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Tennessee Theatre launches campaign to refurbish iconic blade sign, marquee

April 19, 2016

Theater to host open house April 30 to kick off project

More than a decade after the creation of the new blade sign and marquee, the Tennessee Theatre is launching a fundraising campaign to refurbish the iconic sign and replace the lighting technology with brighter, energy-efficient bulbs.

“The Tennessee Theatre is one of the most photographed landmarks in the state and holds an emotional attachment for East Tennesseans as a symbol of our region,” Tennessee Theatre Executive Director Becky Hancock said. “As part of our commitment to ensuring the theater remains vibrant and protecting the community’s investment of the grand restoration more than 11 years ago, it is time for us to update the technology for the sign and complete necessary maintenance. We are asking the community for support as we undertake this important project.”

Individuals can support the Tennessee Theatre Marquee Campaign in the following ways:

  • Buy a Bulb/Buy a Letter – Sponsorship of an individual lightbulb is $25. There are 5,700 lightbulbs in the marquee. Each letter of the vertical sign also is available for a premium sponsorship of $1,000. The “T” can be sponsored for $2,000. Donors will be listed on the Tennessee Theatre website.
  • Tennessee Theatre Blade Sign Ornament – A hand-blown ornament designed and handcrafted by artisans in Poland is available for purchase. Proceeds from the sale of each $45 ornament support the campaign.
  • Marquee Portrait Prints from Liz-Beth & Co. – Artist Donna Talerico painted an oil portrait of the Tennessee Theatre marquee. Canvas prints are being sold at Liz-Beth & Co. gallery and the Tennessee Theatre gift shop and online store for $300. High-quality paper prints are $95. The campaign receives 50 percent of proceeds.

As part of the campaign kickoff, the Tennessee Theatre will host a free open house Saturday, April 30, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with backstage tours and Mighty Wurlitzer organ music. Attendees can purchase merchandise, bulbs and letters to support the campaign and learn more about the history of the iconic blade sign and marquee on Gay Street.

Pattison Sign Group is a leading sponsor of the sign refurbishment with an in-kind donation commitment to complete the project at cost. Headquartered in Knoxville, Pattison Sign Group is one of the world’s largest sign and visual communication companies and employs several of the original creators of the blade sign during the 2005 restoration.

“At Pattison Sign Group, we support the communities where our employees live and work, and we are pleased to make this investment in Knoxville’s grand entertainment palace,” said Paul Martin, national sales director for Pattison Sign Group. “Through this project, we will be able to upgrade the technology to make the Gay Street sign brighter and more efficient for the enjoyment of future generations of Knoxvillians.”

The refurbished sign will include upgraded LED lighting for greater energy efficiency. These technology improvements will allow the Tennessee Theatre to take advantage of energy credits for the project through the Tennessee Valley Authority. The total cost of the refurbishment and upgrade will be approximately $150,000.

In order to refurbish the sign, the blade sign will be removed from the Burwell Building in mid-summer. The blade sign will be transported to a warehouse for maintenance and will be replaced on Gay Street in six to eight weeks after its removal.

The current Tennessee Theatre blade sign and marquee were created during the $28 million restoration in 2005 as a modernized replica of the original blade sign and marquee from the theater’s 1928 opening. The original Tennessee Theatre blade sign hung on the Burwell Building from 1928 until 1956, when the blade sign was removed and the marquee received a mid-century update.

To support the marquee campaign, visit

About the Tennessee Theatre

Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, the Tennessee Theatre opened in 1928 as a movie palace. The Tennessee Theatre is the Official State Theatre of Tennessee and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Tennessee Theatre is the region’s leading performing arts center with advanced technology, staging and lighting that draws top entertainment to the Knoxville area. For more information, visit