Roxy Theatre

100 Franklin Street,
Clarksville, TN 37040

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Roxy Theatre

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Among the few remaining Art Deco style theatres; Manhattan has Radio City Music Hall, Oakland, the Paramount Theatre and Clarksville, the Roxy Theatre. The Roxy Theatre is the phoenix that rose from the ashes of the Lillian Theatre (1913-1917) to become one of the premier showcases for film and later live theatre in Tennessee. It was opened prior to 1937 as the Lillian Theatre. By 1943 it had been renamed Roxy Theatre. By 1950 the Roxy Theatre was operated by the Nashville, TN based Crescent Amusement Co. It had closed by 1957.

The Roxy Theatre is currently home to one of the state’s top drama companies, the Roxy Regional Theatre whose productions have included the American premiere of “A Tale of Two Cities”, the Steinbeck classics “Of Mice and Men” and “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”, and “Antigone” while community highlights have included the regional premieres of “Triumph of Love”, “Side Show”, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, “The Who’s Tommy”, “Chess” as well as such blockbusters as “Grease”, “Smoke on the Mountain”, “Carousel” and “Damn Yankees”.

Contributed by Jack Coursey

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

JackCoursey on August 11, 2005 at 4:07 pm

I came across a article that stated the Roxy was at one time equipped with an organ. Do you have any information as to when the organ was in place, how many ranks it had and when was it removed?

enichols on August 14, 2005 at 6:09 am

Leon Cole, a wonderful organist who was widely known in Central Tennessee, toured with a Hammond and played horse shows, carnivals, political events, etc.. He told me that the Roxy had an Orchestrelle. He said he used to play it. We were both playing at the Montomery County Fair at the time (1956, maybe). He for the horse shows and I for everything else, as I recall. It’s been a long time. Wow.

There is no evidence of the Roxy’s having an Orchestrelle in the Aeolian records. I would doubt the Roxy had anything like a Morton or Wurlitzer. The cost was prohibitive for a pipe organ. Orchestrelles offered players which could be used when there was no live organist. Also, there was the matter of space for a pipe organ. I was too young to have been in the Roxy that burned in the 1940’s, although I well remember seeing the ruins, and was old enough to be at the opening of the present theater.

It is hard to believe that they would have had the space for a small pipe organ. Some companies that made Orchestrelle-type instruments used reeds, like harmoniums. In fact, there was a difference in Orchestrelles between the reed models and a “Pipe Orchestrelle”.

I played the organ at the Capitol. They tried an electronic Wurlitzer in about 1956/57. I was eighteen and at Austin Peay. O.C. Terrell managed (owned?) the theater at the time and was who asked me to play there. I was paid in gasoline from his service station on 41-A near Beech Haven.

acatos on November 12, 2005 at 12:48 pm

Visiting Clarksville today, I drove down to see the Roxy and was graciously admitted by the Artistic Director John McDonald, who was adamant that this is and was an Art Moderne Theatre, not Art Deco because of the era of design and construction was post-Art Deco. Their website indicates that the Lillian gave way to the Roxy in 1945. The exterior of the theater looks good. The lobby has apparently been expanded inward, eating up seating and the stage expanded outward, doing the same. I believe he told me that the current seating is 200. The balcony has been walled off, similar to the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, and converted into a 50-seat black box theatre. Because of rehearsal I was not able to be in the auditorium more than a moment but it appears that it is in “black box” decor. There seems to be nothing visible that is Art Moderne. As successful as the theatre may be, it appears that they took the Art Moderne house and turned it into a different kind of venue so that it no longer resembles the theatre that it once was except outside and to some extent in the lobby. My impressions were affirmed by my friends in the Clarksville are who remember it as it was.

msimpson83 on May 7, 2007 at 3:10 pm

I have been told that the Roxy is being torn down to be replaced with a new theater. Can anyone confirm this?

msimpson83 on September 12, 2007 at 8:53 am

Sheryl Crow’s video “All I wanna do” was filmed in front of the Roxy. Link to Youtube video:

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 25, 2009 at 1:27 am

I found a reference to this theater as the Lillian in the February 22, 1941, issue of Boxoffice. The item said that Crescent had acquired the theater three years earlier. They were having the house remodeled. Plans were by the local architectural firm of Speight & Hibbs. A new facade and marquee were planned, so this may be when the name was changed.

In any case, the theater had been renamed the Roxy by 1946, when its destruction by fire was reported in the January 19 issue of Boxoffice. So far I’ve been unable to find anything in Boxoffice about the reconstruction, but I suspect that Speight & Hibbs did the design for that, too. From the photos it certainly resembles their other work of the period.

TLSLOEWS on August 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Drove to Clarksville a few years ago and saw the Roxy looked the same as the 2009 photos.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on March 29, 2014 at 9:57 am

David Bowers “Encyclopedia of Automated Musical Instruments” p. 551 mentions the installation of a Reproduco organ at the Lillian Theatre, Clarksville, Tennessee. There is no date on that reference, but certainly before 1930. In all likelihood it a was photoplayer: very similar to an orchestrelle.

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