The Carolina Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina opened on March 7, 1927. It was designed by R.E. Hall as a pseudo-atmospheric theater. The interior design was made to resemble a Spanish patio, but unlike a typical atmospheric theatre with its dome ceiling painted like the night’s sky, the Carolina has a coffered ceiling with murals on the side walls depicting a Mediterranean sky. The 1,800 seat theater was part of the Publix Theatres Corporation, which later became Paramount. Publix’s motto was “One of The Publix Theatres,” meaning that each of their theaters were held to a very high standard. It was built for $600,000, or around $8,276,000 when adjusted for inflation.
In 1938 the theater was updated with new projectors, sound equipment and larger seats. As part of the renovation the original murals were replaced with new ones on acoustic tiles. The new acoustic tiles helped with film sound clarity, since the theater was built before “talkies” were the norm. It underwent another renovation in December 1961 when it became a Cinerama Theatre. Cinerama was a widescreen projection system that involved using three synchronized 35mm projectors on a very wide, curved screen. Films shown in Cinerama Theaters had programs, assigned seating, and encouraged people to dress up to see the show.
The Carolina closed on November 27, 1978 after a showing of “The Fist of Fury,” starring Bruce Lee. Almost two years later on November 13, 1980 a fire was started in the stage area. Luckily, the fire curtain was still intact and saved the auditorium from being damaged. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission designated the Carolina a historic landmark in September 1982. During the years the theater was dormant there were a few restoration proposals. One such plan was City Fair, a project that would have converted the theater into a performing arts center with conference space in between shows. The City Fair project was announced in May 1987, and work began on the theater a few months later. The developers petitioned the city to delist the theater from the national historic register because the steel beams for the restaurant portion of the complex would not fit through the lobby, so they needed it to be demolished. The city agreed and the lobby was demolished in 1988. A few months later the project came to a halt when the developers ran out of money.
In April 2013, the city of Charlotte sold the theater to the Foundation for the Carolinas for $1. The Foundation for the Carolinas (FFTC), a charitable foundation located in North Carolina whose headquarters is located adjacent to the theater, intends to renovate the theater and use it as a performing arts center. In October 2014 the Belk Family gave FFTC an $8 million dollar gift to go to the restoration of the theater. In honor of that gift the complex will named Belk Place and the theater will be known as the Carolina Theatre at Belk Place. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2017 with the theater currently slated to reopen in late 2018.
Originally known as the Alician Court Theatre, the Fox Theatre in Fullerton, California opened on May 28, 1925. Raymond Kennedy of the Meyer & Holler Architectural firm was commissioned by C. Stanley Chapman to design the theater. Meyer & Holler are also known for designing Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The 1,095 seat Fox was designed in the Italian Renaissance architectural style and had six large California-themed murals – painted by Anthony Heinsbergen – on the auditorium walls. It cost $300,000 to build the theater in 1925, which is $4,082,000 when adjusted for inflation. The complex also included retail spaces, one of which was originally occupied by a tea room run by Alice Chapman, the owner’s wife.
Like most theaters at the time, the Fox was built to be a vaudeville and silent movie theater. The Fox opened with a showing of Luna-cy!, an early 3D film, and Dick Turpin starring Tom Mix as the feature presentation.Julius Johnson accompanied the films on the Marr and Colton Concert Organ, Conductor Bayard Fallas led the orchestra and J. Charles Thamer served as the Master of Ceremonies.
Four years later in 1929, “talkies,” or motion pictures with sound, were becoming more and more prevalent. New sound equipment was installed for $35,000 to allow the theater to show Movietone News, Photophone and Vitaphone, which were the three major types of talking films at the time. On February 17, 1929, Give and Take, starring Jean Hersholt and George Sidney, was the first talking motion picture shown at the Fox. The following year even more upgrades were installed including a larger screen, more new sound equipment and a new marquee. Doughboys, starring Buster Keaton, was shown at the grand reopening in 1929.
The Fox went through a number of name changes through the years. It opened as the Alician Court Theatre, then became the Mission Court Theatre, Universal Mission Court Theatre, Fox Mission Theatre and finally the Fox Fullerton Theatre, which it remains today. A number of celebrities made personal appearances at the Fox to promote their films, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Janet Gaynor, Dolores Del Rio, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Jayne Mansfield. The Fox was modernized again in 1955 with the installation of a Cinemascope screen. The Cinemascope screen ran from wall-to-wall, and some of the decorative plasterwork surrounding the stage had to be removed to accommodate it. In 1962, the National General Corporation took over the theater, and had the murals in the auditorium painted over.
