Charlotte's grandest movie palace, the 900-seat Carolina Theatre opened on North Tryon Street and showed its first film on March 7, 1927. The facade was designed by local architect C. C. Hook, and the lavish interior was created by New York theater designer R. E. Hall and decorated to resemble a Spanish patio overlooking the azure skies of the Mediterranean. The theater was built for Paramount's Publix Theatre chain, which established some of the most extravagant cinema houses of the 1920s. Movie palaces were constructed to provide "an opera house for the masses," and often employed exaggerated ornamentation based on historical motifs. "We sell tickets to theaters, not movies," said Marcus Loew, head of the Loew's theater chain. One of the Carolina's most impressive features was its eight-rank Wurlitzer Organ, which sat in the center floor and provided accompaniment for silent films. Seen here during the premier of a Buster Keaton film in 1931, the Carolina was Charlotte's first air-conditioned public building, and the first racially integrated theater in the city.
This photo from 1928 shows the lavish interior and ornamentation of the Carolina, which still exists hidden from most Charlotteans.
The theater was the only venue in the Carolina's to premiere Gone with the Wind in 1939, and entertainers such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope graced its stage for concerts, musicals, and roadshows. The Carolina continued to entertain Charlotte's movie-going crowds through the 1950's, when the popularity of television had a dramatic impact on the attendance of the grand movie palaces. It underwent a major renovation to compete with the new medium in 1961, and became a Cinerama theater with three synchronized projectors and a curved screen. The theater did score one more huge success in 1965, when it had a record-breaking 79-week run of The Sound of Music. The grand Carolina closed in November 1978, and the marquee and lobby area were demolished in the 1980s. The site is currently occupied by public green-space and sculpture garden, constructed by the city for the Democratic Convention held in September 2012. Now though, after laying dormant for nearly four decades, the Foundation for the Carolinas is redeveloping the space, renaming it Carolina Theatre at Belk Place. Once reopened, the theater will serve as a community meeting space and host arts programs, including movies and music performances. To read more about the project, including the 250-room InterContinental hotel that will rise in a new tower atop the theater’s lobby, click here.
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Information taken from:
Charlotte Then and Now, Brandon Lunsford, 2013.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass