Why The Franklin Theatre is the “Center of the Universe”

Featured Image: The Franklin Theatre in 1949. Photo courtesy of the Williamson County Historical Society.

Located on Main Street in the heart of the downtown shopping district, the iconic Franklin Theatre undoubtedly is one of Middle Tennessee’s greatest historic treasures. Built in 1937, it quickly became known as the “Home of First Kisses” as thousands of Franklin residents flocked to the Art Deco-style building to see some of Hollywood’s finest films and perhaps fall in love in the process.

By 2007, though, Hollywood’s heyday was over, and the theater closed its doors. Determined to save the building and preserve its legacy, the non-profit Heritage Foundation bought the theater with the help of more than a thousand donors and, after three years and $8 million dollars worth of renovations, reopened the theater as a performing arts venue with a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system. Today, the theater is thriving, offering a wide range of exciting performances each season. 

The Franklin Theatre today.

“We do about 500 events a year,” Managing Director Eric Dilts explains. “About 90 to 100 are live concerts.” Add to that theatrical and dance performances, fashion shows, movie and video shoots, weddings, birthdays, and scores of movies, and as you can imagine, this theater stays busy. Yet compared to other venues around Middle Tennessee, the vibe here is decidedly cozy. “It’s really a 300-seat intimate listening room with the biggest names out there,” Dilts says.

That intimate feeling is shared by artists on the stage as well, and many who perform on that stage stand atop a medallion at centerstage with the letters COU on it. This stands for “Center of the Universe” and represents “those precious times when artists and audience connect so deeply that the world falls away, and the center of the universe is right here in Franklin.”

The “Center of the Universe” medallion on The Franklin Theatre stage.

Indeed, artists who’ve performed on this stage include Steve Martin, Kevin Bacon, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Keifer Sutherland, Brad Paisley, and many more—so many, in fact, that the walls of the hallway leading to the theater’s green room contain only a fraction of the theater’s photo collection of past performances. Employees plan to start adding framed photos to the walls of the lobby next year so that the public can enjoy them.

And this upcoming year, patrons can expect to see an even greater variety of musical events. “We are going to launch our own songwriter series,” Dilts says, “and we’re partnering with a publishing house on Music Row to bring A-list songwriters to The Franklin Theatre. Our first one is going to be January 26th.” The theater also is working on a plan to hold official watch parties for Nashville’s professional sports teams—a welcome addition for anyone who’s ever tried to find a seat to watch a popular game at a local bar or restaurant!

A classic Christmas movie showing at The Franklin Theatre is a favorite holiday tradition for many!

But while The Franklin Theatre’s live performances regularly draw sell-out crowds, movies remain at the heart of the theater’s event schedule. The Christmas lineup is so popular, in fact, that some movies sell out in July! Expect to see all your favorites on the big screen here, from It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas to Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Another popular addition to the theater’s film schedule is the Movie Gang series, offering an interactive twist to classic family films, like a display of live snakes from the Nashville Zoo for a showing of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or golden balloons cascading from the ceiling of the theater during the golden egg scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“Anyone can sell a ticket, but we like to offer experiences,” Dilts says. “We’re always trying to offer something different and unique that you can’t get anywhere else.” 

Check out The Franklin Theatre’s events calendar to see all it has to offer in the coming months. You’ll be amazed at the cinematic experiences and more that await you!