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Theatre: City Theaters

This guide will help you find resources about theatre history and production techniques.

Notable Theaters

black and white photograph of An usher standing in front of the Lyric Theater. An usher standing in front of the Lyric Theater.

Staub's Theatre / Lyric Theatre (1872-1956)
Built as Knoxville's first opera house in 1872 by businessman Peter Staub, the theatre hosted opera performances, orchestral performances, minstrel shows and other performances until the early 20th century, when it featured vaudeville acts and wrestling matches. After Staub's death in 1904, his son Fritz ran the theatre and its name changed to the Lyric Theatre. It would continue to host special events until its demolition in 1956. Located on the corner of Gay Street and Cumberland Avenue, the First Tennessee Plaza stands in the theatre's place today.

Bijou Theatre (1909-present)
The Bijou opened in 1909 as an addition to the Lamar House Hotel. It was used for various purposes between 1913 and the mid-1970s, including as a vaudeville theatre, a used car lot, a movie theatre, and a burlesque theatre. The Knoxville Heritage Group successfully raised funds and renovated the theatre in the mid-1970s. The National Historic Record added the theatre to its register in 1975. After local businessmen and the local government intervened to save the Bijou again in the mid-2000s, the resulting renovation project turned the theatre into a modern facility used for opera, theatre and concert performances today.

Tennessee Theatre (1928-present)
The Tennessee Theatre opened in 1928 as one of Knoxville's first-run movie theatres, as well as a venue for live performances. It ran continuously until the mid-1970s, when it intermittently remained opened. It received its first renovation and reopened in time for Knoxville's World's Fair in the early 1980s. The National Register of Historic Places added the theatre to its list in 1982. Both the building and its organ, the Mighty Wurlitzer, underwent major restoration projects in the early 2000s, with the theatre itself reopening in the mid-2000s.

Black and white photograph of the Roxy Theater from across the street.
Roxy Theater

Riviera Theatre (1920-1988) Roxy Theatre (1930s-1960s)
A Union Avenue burlesque theatre built in the 1930s; it was converted into a second-run movie theatre and later demolished in the 1960s.

A movie theatre built in 1920 on Gay Street; it closed in 1976 and was later demolished in 1988. The current iteration, run by Regal Cinemas, exists in the same location the old theatre once stood.

Gem Theatre (????-1964)
Originally built as a concert hall on Vine Avenue (what is now Summit Hill), it served African American moviegoers during segregation; it was damaged in a fire in 1939, and rebuilt and used for cinema until it closed in 1964.

Booth Theatre (1928-1960s)
The Booth Theatre opened in 1928 (shortly before the Tennessee Theatre opened) as one of Knoxville’s first theatres to focus on motion picture presentation; it closed during the 1960s and is now a restaurant on Cumberland Avenue.

Pike Theatre / Capri Theatre (1946-1990s)
One of the first movie theatres to open in West Knoxville, the Pike opened in 1946 in the Bearden neighborhood. The Pike, renamed the Capri in 1963, eventually closed in the mid-1990s and is now an art gallery.

Manuscript & Archives Collections

Knoxville Theatres: Vaudeville and Celluloid, 1872-1981 (MS.1046)
This collection contains W. W. Baumann’s manuscript that provides a directory of Knoxville theaters. It includes information such as possible name changes and when the theaters may have closed.

Collection of Playbills and Music Programs, 1890-1969 (MS.2804)
This collection includes playbills and music programs from downtown Knoxville theaters.

Malcolm Miller Papers, 1881-1963 May 17 [bulk 1920s-1963 May 17] (MS.0308)
Miller’s papers reflect his involvement with the University of Tennessee’s theater program; his involvement with the Bijou, Lyric and Tennessee Theatres; and his work as a music and drama columnist for the Knoxville Journal.

Walter L. Morris Papers, 1910-1999, undated (MS.3669)
Morris’s papers document when he worked for downtown Knoxville theaters in his youth, and when he managed and owned his own theaters in Knoxville and Oak Ridge later in his life.

Rare Books & Facsimilies

A history of theatres in Knoxville, Tennessee, 1872-1982. 2010 (PN2277.K7 A55 2010)

The beautiful Tennesse[e]: 50th anniversary. (NA.6835.K5 T46 2004) (Thesis 78.M579)

The Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, Tenn. 1976 (NA6835.K5 B3 1976)

The Bijou Theatre: 1909-1949 (

Combining Elements of Conventional Theatre and Reader’s Theatre in Adapting and Staging an Original Script for Knoxville Community Theatre. 1978 (Thesis78.A458)

Downtown Knoxville, Tennessee: a representative sampling of business houses, stores, theaters, restaurants, and various other Gay Street firms, 1859-1950. 2001 (HF5429.5.K7 A45 2001)

Tennessee Theatre: celebrating 70 years. 1998 (NA6835.K5 T46 2004)

The Tennessee, [with] architectural photos. From the author’s collection. 1972 (NA6845.B38)

Shakespeare in the nineteenth century:  a case history of the professional Shakespearean touring companies in Knoxville, Tennessee, 1866-1899. (Thesis 78.M579)

Your Mama said stay away from that nasty old Roxy! : a brief history of Knoxville’s last vaudeville house, the Roxy Theatre, 1932-1947. 2007 (PN1968.T4 A55 2007)


Profile Photo
Louisa Trott
Hodges Library
1015 Volunteer Blvd
TN 37996
Subjects: Art, Cinema Studies, Theatre