Palace Theatre employees celebrated the 85th birthday of the theatre this afternoon (Tuesday, November 21, 2023) with an open house. The event featured some era-appropriate jazz by JR and Friends and Melissa Ellis. The celebration ended with a showing of the movie that started the historic journey of the theatre in Crossville.

The Palace Theatre certainly has a rich history in Crossville.

In 1938, following an example by many smaller communities around the country, Dr. E. W. Mitchell decided Crossville needed a first-class movie theater and led the drive to build the Palace. There were about 400 Palace Theaters around the country that were built with the movie studios’ help to promote their movies. Bill Garrison, a native of Crossville who had returned home after making a good living in Chicago, built the Palace Theatre. Garrison also built Will-Nell Apartments, now the Highland Federal building next door to the Palace Theatre.

The Palace 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 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 U.S. became involved in World War II, and the Palace Theatre 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 1960s and 1970s.

Another Crossville generation grew up going as kids to the Saturday matinees and later sitting in the balcony with their dates as teens.

In the mid-70s, attendance at the Palace Theatre dwindled.

The Palace Theatre closed in 1978, and it quickly fell into disrepair. The roof and the windows of the stately old theatre began to go as it sat abandoned.

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 little ahead of their time and no progress on the restoration was made.

In 1989, author David Naylor listed the Palace in his book, “Great American Movie Theaters” as one of Tennessee’s best-surviving theaters. The theater was recognized for its Art Deco and Art Modern architecture, neon marquee, and use of locally quarried native Crab Orchard stone for the façade.

Another small group of citizens known as Downtown Crossville, Inc. (DCI) spearheaded the drive in the 1990s 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 theater 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 the Crossville voters in November of that year. Crossville residents voted 2 to 1 to approve the money to restore the theatre as a community auditorium.

Even though the funding referendum passed, the theater 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 the city council. The city elected to purchase the former doctor’s office of Dr. Mitchell, the brick building adjacent to the Palace, and it was incorporated into the renovation plans.

Donations from several corporations, construction work by students and instructors of the Tennessee Technology Center, and other local supporters finally got the theater finished and a grand reopening ceremony was held in February 2001, Crossville’s centennial year. The restoration of the Palace also led to other downtown improvements and helped bring several businesses back to the downtown area.

Through the dedication, determination, and vision of some committed community members, the Palace Theatre is once again the Jewel of Main Street.

The amenities of the Palace Theatre today include a full kitchen, concessions, a meeting room, a 300-seat auditorium, a 22’ by 27’ stage, and professional sound and lighting.

For more information, visit www.palacetheatre-crossville.com