A Short History of Crossville’s Palace Theatre
by Jim Young
The Palace Theatre has been a part of Crossville’s Main Street for almost 70 years!
Sometimes called “The Jewel of Main Street,” the Palace Theatre has now been restored into a flexible community auditorium that can show movies, host concerts from classical to rock, beauty pageants, school programs and more.
Built in the late 1930’s, the theatre opened with a grand celebration on November 21, 1938 featuring the Ronald Coleman classic movie “If I were King.” The admission to that first Palace movie was only 31 cents for the best seat in the house. The Palace remained an integral part of the community for the next 40 years.
Just a few years after the theatre opened, the US became involved in World War II and the Palace helped to promote everything from war bond sales to scrap metal drives.
In addition to movies, the Palace Theatre hosted many live entertainment events over the years including beauty pageants and an appearance by cowboy movie star Bob Steele and his trained horse.
The Palace continued to show first run movies in the 1960’s and 1970’s and another Crossville generation grew up going as kids to the Saturday matinees and later sitting in the balcony with their steady dates as teens. After the Palace closed in 1978 it quickly fell into disrepair.
With the opening of a new twin theatre in Crossville, the roof and the windows of the stately old theatre began to go. In 1983 a small group of prominent Crossville residents known as Cumberland Heritage began to push for the renovation of the Palace Theatre, but they were just a bit ahead of their time.
In 1989, author David Naylor listed the Palace in his book, “Great American Movie Theaters” as one of Tennessee’s best surviving theatres. The theatre was recognised for its Art Deco and Art Modern architecture, neon marquee and use of locally quarried native Crab Orchard stone for the facade.
Another small group of citizens known as Downtown Crossville, Inc. (DCI) spearheaded the drive in the 1990’s to save what some still called, “the jewel of Main Street” even though it had fallen onto very hard times. The City of Crossville purchased the Palace Theatre property in 1993 at DCI’s urging. In 1994, the theatre earned a listing on the National Historic Register.
In 1996, DCI had pushed hard enough that the Crossville City Council approved a bond referendum that went before Crossville voters in November that year. The people of Crossville voted 2 to 1 to approve the money to restore the theatre as a community auditorium.
Even though the funding referendum passed, the theatre was not yet saved as bids came in higher than the funds available but a grant through the Tennessee Department of Transportation helped with another $234,000 that came in just days before a deadline set by council.
Donations from several corporations, construction work by students and instructors of the Tennessee Technology Center and other local supporters finally got the theatre finished and a grand reopening ceremony was held in February 2001, Crossville’s Centennial year. The restoration of the Palace also lead to other downtown improvements and helped bring a number of businesses back Crossville’s downtown area. Several buildings underwent face lifts and new businesses moved into previously empty buildings.
The lobby area of the theatre houses a local information center where people can go to find out about local attractions.