Princess Theater

169 S. Main Street,
Memphis, TN 38103

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Loew's Inc., Malco Theatres Inc., Paramount Pictures Inc.

Previous Names: Columbia Theater, Loew's Princess Theater, Paramount Theater

Nearby Theaters

Princess Theater

The Princess Theater opened on August 5, 1912 with vaudeville & moving pictures. It was operated by Southern Enterprises. In 1916 it was equipped with a 2 manual Kimball pipe organ. It was the most elaborate of the stud-lit free standing theatres. It was also the only one which used the spelling ‘theater’ militantly, even in the terra cotta. Not long after it opened, the deep entryway with its barrel vault became a mixed blessing. It sprouted several different canopies and an outdoor concession stand which actually kept the theatre viable in later years when it had acquired a bad reputation and a worse smell.

Loew’s rented it for a time, Paramount rented it also. Malco operated it and Kemmons Wilson (of Holiday Inn fame) owned the building.

The theater was later acquired by the Shelby Amusement Company and closed in 1969 with Fred Astaire in “Finian’s Rainbow” & The Beatles “Yellow Submarine”, and demolished in August 1971. In its last years the elaborate terra cotta façade had been covered or destroyed. Some interior plasterwork remained, but the smell did not abate until it was completely gone.

Contributed by Jack Coursey, Vincent Astor

Recent comments (view all 21 comments)

ghsong on November 27, 2010 at 7:21 pm

this theater was still in business when i was a boy of 11 or 12.this would have been in 1967 or those days it was still safe and accepted for kids to ride the bus downtown and see movies at the malco,loews state etc…however we were warned not to go to movies at the princess as that was where the perverts hung out.i have no idea if that reputation was warranted or not.

vastor on August 11, 2011 at 6:54 am

The Princess probably had that reputation because it stank. It had a men’s room but it was easier to use the storm drain in the alley on the south side. The Princess was legendary because of that and convenient because the concession stand was outdoors. It stank even after it closed, inside and out, and during demolition. I remember hearing from people I knew that it was a “colored theatre” on Main St. It had some upper levels because my father bought some of the fire escape stairs for a project of his. Also some of the balcony rails from Loew’s State. That’s how I got my mementos from the State and a glimpse of the ruins of the Princess. BTW, Mary Pearcy was shot in the boxoffice of the Malco in late 1971, just before “Hair” reopened the stage in January 1972. It was an attempted robbery. After that, the bulletproof glass was installed which remains today. Malco did not use the window facing Main ever again. I was at the theatre before and after and I will never forget that night.

zzralph on December 12, 2012 at 10:51 am

My wife and I were in the theater watching ‘Dirty Harry’ the night Mary Pearcy was shot at the Malco. Policemen everywhere and we could not exit through the front. Had to find out what happened on the news.

CSWalczak on December 12, 2012 at 8:46 pm

There is additional information about and pictures of the Princess on this webpage.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on March 29, 2014 at 9:26 am

There is reference to the Princess having a Kimball organ. In David Bowers “Encyclopedia of Automated Musical Instruments” p. 551 is a reference to the installation of a Reproduco organ (probably a photoplayer) at the Princess. There is no date: maybe it preceded the Kimball.

Iceberg on October 29, 2017 at 6:09 pm

As far as I know, the Princess didn’t bother with an ad in the newspapers after March or so, 1966. But, as mentioned above, I think it continued to operate until early in 1969.

rivest266 on August 11, 2021 at 11:04 pm

The Princess opened on August 5th, 1912. Grand opening ad posted

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on September 4, 2023 at 12:30 pm

Regarding the comment about Dirty Harry playing at the Princess: the Princess had been part of the Malco chain and was only a half block north of The Malco itself. Dirty Harry opened first run at The Malco Theatre (née Orpheum) on Christmas Day 1971 and ran through Thursday February 10, 1972. The Memphis Press Scimitar newspaper has a photo of the Princess being torn down August 18, 1971. Additionally, the Princess had been closed since 1969 and seats removed and sold to Playhouse on the Square.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on September 4, 2023 at 1:10 pm

August 18, 1971, Memphis Press Scimitar, (Memphis, Tennessee) page 39

(photo of the Princess and 3 addition buildings to its north, with windows removed and scaffold-like guards erected over the sidewalks. )

Main Street Landmarks Are Being Leveled Memphis Housing Authority has begun razing buildings on Main Between Gayoso and Linden under its urban renewal program. These landmarks are being torn down on the west side of Main north of Beale – including the old Princess theatre, the old Monarch Hotel and Dixie Finance Co., The area is planned for new commercial development.

Razing on Main Called Too Slow

By Orville Hancock, Press-Scimitar Staff Writer

All of Main Street between Gayoso and Linden eventually will be leveled in an Urban Renewal Project except for a few buildings, but the rate of demolition isn’t satisfactory to some of the businessmen downtown.

Neither is the razing satisfactory to Paul Borda, Memphis Housing Authority board chairman. He asked MHA officials today to try to do more on Main in removal of vacant buildings. “These buildings that are vacant and boarded up are drawing many complaints from merchants” Borda said. “You can understand why, because the shoppers are afraid to walk past these boarded up structures with their air of desolation. Especially at night, they don’t want to walk past.”

Borda said he hoped demolition of the buildings slated to be razed for urban renewal could be speeded up and maybe the sites leveled and used for parking to bring more people into Main.

Randall Johnson, director of planning for urban renewal, said all buildings slated for demolition are expected to be leveled by March next year (1972 ed.). However, the contract sets the razing deadline for December of the same year.

Even though the contract is for December, we expect to have the buildings down by March if not held up by unforeseen circumstances,” Johnson said.

McCall is a key street in urban renewal plans. It will be extended from Main to Second where it will join with a loop street to included Main, Handy and Linden.

Johnson said buildings on McCall will be removed first. All structures on Main from Gayoso to Linden will be torn down except Goldsmith’s, Shainberg’s, Haverty’s, Malco Theatre and of course, the new Memphis Light Gas and Water Division building which was part of the urban renewal plan in the first place. It is the first structure to be built in the renewal area.

Johnson said vacant buildings can be torn down fairly soon if they don’t have party walls with other buildings that are still occupied.

MHA has a policy of renting the structures they have for demolition up to near time for demolition if the tenants want to rent them.

He said there is some hesitancy to fill in the building sites that had cellars because they sell more readily and at better prices to someone who wants to excavate for underground floors.

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