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 first Lillian Theatre (1913-1914) to become one of the premier showcases for film and later live theatre in Tennessee. It was designed by architectural firm Joseph & Joseph and opened October 1915 as the Lillian Theatre. By 1939 it had been taken over by the Nashville, TN based Crescent Amusement Co. It was remodeled in 1941 to the plans of architectural firm Speight & Hibbs and was renamed Roxy Theatre. It suffered another major fire in 1945 and was rebuilt, reopening in 1947. 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 14 comments)

acatos
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
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
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: http://youtube.com/watch?v=wCiXp7cH7xs

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
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.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 6, 2015 at 7:23 pm

The Lillian Theatre was opened by Joseph Goldberg in 1912 or 1913. A major conflagration destroyed the house at the end of 1914 and it was rebuilt, as reported in the April 3, 1915, issue of The Moving Picture World:

“NEW LILLIAN AT CLARKSVILLE.

“At Clarksville, Tenn., work was begun on March 8 preparatory to rebuilding the Lillian theater, destroyed by fire on December 30. A good deal of debris from the fire had to be removed before excavation could be started. The architects for the new house are Joseph & Joseph, of Louisville, Ky., who have built about thirty high class motion picture houses in Louisville and various cities through the South. The new theater will cost in the neighborhood of $20,000. The bulk of the stock is owned by the Colonial Amusement Company, of Nashville, Tenn.. but a part of it has been sold to the Clarksville investors, who took small blocks of a few shares at $10 a share.”

The October 23 issue of the same publication had this item about the Lillian:
“NEW CLARKSVILLE THEATER.

“At Clarksville, Tenn., the new Lillian theater has been completed at a cost of approximately $20,000 and will be ready to open during the next few days. The theater is one of the prettiest small houses in the state. The old Lillian theater was burned last fall in a fire which destroyed a large section of the principal business portion of the city.”

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 7, 2015 at 10:24 am

The theater description should probably include the fire in the mid-1940s (the official web site says 1945) which destroyed the house for a second time, and the subsequent rebuilding and reopening in 1947. I suspect that almost the only part of the Lillian Theatre remaining might be the east wall, adjacent to the parking lot, and possibly part of the back wall.

The east wall was most likely a common wall with an adjacent building erected at the same time as the second Lillian (the 1914 fire destroyed a number of buildings in the area) and would have to have been retained to support that building when the theater was rebuilt following the 1940s fire. The west wall along First Street looks like more modern brickwork and might date from 1947. There is some possibility that the Franklin Street facade dates from the Speight & Hibbs remodeling in 1941, which was to include a new front for the theater, but I’ve found no sources to confirm that it does.

Back in 2007 msimpson83 asked if there were plans to demolish the Roxy and replace it with an entirely new theater. The official web site say yes, alas. The project has not yet gotten underway, probably due to the difficulty of raising funds in the slack economy of recent years.

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