FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Downtown Franklin’s Main Street is rekindling a vibrant chapter in its history with today’s lighting at dusk of the new Franklin Theatre marquee, a full-scale replica of the iconic art-deco sign from the 1930s.
And in a major show of community support, the Beth and Preston Ingram Foundation, of Franklin, is committing $1.5 million to accelerate the historic theater’s ongoing restoration. Additionally, businessman Cal Turner is pledging another $500,000 to the theater on top of an earlier $1 million commitment. Organizers say the latest gifts will move the theater substantially closer to completion. The anticipated opening date is June 3.
“Preston and Beth Ingram’s and Cal Turner’s generous gifts are the latest in a series of extraordinary commitments that are bringing the Franklin Theatre back to life,” said David Garrett, president of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County, which is spearheading the multi-million-dollar theater-restoration project. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the progress to date, and we can’t wait to usher in the grand re-opening this summer.”
The latest contribution follows other “lead” gifts including $2 million from Heritage Foundation board member Emily Magid and $1.5 million from philanthropists Charlie and Shannon Martin. The community at-large has provided roughly $1.7 million in financial support through a combination of large- and small-dollar gifts. Total price tag for purchasing, restoring and opening the Franklin Theatre: $8.7 million.
Despite the lead contributions, Garrett cautioned that the Heritage Foundation cannot relax fundraising efforts until supporters raise another $400,000 in order to meet the overall financial goal. “Large contributions are critical but we need support at every level to make this project work,” Garrett said. “The campaign to ‘Save the Franklin Theatre’ goes on.”Organizers planned to publicly announce the Ingram and Turner financial gifts during today’s ceremony celebrating installation of the theater’s new marquee.
Beginning at dusk, gold and ruby-red neon will illuminate downtown Franklin for the first time since 1970, when the old marquee was dismantled to make way for a modern façade. The lighting ceremony returns the landmark building’s exterior to its former elegance — and begins the four-month countdown to the theater’s official re-opening.
The 40-foot marquee — a burgundy steel case trimmed with about 300 feet of neon — is a gift from Next Generation Heritage Foundation, a group of young Williamson County professionals ages 21 to 40. Next Gen is raising funds to cover the sign’s $100,000 price tag.
“We can’t think of a better way to support the Franklin Theatre than by underwriting the new marquee,” said Tracie Dycus, president of Next Gen. “We’re proud to bring back a piece of community history, a neon work of art that will be the theater’s calling card for the next generation.”
Nashville-based Joslin & Son Signs, along with Batten & Shaw and Hastings Architecture Associates, re-created the old marquee’s signature look by relying on a combination of historical black-and-white photographs as well as interviews with longtime Franklin residents who recalled the sign’s original colors. The result: a new Main Street icon with a soft glow and cool vibe.
“Nothing says ‘let us entertain you’ quite like a traditional theater marquee,” said Aubrey Preston, interim director of the Franklin Theatre. “It’s a nod to the past and a glimpse at a very bright future.”
The Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving historic landmarks. In summer 2007, the group launched its campaign to purchase and restore the historic theater, which first opened in 1937. When the theater re-opens in June, it will offer a mix of movies and live music, and serve as a resource for community programs.