Behind the Scenes: Corporations, the Moviegoing Experience, and the Preservation of Tennessee's Small-Town Theaters

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Bennett, Cassandra
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Middle Tennessee State University
Historical scholarship about twentieth century movies and America is rich but narrow. Scholars have looked at urban movie palaces at length but neglected small-town theaters, except for those "new cinema history" scholars who have looked some to the moviegoing experience in the United States. The Crescent Amusement Company's network of 132 mostly small-town southern theaters provides a valuable case study to help remedy these scholarly gaps. Centered in Tennessee, the regional chain monopolized small-town exhibition sites. About two-thirds of the chain's theaters were located in towns with fewer than 10,000 people; these numbers mirror national trends. By 1930, Crescent's network was the largest unaffiliated chain in the nation. Therefore, Crescent serves as a microcosm of the national film and exhibition industry. Within the regional chain, the Park Theatre, in McKenzie, Tennessee, provides a more focused study of mid-twentieth century small-town theaters. An examination of this theater yields insights into the industry, the moviegoing experience, and the promise of historic preservation today. By examining the Crescent network's history alongside the critical preservation issues presented by small-town theaters, this study illuminates the role these buildings played and can still play in the economic and social wellbeing of their towns.
Crescent Amusement Company, Historic Preservation, Moviegoing Experience, Small-Town Movie Theaters, Supreme Court, Tennessee