My father’s parents were born in this area in 1902. My parents were born in 1932, and were married in 1952. I always thought that was an interesting play on the number 2. As with most towns in Tennessee in the 1920’s and 1930’s, there wasn’t a lot going on in the way of entertainment. Most of the area inhabitants were farmers who worked long hours to bring in crops and livestock.
But it looking back over the history of Cookeville, I found some pretty interesting entertainment venues as early as 1911. Noted in our historical archives, The Savoy Theater opened in 1911 but closed within three years. When it reopened it was called The Hippodrome. I do not remember hearing anyone speak of these early theaters nor was I able to find any archive photos.
However, I do remember hearing my mother speak of The Strand Theater which opened shortly after the Hippodrome closed. Just as with our Creme City Sign being one of the first neon signs in the area, The Strand Theater was one of the first modern theaters in the area. It remained open until 1955 which was shortly after my parents were married.
In 1935, The Princess Theater opened. For twenty years The Strand and The Princess were both in operation. The Princess bragged of cushioned seating, steam heat, and later air conditioning. I am sure these updates were part of the the reason The Strand eventually closed.
I remember the Princess Theater was the place to go when I was young. In fact, in 1975 when the original Jaws movie premiered, I was 13 years old. The kids from my neighborhood had gotten our parents to drop us off to the movie without adult supervision. Too bad for us, we were so rowdy that our entire row was removed from the theater. We had to stand out front until our parents came back to pick us up. It is still one of my favorite childhood memories.
The last movie to show at The Princess Theater was “Jesse James” in the late 1970’s. The bank next door had bought the building to expand the bank. The Princess Theater was torn down in the name of progress. All of our friends were devastated at the loss leaving only memories of all the great movies we enjoyed there.
The Varsity Cinema had opened close to the Tennessee Technological University in the late 1960’s. After the closing of The Princess in 1978, The Varsity Cinema was divided into The Varsity Twin in 1980.
The Drive-In Theater which had opened in 1952 was still in operation until the early 1990’s. When I was a kid, dad would load us all in the station wagon to see the movies. Wednesday night specials were one dollar per carload, free admission with 100 cola bottle caps, or other similar promotions. Sometimes we would stay in the car, peeking out from the back seat. Sometimes mom would put down a blanket in front of the station wagon so we could sit on the ground to watch the movie.
In 1977 The Highland Twin Theater opened. The Varsity Twin closed in 2014 when the building was purchased by Tennessee Technological University. After the closing of The Varsity Twin and the Drive-In Theater, the Highland Twin continued to grow. It is currently the Highland 12 and has the availability of 3D movies with special glasses, and headsets for the hearing impaired, as well as spaces in the seating areas, to accommodate wheel chairs.
The Cookeville Performing Arts Center CPAC host plays, movie, and other forms of entertainment for our area.
I believe in this world of streaming video and realistic computer games, movies on our phones, and all of the other instant access we have; we should remember the times when going to the movie was the only thing in town to do for entertainment.
Note: Photos in the article were gathered from online archive sites and advertising sites for the various locations.