.

November 2003: Demolition of old stage house complete.

February 2004: Aboveground concrete construction begins on new stage house.

January 14, 2005: Curtain Up! The official grand re-opening celebration weekend takes place over three days. Both the donor reception on Friday night and Saturday's public show sell out in advance. Sunday offers free tours to the general public, and the Theatre greets thousands of anxious Knoxvillians waiting to see the newly restored gem.

January 21, 2005: Alison Krauss + Union Station open the Theatre's first ever subscription series to a sold-out house.

March 2005: For the first time in history, the Tennessee outranks the Ryman Auditorium on Pollstar's list of the World's Top 50 Theaters based on first quarter 2005 attendance. We were honored to be at #47.

April 15, 2005: The Theatre welcomes its 50,000th visitor since reopening in January, setting new attendance records.

May 2005: The Grand Re-Opening season comes to a close with 17 sold-out performances out of 25 scheduled shows (one cancellation).

Summer 2005: Summer Movie Magic breaks series records for total attendance and walk-up ticket purchases. "To Kill A Mockingbird" had a combined weekend walk-up of 1,012 for two screenings. "Singin' In The Rain" breaks previous attendance records with a two-day crowd of 1319 but only holds the top position until the series finale of "Gone With The Wind" sells out both screenings in advance--a first in Theatre history.

March 2008: The Tennessee Theatre completes its most successful quarter in history, experiencing record-breaking ticket sales and an unprecedented number of sold-out performances. At the end of the month, the Theatre’s annual Stars on Stage gala, featuring B.B. King, raises approximately $200,000 toward general operating expenses.

March 5, 2013: The Tennessee Theatre celebrated its one millionth ticket holder since the restoration at the opening night production of Mary Poppins. Mayor Tim Burchett proclaims March 5 as "Mary Poppins Day" in Knox County.

October 4, 2013: The Tennessee Theatre celebrates its 85th anniversary! Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett proclaims October 4 as "Tennessee Theatre Day" in Knox County.

April 29-May 4, 2014: During an eight show run of Jersey Boys, sales reach 12,000 tickets making it the best selling show of our Broadway at the Tennessee series over six seasons.

January 14, 2015:  The Tennessee Theatre celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Grand Re-Opening.  In honor of the milestone, the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation released The Tennessee Theatre: A Grand Entertainment Palace written by Jack Neely, a book that celebrates the history of the theater through fascinating narrative, never before seen images, interviews and more.

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April 2015