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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

Picturing the Past 17: When the Princess reigned

Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2009, at 7:49 AM

(Photo)
Shelbyville's Princess Theatre, as it looked in February 1952. (T-G file photo)
Even though I'd guess many of us would like to see a modern, multiplex theater in Shelbyville, we've got a true gem on Depot Street: One of the nation's last remaining storefront theaters.

I'd imagine anyone, even relatively-new residents today, has some memory connected with the Capri Theatre or its predecessor, the Princess.

Here's the Princess Theatre from a negative dated Feb. 27, 1952. It's amazing how little the theatre (Side note: What's the difference between a theat-re and theat-er?) has changed, at least in some respects, from its Princess days. Everything from the marquee up looks the same except for the name change.

The lower portion has changed quite a bit, though. Note the two ticket booths and what appear to be large double doors in front.

Showing was "Behave Yourself," a comedy starring Shelley Winters, Farley Granger and a Welsh terrier, according to the Internet Movie Database. "Behave Yourself" is in the public domain today, and www.imdb.com/title/tt0043327 links to the Internet Archive where it may be viewed online.

You'll also see "On Stage Zandorra" on the marquee sign. "Zandorra" is described in a Princess ad which ran in the Feb. 27 T-G as a "world-famous mystic" scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. the next morning for "ladies only" and allegedly predict their futures. Admission: 40 cents.

This photo was shot for the theater, according to the negative envelope, and wasn't published in the T-G -- so I have no idea who's pictured. But I wonder if the woman on the left is "Zandorra." She resembles the woman on the sidewalk sign.

Ads at the time showed three theaters in Shelbyville: The Princess, Bedford and 41 Drive-In.

Picturing the Past is featured each Tuesday in this blog.


Comments
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I have lots of awesome memories in that old building. The wonderful smell of popcorn popping when you entered after paying. I still enjoy going in from time to time. Does anyone know when that building was first constucted?

-- Posted by thementalist on Tue, Jul 14, 2009, at 9:05 AM

According to the state Real Estate Assessment Data site, www.assessment.state.tn.us, the building was constructed in 1948.

-- Posted by David Melson on Tue, Jul 14, 2009, at 9:28 AM

This is definitely a gem worth preserving . . . I would go there more if the seats were different because you cant beat the prices on admission or concessions and it so nice to go in and feel like you are part of history.

-- Posted by jaxspike on Tue, Jul 14, 2009, at 9:42 AM

David, I am of the older generation, and I am certainly enjoying these older places. They bring back a lot of memories.

-- Posted by wilma1 on Tue, Jul 14, 2009, at 10:05 AM

David, I am of the older generation, and I am certainly enjoying these older places. They bring back a lot of memories.

-- Posted by wilma1 on Tue, Jul 14, 2009, at 10:05 AM

Thanks David for another great picture. I'm sorry to be so late checking in. I have been busy today running. You know, Dr. appointment, house repairs, and other assorted "honey dos".

I am glad you pointed out the 1948 date for the Princess. If you had asked me for a date off the top of my head it would have been a much earlier date because it seems to me that I went there before the end of the war, but I can not be certain about the date. I would have bet the farm on it and lost.

That thing kept rattling around in my head because I had a feeling in my bones that the Bedford was once the premier movie house, and the Princess was a second rate movie house. So I got out my Postcard Memories book and lo and behold there on page 46 is a picture of the 1948 Princess and another of a 1926 Princess. The text says the Princess began serving moviegoers in 1926. It was remodeled, including adding a balcony and a new marquee in 1948. There is another picture on page 62 looking West toward the square that shows the '26 marquee. Guessing at the age of the cars I would say this picture was made about 1939. On page 66 is a picture of the Bedford Theatre that the text says is a 1940's view.

David, I think it was you that had said something earlier about a photo of the old Swimming Pool. I found a picture in the 1969 Sesquicentenniel Book on page 4 that is part of a collage that shows the swimming pool. It shows the pool area but not the building. You can also see part of the horse show grounds in the background. I am sure that picture was cropped for the collage so there is probably more area to be seen.

-- Posted by leeiii on Tue, Jul 14, 2009, at 4:46 PM

"This is definitely a gem worth preserving.."

Posted by jaxspike on Tue, Jul 14, 2009, at 9:42 AM

Lots of memories there, and an atmosphere that couldn't be duplicated at a drive-in, which of course offered it's own perks.