After a showing of Angel Heartstarring Mickey Rourke, The Fox closed in 1987 and remained dark for almost twenty years. It was scheduled to be demolished in 2004 to make way for a five-storey apartment building, but was saved by the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation (FHTF), which was formed in 2001 to acquire and restore the theater. They officially took ownership in 2005, and the following year helped add the theater to the National Register of Historic Places. The city of Fullerton started to show films in the theater’s back parking lot in 2005 in an effort to help raise funds for the restoration. In 2015, Evergreene Architectural Arts, an Award-Winning Decoration & Restoration firm, replicated the original design elements on the auditorium ceiling as part of the restoration efforts.* At the same time, the “FOX FULLERTON” sign, which was removed for restoration in 2013, was reinstalled. The FHTF held a 90th birthday party for the the theater in May 2015 to unveil the restored ceiling and the reinstalled sign. In February 2016, a coffee shop opened in one of the refurbished retail spaces. The monthly rent from the shop will go towards the building’s restoration which is estimated to cost $26 million dollars, and $14 million has been spent as of 2016.
*These photographs were taken before the restoration of the auditorium ceiling.
The Colonial Theatre in Augusta, Maine opened in 1913 and was designed by architect Harry S. Coombs, who was known for designing many local libraries. In 1926 the theater was damaged by a fire, and much of the auditorium had to be rebuilt. The owners took advantage of this and expanded the size of the theater. Originally the 1,240 seat theater showed silent films, and had an orchestra pit directly in front of the stage so music could accompany the films, but this was covered over as silent films gave way to “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.
During World War II, bond drives were held at theaters across the country where you could only gain admission by purchasing a war bond, which were certificates issued by the government to help finance military expenses, and the Colonial Theatre was no exception. At one bond drive held at the Colonial, actress and singer Dorothy Lamour made an appearance to help drive bond sales.
The theater closed in the late 1960s due to declining ticket sales. Mothballed and only used for storage, the building’s roof began to deteriorate. Without regular maintenance, water began to leak into the building and eventually causing three large holes in the wooden auditorium floor.
Colonial Theatre, Inc. was founded in 1995 with the purpose of buying and restoring the building. A number of developers expressed an interest in rehabilitating the theater, but no plan worked out and the building continued to deteriorate. In 2009, Colonial Theatre, Inc. began the process of getting the theater listed on the National Register of Historic Places as that status would offer some protection and tax breaks if the theater was restored. Five years later, they succeeded and the theater was listed in the summer of 2014. The theater is open for tours on Saturday mornings during the spring, summer and fall months.
The Studebaker is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.
Located in the Fine Arts Building in the Historic Michigan Boulevard District of Chicago, the Studebaker Theatre as it is today opened in September 1917. Built between 1885 and 1887, the building was commissioned by the Studebaker Company and designed by architect Solon S. Beman. The part of the building that would eventually become the theater was used as a showroom from 1887 until 1898 when the Studebaker Company moved to a new building on South Wabash Street.
Renamed the Fine Arts Building, it eventually became known as the first art colony in Chicago. Three new stories were added to the building for artist studios and offices. In 1898 the showroom was converted into two music halls; Studebaker Hall which could seat 1500 people and the smaller University Hall which could seat 700. The upper floors attracted some notable tenants during this time including; Frank Lloyd Wright, L. Frank Baum and organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Chicago Women’s Club.
For the first twenty years Studebaker Hall was used for plays, opera and musical acts. Klaw & Erlanger, the theatrical production company that was responsible for the Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903, ran the hall for a time beginning in August of 1913. Four years later the Shubert Organization took over the hall, and together with Klaw & Erlanger, converted it into an actual theater. The only part that was untouched during the conversion was the ceiling. Samuel Insull, a British-born American businessman, took over the theater in 1927, but was forced to give it up two years later when the stock market crash caused the collapse of his business empire.
The theater went through many different uses over the years including a Church from 1944 to 1950, and a studio for NBC from Feb 1950 – 1955. DuMont Television Network’s Cavalcade of Stars, one of the first live television shows, was filmed at theater during that time. The Studebaker returned to its theatrical roots in 1956, but was only used occasionally until it closed in 1982.
In December 1982, the M&R Amusement Company converted the Studebaker and the former University Hall, now known as the World Playhouse into a multiplex. The Studebaker auditorium became the 1200 seat Theatre 1 and the Studebaker stage was closed off to create the 240 seat Theatre 3. The Playhouse auditorium became the 550 seat Theatre 2, and its stage became the 158 seat Theatre 4. At first the new multiplex mainly showed art and independent films, but M&R sold their theater chain to Loews in 1988 it switched to playing mostly Hollywood films.
The Fox Theatre in Fullerton, CA opened in 1925. Designed by Raymond M. Kennedy, it was a sister theater to the Egyptian, and Chinese Theatres. The Fox closed in 1987, and was scheduled for demolition until a campaign to restore the building was launched in 2000.
Hi Everyone – I’m on another road trip to photograph America’s abandoned theaters. This time I’m traveling up the west coast of the United States. Keep checking back over the next week for more updates!
The UC Theatre originally opened in 1917 in Berkeley, California. It closed in March 2001, and was designated a landmark the following year. Plans are underway to turn the theater in to a live music venue. For more information check out their website and facebook pages.