Tennessee Theatre (26)


604 South Gay Street

Designed by the architectural firm of Graven and Mayger of Chicago and built by the George A. Fuller Construction Company, this Spanish-Moorish theatre was completed in 1928. The Publix Theatres chain spent in excess of $1 million to build and equip the theatre. It has been Knoxville’s most ornate entertainment landmark since its opening on October 1, 1928, with the screening of the film The Fleet’s In, starring Clara Bow.

One breathtaking interior feature is the grand lobby, which extends a half block and features five impressive crystal chandeliers and flanking grand staircases. Another is the Wurlitzer, which dates to the silent era of the theater’s first couple of years, and is one of very few original ones remaining in the country. The theatre staged talent shows in the 1930s and launched the careers of many country musicians, including Roy Acuff. It has served as the stage for numerous famous names, including Glenn Miller, Desi Arnaz, Fannie Bryce, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, David Byrne, Elvis Costello, Diana Ross, and Johnny Cash.

In 1999, the governor and the state legislature declared the Tennessee Theatre the State Theatre of Tennessee. A $24.5 million campaign was undertaken to restore the Tennessee Theatre to its former glory, and it reopened in January 2005 to serve Knoxville as a performing arts facility. Local architects McCarty Holsaple McCarty led a team of designers and consultants, and Knoxville’s Denark Construction was the contractor. The auditorium now seats 1,650, and the stage depth was doubled by an impressive new stage house, cantilevered over State Street. The Tennessee’s in-house theatrical and technical capabilities are among the best in the Southeast.

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