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In 1975, firefighters responded to a fire in the popcorn machine at the old Rogers Theater on Market Street. Photo from the Chattanooga News-Free Press contributed by ChattanoogaHistory.com.

"You can't shout fire in a crowded theater."

That's the textbook example of speech not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

This 1975 photo, from a box of color slides recently found at the Times Free Press offices on East 11th Street, appears to show just that scenario — fire at a crowded theater.

But, wait, there's more.

A news blurb in the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Sept. 13, 1975, notes that the Rogers Theater, once the biggest movie house in the city, was neither crowded nor engulfed in flames on the late-summer day this photo was made. The newspaper reported: "Fire in a popcorn machine at the Rogers Theater on Market Street at about 3 p.m. brought six fire companies to the scene. The theater was closed at the time, and there were no reported injuries or serious damage."

Employees told firefighters they were making popcorn inside the Rogers when a fire broke out in the popcorn machine, apparently stemming from a leak in a gas line. The incident was not found to be newsworthy enough for the newspaper to publish the photo, which was recently found along with other images in an office safe at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Nonetheless, by 1975 the Rogers Theaters' days were numbered. The last film advertised in the News-Free Press was "The Master Gunfighter" starring Tom Laughlin in October 1975.

Once considered one of the entertainment jewels of the South, the Rogers was demolished in 1980 on the downtown block between Market and Broad streets (bordered by M.L. King Boulevard and 10th Street) that now contains the EPB building. The city had purchased the property and awarded a bid for the demolition to the Fisher Wrecking Co. for $23,950.

ChattanoogaHistory.com

Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014,

ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available.

If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives, or original non-digital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.

The Rogers Theater opened to great fanfare in 1951 as the city's most expansive movie house with 1,257 cushioned seats and a screen measuring approximately 24 feet by 18 feet. For a nickel, customers could use a self-service hot butter machine to flavor their popcorn.

The theater, which spanned a city block, was built for $310,000, about the cost to buy a suburban home today. The first film shown there in 1951 was "Three Guys Named Mike," a romantic comedy starring Van Johnson and Jane Wyman, who some will remember as Ronald Reagan's first wife.

The theater was named for Emmett R. Rogers, a veteran Chattanooga theater man, who also served as manager for Chattanooga's Tivoli Theatre.

According to the newspaper reports in 1951, celebrities — or more likely their publicists — lavished congratulations on the owners of the new Rogers Theater, which showed first-run films for an average of three to six days. Notes arrived signed by Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Cecil B. DeMille and Ginger Rogers, among others.

Some of the newly found newspaper photos are viewable at ChattanoogaHistory.com and the "Remember When, Chattanooga?" public group page on Facebook.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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