Saw a lot of movies there that would become classics, such as "On The Waterfront","A Streetcar Named Desire","The Robe","Julius Caesar",and some not so famous, but still among my favorites such as "Desiree","The Snows Of Kilimanjaro","Demetrius And The Gladiators" etc.

And of course there was Blackboard Jungle, the movie that without question launched the Rock 'n Roll era.

-- Posted by ilikeoldsongs on Tue, Jul 14, 2009, at 10:16 PM

A Princess theatre memory:

Clyde Jacobs was managing the theatre and it was in the late 60s, if memory serves me correctly. Clyde wanted a photograph of the inside of the theatre to use in a T-G ad. So, we set up a camera on a tripod in the balcony and opened the lens--it was dark inside, then I went around various positions along both sides, from the balcony, etc. firing off a strobe flash. When finished I closed the lens. The finished product was a rather elegant shot of the theatre that had the appearance of a multiple-light studio setup for the picture, illuminating the curtain and the seats.

-- Posted by marnold1118 on Wed, Jul 15, 2009, at 8:10 AM

Also David had mentioned the "live shows". I can remember going to a live show there once to see Al "Fuzzy" St. John. He was one of my favorite sidekicks.

-- Posted by leeiii on Wed, Jul 15, 2009, at 8:11 AM

marnold1118, since you mentioned Clyde Jacobs, it made me remember that Morton Tune had also operated the theatre much earlier. I belive that might be him in David's photo as he was a rather tall man. I wonder who else may have operated it through the years.

-- Posted by leeiii on Wed, Jul 15, 2009, at 8:58 AM

"Theatre" is the English spelling and I think at one time it meant a place for stage plays and "theater" was for movies. That was in the US; "Cinema" is used in England.

There may be quite a few of the store front theaters: I believe that St. Louis still has two; De Soto, MO has one; Bellville, IL may still have one. The ones in the small towns usually show second runs; if they show them more than a week they can get some first runs. I do know that the two in St. Louis show firsts.

-- Posted by Tyger on Wed, Jul 15, 2009, at 10:00 AM

One of my earliest memories of the Princess was paying 25 cents to see Bambi when it first came out. My father took me and some kids from the neighborhood. We were all so excited.

I remember our class going there later to see Ben Hur when it came out. Getting out of school to see a movie was unheard of at that time.

I wasn't allowed to go to the drive-in until I was sixteen. I remember hearing the "drive-in" as sermon topics, at times. It was a different time, to say the least.

We also had a roller rink at the location of the furniture store on Cannon Blvd. It had a tongue and groove floor. We paid 25 cents to skate all day. They evem played music when we skated. We wore poodle skirts, ponytails, bobby socks and scarves around our necks. Boot skates were the bomb, at the time. They were a big Christmas request.

It was always a big decision whether to spend your allowance on the Princess or the skating rink on Saturdays. Fond memories. . .thanks.

-- Posted by ridgeroamer on Thu, Jul 16, 2009, at 7:25 AM

ridgeroamer, Yes there were a lot of places where young boys and girls could get into trouble like the Princess (holding hands and smooching), the drive-in, the skating rink, and the pool hall. It is a wonder that we made it to today alive. However, the skating rink was a good place to meet girls. I even learned to skate all the way around the rink by holding on to the rails, and the end walls.

Are you old enough to remember when we had the "blue laws" that made sure businesses were closed on Sundays? As a matter of fact a lot of businesses were closed a half a day on Wednesdays.

I can remember that Jimmie Richardson ran it and whenever we had a flood the skating rink was one of the first places on that side of the river to flood.

-- Posted by leeiii on Thu, Jul 16, 2009, at 2:55 PM

I've often heard that Mr. Jimmy Richardson also played a mean organ at that skating ring, setting tempo for the skaters. I do have a funny story about the old theater. My date and I had gone to see "JAWS" when it first premiered there. I left our seats to get popcorn and just as I arrived back at our seats, that poor fisherman's head popped out of the bottom of that boat. You guessed it, popcorn rained down in about a 10 foot radius of where I was standing when I threw it straight up in shock! After seeing that movie, I felt a bit queasy about climbing in a tub of water!

Thia has been fun...keep it up!

-- Posted by Tim Lokey on Fri, Jul 17, 2009, at 2:49 AM

Tattoos & Scars, Thanks for the comic relief. I can almost visualize it.

Yes, and he also played for the horse show for many years until there was some sort of contractural dispute.

-- Posted by leeiii on Fri, Jul 17, 2009, at 6:28 AM

Yes, Mr. Richardson played there at times, as well as at the horse shows. He had a style of playing that was known around all the music circles. Floyd Cramer came to the horse show to hear him once upon a time. If I'm not mistaken Mr. Richardson made a record of his music.

Yes, the blue laws. Sundays shut down and rolled up the sidewalks. The square was closed a half day on Saturdays and a half day on Wednesdays. The siren at the Fire Dept. went off at noon each weekday and you could time my father by it. He always came home for lunch right after it sounded.

You just didn't talk about bootleggers, although people always seemed to know about them. They were a "necessary part" of the blue law era. Then we had BYOB. Lord, how did we live to get grown. Don't even get me started on the 60's and 70's, ha.

There was a cadence to life that was steady and predictable back then.

Mondays and Tuesdays were washing and ironing days. Clothes hung on everyone's clotheslines. Wednesdays were grocery days and church nights. Thursdays and Fridays always involved cleaning and cooking and you could count on hamburgers at school for lunch on Fridays. We lived for Saturdays . . .the sound of lawnmowers in the summer and sledding up on Rogers hill in the winter. Seemed to do a lot more fishing back then, too.

I remember when they poured the sidewalks on Cannon Blvd. and when they put in the flood gate. I remember when the tireless business men of town met over and over to plan the housing authority and the chamber of commerce building. There was a strong civic-minded core of gentlemen in this town that worked tirelessly to bring about change.

I remember the rubber mill flooding and people needing everything in order to start over.

I remember carnivals and circuses and pool hall slaw and how the pool hall smelled when you walked by. I remember going to the library in the basement of the post office which is now the library. Go figure.

I remember being scared of getting polio and having to play indoors during mosquito season. I remember duck and cover. I also remember lining up to get the new Salk vaccine.

I remember Mr. Richardson playing at the horse show and the penetrating smells of the food cooking at all the booths. . .donuts, hamburgers, cotton candy. We watched from under the bleachers as the ladies with pink and green hair walked around with their pink and green poodles under their arms. They always had on mink stoles and diamonds and we couldn't figure that out. It was hot as blazes here in August. Who'd wanna carry a dog and wear a COAT!

Thanks for the forum. That's enough. ha.

-- Posted by ridgeroamer on Mon, Jul 20, 2009, at 1:22 PM

I believe the Princess Theater was located on Depot Street well before 1948. It may have been refurbished (and heaven know it needed it) about 1948. The Bedford Theater was on the south side of the Public Square and didn't last very long, perhaps a combination of showing bad movies no one ever even heard of, television coming to Shelbyville and the drive-in on Madison led to the closing.

-- Posted by bomelson on Mon, Jul 20, 2009, at 2:29 PM

ridgeroamer, I believe you are right about Jimmie Richardson making a record of his music, however, I never had a copy of it.

I am glad you mentioned Hamburger Fridays. I had forgotten all about it, and do not forget the Creamcicles or Dreamcicles (orange sherbert covering vanilla ice cream) popcicles.

Oh yeah, the weekly routine except that at my house cleaning and dusting was on Saturday along with churning butter.

I also remember the Library being in the basement of the Court House as well as the rest rooms.

While we are on the subject of schools. I can remember in grammar school having a dish for lunch that was some kind of Maccaroni and Beef dish that was kind of pasty. I always thought it was delicious and looked forward to it being served. I have just started cooking in the past few years and I have tried to duplicate that dish with very little success. If anyone else has tried and succeeded please let me know.

ridgeroamer, I get the distinct impression that you are going to add a lot to this blog. Please keep it up.

bomelson, It is good to have you checking in as well. I know that you have a lot to add. Please keep it up as well.

-- Posted by leeiii on Mon, Jul 20, 2009, at 4:18 PM

ridgeroamer and leeiii, Jimmy did have a couple of recordings on vinyl, don't know if they ever made it to cd or not. One was called "The Sounds Of The Celebration", and the other was called something like "Jimmy Richardson Celebrates 20 Years At The Organ".

-- Posted by ilikeoldsongs on Mon, Jul 20, 2009, at 5:59 PM

I think the difference between the theater and theatre is either American (er) and British (re), or the difference between screen (re) and state (re)

-- Posted by acoustik on Wed, Jul 22, 2009, at 3:29 PM

Didn't Jimmy Brother, Fred, sing one or more songs on one of Jimmy's records.

