Photo above: Renovations for the Jackson Theatre will begin soon to restore it to its original 1940s mystique.
By Collin Brooks
Downtown Jonesborough will have a beacon of light and life returning to its streets as the Jackson Theatre is in the process of being restored to its 1940s decor.
With it, Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe said he hopes the Jackson Theatre will be a triple threat as a music venue, theatre and an independent film house, housing over 320 people.
“The main reason for all of this is that we feel like tourism in Downtown Jonesborough and activities in Downtown Jonesborough, and quite honestly restaurants in Downtown Jonesborough, have a hard time making anything happen past 6 p.m.
“The types of businesses that we have now, just don’t provide the traffic that would justify anybody staying open (past 6 p.m.),” Wolfe said. “With this venue, our goal is to have something going on 300 days a year, associated with this theatre. So we are very hopeful.”
The 3-story building, which will combine the recently purchased Charles Allen building, the old Jackson Theatre building and the current Jonesborough Reparatory Theatre, will give Tennessee’s oldest town a “game-changer”, according to its mayor.
“This will also give us a venue that will become a destination,” said Wolfe, “it will give the town a game-changer when it comes to destinations after 6 p.m.”
Jonesborough Town Administrator Bob Browning said that the city is still working on designs and within the next 30 days they hope to have the design complete so that they can send it to the Fire Marshal’s office in Nashville and rural development. Brown said that would allow them to nail down a cost estimate, which started at $2 million. He admitted that the scope of the project changed since they added the building owned by Charles Allen. Now they know that the bathrooms and concessions will be located there.
Browning said people can expect changes to start once the six-month long approval process begins, with hopes the theatre will be open by next year.
“We are hoping that we can get construction underway in June of this year and hopefully be finished by, maybe, the fall of next year,” Browning said.
The town approaches this project from the standpoint of frugality, according to Wolfe.
A state inmate labor crew from Mountain City will help with the project according to town officials and Brown noted that they have already helped the city complete multiple projects, including the Senior Center and McKinney Center.
“We may take a little longer to get it done, because of the nature of how we have to approach it, but we think when we finish — just like the senior center and the McKinney Center for the Arts, these are projects we finished in this matter — it will be well received.”
Jonesborough is funding the project through grants and donations that they have received, including a $50,000 donation last week in the form of a Tourism Enhancement Grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
“This theatre is very important to our community and we are thrilled that these funds will be available for the renovations project,” said Senator Rusty Crowe. “I was glad to support the grant and I congratulate our local officials for their role in helping to secure these funds.”
The goal for the project is to recreate an art deco theatre that would be representative of the time frame from the 1940s. During early renovations, the crew was forced to dig up gravel and concrete inside that was used to make the floor level instead of its natural theatre slope.
The Jackson Theatre will return to the namesake it maintained in the 1940s, before it was closed and turned into office space sometime in the 1950s. The building’s first name was the Blue Mouse Theatre which opened in the 1920s to show moving pictures that were black and white with no sound.
Before it was a theatre, it started out life as a furniture store in the 1800s.