Theatre Rebirth

I knew that I had become my father when I found myself telling a friend a few years ago that “I paid more for my last car than I did for my first house.”  It was one of those lines that my father used when I was young – and here I was repeating it!  (Just to set the record straight, our now 10-year-old car wasn’t that expensive; it just happened that as newlyweds, we got a great deal on a 1910 townhouse that needed a lot of work.)

Another story that I heard from my father when I was young was how he spent nights and weekends taking up tickets and serving as the back-up projectionist at the Franklin Theatre in his hometown of Franklin, Tennessee.  Daddy knew all about the movies and stars from that era, because he had a free seat.

So it was no surprise to me that Tom Brown would be in Franklin last Saturday evening when the lights in the marquee of the historic Franklin Theatre were turned on for the first time in 40 years.

The Heritage Foundation of Franklin – one of the great local preservation groups in the country – now owns the theatre, which last operated as a movie house in 2007.   Here’s how their “Save the Franklin Theatre” website describes the connection between the theatre and the community:

The enduring romance with the Franklin Theatre began in the summer of 1937. The marquee spilled brilliantly onto Main Street inviting citizens countywide to see “Night Must Fall,” starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell.

And they came — young and old, black and white, rich and poor. They laughed, they cried, they dreamed. And, together, within the illuminated walls of the Franklin Theatre, unforgettable moments occurred and memories were made.

In the 70 years that followed, until rising rents forced the theater to close in 2007, life changed dramatically. But for the most part, the Franklin Theatre stood timeless, becoming one of the most beloved small-town movie houses in the South. Fresh-popped corn, first kisses and saving pennies for the Saturday matinee became pastimes shared from one generation to the next.

I talked with Daddy after the lighting ceremony, and he was thrilled.  He sent photos – including one where he’s holding a promotional sign – and said that the local Main Street manager had given a shout out to the National Trust.  (Daddy’s always pleased to hear people speak kindly of his son’s employer!)  The theatre is to reopen in June of this year, and he’s planning on returning when his high school class holds their reunion in his old movie house haunt.  But this isn’t just a place for those soaked in nostalgia.  The marquee restoration was underwritten by the “Next Generation of the Heritage Foundation” – a membership group composed of supporters age 21 to 40.

That’s what preservation is all about: taking places that help define a community and using those places to link generations together.  By celebrating and protecting these places, we build livable cities and towns for today and for the future.

Thanks for the memories, Daddy, and thanks for the stories.  Now that your grandson is getting ready to head off to college in urban studies (after writing his college application essay on Jane Jacobs), it appears that your love of community has been passed along to yet another generation.

More to come…

DJB

2 Responses

  1. David–you captured what it’s all about, and so glad Tom Brown was there to see it!

  2. […] the building at the 11th hour – was already a preservation hero of mine for his work to save the historic Franklin Theatre, where my father had been a projectionist in the 1930s.  I had a chance to talk Doc Watson and […]

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