-- Posted by bomelson on Wed, Jul 22, 2009, at 3:29 PM

Didn't Jimmy Brother, Fred, sing one or more songs on one of Jimmy's records.

-- Posted by bomelson on Wed, Jul 22, 2009, at 3:29 PM

Bo, I didn't even know he had a brother, and although I've heard, and enjoyed his playing live many times, I've never had the opportunity to listen to one of his records. I think I'm going to try to locate some of his recordings, don't know why I haven't already done that, seeing as how he is a hometown product, and plays at such a high level.

-- Posted by ilikeoldsongs on Wed, Jul 22, 2009, at 7:05 PM

bo and ilikeoldsongs, I am not sure about that but it is possible as Jimmy and Fred were very close as brothers. They were in business together on the skating rink if my memory serves me correctly.

-- Posted by leeiii on Thu, Jul 23, 2009, at 6:57 AM

Information recently(like today) found concerning the Princess theatre. Some is confirmation, some is new to this forum. Since I was not around as far back as 1899, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the content of the article from which the following excerpts are taken, but do have a high degree of confidence in it.

Capri Twin Theatre has a long history as a place of entertainment in Shelbyville. Before and after 1900, it was an Opera House. Charles T. "Scope" Carney doesn't remember if it had another name before Princess, but does remember that it was an old building, and the Opera was a focal point of the town, in his early days.

Tate school held commencement exercises, class plays and debates at the Opera House.

The Shelbyville Gazette, on April 13, 1899, reported on a "backwoods wedding" which took place at the Opera House. Rehearsals were held on Wednesday night for the "wedding".

In 1901, the Flat Creek Literary Society put on a play at the Flat Creek School and then brought it to the opera House in Shelbyville. The cast took dinner at the Dixie Hotel before performing.

The first Princess Theatre was built on that site in 1927, under the ownership of J.C.Tune.

That building was completely torn down in 1948, and rebuilt, according to Clyde Jacobs. It was again completely renovated in 1968 when Fred Massey bought it from the Tune estate. It was called "The Rocking Chair theatre" because of the seats that were put in, although the name was changed from Princess to Capri at that time.

Henry Thompson remembered that when J.C. Tune owned the Princess, someone else put in a theatre on the square, and sold tickets for a dime. Tune reduced his to a nickel, and soon the other theatre closed.

Mr. Tune opened the Bedford Theatre on the south side of the square in 1939, and it operated until 1952 or 1953. By that time television had cut into movie attendance so much that he closed the Bedford and kept the larger Princess open.

Art Mix, brother of Tom Mix the famous western movie star, appeared at the Princess for a Friday matinee in July, 1935.

Pee Wee King and His Golden West Cowboys band also appeared there in the mid 1930's.

Clyde Jacobs has a picture of the opening of the Bedford Theatre, with Charles Hummel buying the first ticket.

-- Posted by ilikeoldsongs on Fri, Aug 21, 2009, at 6:25 PM

ilikeoldsongs, That is some great information. Tom Mix was my Father's favorite cowboy star along with several others. By the way, Scope Carney is a great source of information. I guess that I will forever connect him to the barn office at the horse show.

-- Posted by leeiii on Fri, Aug 21, 2009, at 8:06 PM

Hey guys, thanks for the recent additions to this thread on the old Princess Theater. After reading about the comments regarding the opera house, I remembered seeing something somewhere. So, after digging around last night, I found was I was looking for.

I went to my Sanborn maps of the 1890's to 1910 to see what was at the Princess location then. Found livery stables, etc. there, but no opera house. However, across the street on the south side of Depot, just about in the middle of the block between N. Main (then Martin) and Britton (that's how they spelled in on the map) in 1887 there is listed the "Whitthorne Opera House". It even lists "stage and scenery on 2nd (floor)". So I kept looking and it also appears on the 1891 map, but on the 1899 map it says, "Opera House 2nd". I'm wondering if by then it had moved into the second floor, and why no mention of Whitthorne that year?

So, I go to the next maps--1905--and that building is listed as "vac." and I couldn't find mention of the opera house anywhere else.

So, from the documentation of the maps the opera house did not precede the princess theater in that exact location...but in the general area.

-- Posted by marnold1118 on Wed, Aug 26, 2009, at 7:50 AM


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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.