Lights, Camera, Action! Historic Theatres of Hopkinsville on Display

Jul 17, 2014

The Princess and The Rex

"Lights, Camera, Action! Hopkinsville Goes to the Show"  is the featured summer exhibit at the Museums of Historic Hopkinsville-Chrsitian County. Executive Director Alissa Keller takes us on a walk through the history of Hopkinsville's early 20th century theatres, including the first "moving picture show" and the first "air cooled" building on Sounds Good today.

The Golden Era of Movie-Going

Lights, Camera, Action! Hopkinsville Goes to the Show is the new featured exhibit for the summer at the Pennyroyal Area Museum located at 217 east 9th street in downtown Hopkinsville. They highlight the golden era of pre-television movie-going, in the mid to late 1920s through the 1950s. During this time, there were three active movie theatres (when the population average was around 11,000 compared to today's roughly 31,000). The exhibit was designed for people who grew up in this time period to relive those memories and for people interested in historic movie-going. 

Holland's Opera House, The Princess, The Rex, and Alhambra

  • Holland's Opera House opened in 1882 as an entertainment space for musicians, talent shows, and theatrical performance. In 1905, it showed the first "moving picture show." The building closed in 1916. While it still stands, it's no longer a functional gathering place. 
  • The Princess Theatre opened in 1911 and was originally named the Photoplay Palace. It introduced "talkies" in the 20s, but had had a tumultuous history since: a devastating fire and a series of closings and re-openings until the early 1970s. It's currently a nightclub.
  • The Rex Theatre opened across the street from The Princess in 1912 and closed in 1956. It's now the location of a print shop.
  • The newest of these historic buildings, Alhambra Theatre, is the only one from this time period still an active theatre. It's also the youngest of the group, built and opened in 1928, redesigned in art deco style in the 1930s and renovated in 2005. It was the first building in the city to be "air cooled." Movies and stage performances were regular fare until the movie equipment was removed in 1970s. In the fall of 2013, the Pennyroyal Arts Council installed modern movie equipment, bringing back some of the classic films that debuted in the theatre, and the original movie-going experience.

"Birth of the Nation" Controversy

Ted Poston was an African American journalist from Hopkinsville who wrote a book of short stories titled The Dark Side of Hopkinsville, which includes a story about the showing of the controversial film The Birth of the Nation directed by D.W. Griffith, portraying the Ku Klux Clan as a heroic force. Poston describes how his friends and their kids were discouraged from seeing the film, unusual because going out to the theatres was a normal activity. In Poston's story, a child goes on to stealing the film reel so that it cannot be shown, which may be legend.

The Exhibit Includes:

  • old theatre seating from Bethel College auditorium
  • signage from Holland's Opera House from the late 1800s
  • signage from Alhambra
  • architectural pieces from Alhambra - original banisters and restored ticket booth, ticket containers with ticket stubs, and photographs
  • a place for visitors to add their own contributions
  • photos of old Hopkinsville drive-ins
  • how one would go to the show - a man's suit and a woman's fancy dress 
  • stereoscopic viewing glasses and more

Also at Alhambra:

Two smaller exhibits, one titled Unearthing the Christian County Courthouse. An elevator has been recently installed in the current courthouse, but upon digging the pit, workers found archeological remains of the prior courthouse built in 1838 (which had been burned down during the Civil War). Working with a county historian, they pulled out bricks and roof shingles, old glass, wood pieces and other artifacts on display. The other exhibit is about the Hoptown Hoppers baseball team with artifacts dating back to the early to mid 20th century to today.

More at Museums of Hopkinsville website