The Carolina Theater
The Carolina Theater as it is now
Carolina Theater in 1946
Carolina Theater, interior, 1946
Click here to view Charlotte Observer
Article on the Old Carolina Theatre
This report was written on Sept. 1, 1982. An addendum written on April
1, 2000 follows.
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the
Old Carolina Theater Building is located at 224-232 N. Tryon St. in
2. Name, address and telephone number of the present owner and
occupant of the property:
The present owner of the property is:
John H. Cutter, et. al.
204 Latta Arcade
Charlotte, N.C., 28202
(Bryant W. Cutter Real Estate)
The only present occupant of the property is: Ace Shoe Repair
230 N. Tryon St.
3. Representative photographs of the property: This report
contains representative photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting the location of the property: This report
contains a map which depicts the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent
deed to this property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 3514 at
Page 215. The Tax Parcel Number of the property is 080-011-01.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property:
The Carolina Theater opened on March 7, 1927, when Warren Ervin, who managed
the Carolina for the Publix Theaters Corporation, welcomed the large
audience that came to see "A Kiss In A Taxi," starring the "ever popular"
Bebe Daniels. 1 The Carolina also presented Miss Fae Wilcox at
the Wurtlitzer Organ, accompanying a program of novelty slides. 2
"The beautiful organ loft gives the appearance of one of the castles of old
times," the Charlotte Observer proclaimed. 3 Features ran
for only three days, and on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the B. F.
Keith Vaudeville Troupe performed on the stage. 4
During the 1920's, lavish cinema palaces were constructed throughout the
United States. 5 "We sell tickets to theaters, not movies," said
Marcus Loew, head of the Loew's chain. 6 Architects for these
movie houses were free to borrow from various historical motifs and to
employ ostentatious ornamentation, because their mandate was to provide an
opera house for the masses. "No kings or emperors have ever wandered through
more luxurious surroundings. In a sense, those theaters are a social safety
valve in that the public can partake of the same luxuries as the rich, and
use them to the same full extent, " one designer explained. 7 The
architects of the Carolina Theater were New Yorker R. E. Hall and
C. C. Hook of Charlotte. 8
A native of Wheeling, W. Va., and graduate of Washington University,
Charles Christian Hook (1870-1938) had moved to Charlotte in 1891 to teach
in the Charlotte Public Schools and had established his architectural
practice a year later, when Edward Dilworth Latta, president of the
Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company, had hired him to design houses
Dilworth, Charlotte's first streetcar suburb. 9 From these
modest beginnings, Hook went on to establish a distinguished professional
reputation as a leading architect of the two Carolinas. Among the imposing
edifices in Charlotte that Hook designed was the Academy of Music Building
on S. Tryon St., a turn-of-the-century opera house. 10
Consequently, it was logical that Publix Theaters, which also managed the
Imperial and the Alhambra Theaters in Charlotte, would call upon Hook's
expertise when planning the Carolina. 11 The J. A. Jones
Construction Company began building the lavish movie palace in March 1926.12
Publix Theaters selected architectural styles that it deemed appropriate
for the different regions of the country. Accordingly, the Carolina, a
Southern theater, emphasized Mediterranean motifs. "All the best in art and
architecture from the various countries bordering on this sea of famed blue
are combined in a harmonious assemble," the Charlotte Observer
explained. 13 Wrought-iron chandeliers, exterior balconies, and
ticket booth suggested the Spanish Renaissance, as did the decorative tile
on the roof and on the floor of the lobby. The overall decor of the lobby
reminded one of a Venetian palace. 14 Draperies were imported
from France. 15 "For sheer splendor and luxury it is a creation
that will provoke admiration throughout the theatrical world," a reporter
predicted when writing about the impact of the completion of the Carolina.
The Piedmont Realty and Development Company, headed by John Hastings
Cutter (1878-1958), owned the Carolina Theater. A native of Barnesville,
Ga., Cutter had come to Charlotte in 1905 and had entered the textile and
cotton exchange business. Subsequently, he became active in commercial real
estate, including the Citizens Hotel Company, which erected the Hotel
Charlotte on W. Trade. 17 Cutter also made major contributions to
charitable and religious institutions. He was a founder of the Charlotte
Community Chest, a member of the board at Old St. Peter's Hospital, and a
devoted communicant at St. Peter's Episcopal Church. 18 The
Carolina Theater underwent a major renovation in 1961, when it became the
Carolinas home of Cinerama. Indeed, the original ornamentation inside the
building was sacrificed to a "modern, suburban" look; and the projection
booth was moved to the main floor. 19 The last hurrah for the
Carolina came in the mid 1960s. "The Sound of Music" played to 398,201
people during its run there from March 31, 1965, until October 4, 1966.
20 On November 17, 1965, Joseph M. Sugar, vice president of 20th
Century Fox, presented a certificate to theater manager Kermit High,
celebrating that the Carolina was the first theater to show "The Sound of
Music" to more people than lived in the community in which the theater was
located. 21 To say the least, the once-proud Carolina Theater has
fallen on hard times in recent years. It outlasted all other uptown movie
houses, but even the Carolina could not overcome the changing lifestyle of
middle class Charlotteans. It closed on November 27, 1978, after showing
"The Fist," starring Bruce Lee. 22 Fire struck the rear of the
building on November 13, 1980. 23 The offices on the second
floor, which once housed physicians and dentists, are now vacant; and only
one store remains at street level. The future of this grand old movie palace
is uncertain at best. 24
1 Charlotte Observer, "Carolina Theater Section" (March
6, 1927), pp. 1,2, & 11.
2 Charlotte Observer (March 5, 1927), p. 14.
3 Charlotte Observer, "Carolina Theater Section" (March
6, 1927), p. 2.
4 Ibid., p. 10.
5 For a comprehensive overview of movie theater architecture,
see Ben M. Hall, The Best Remaining Seats: The Story Of The Golden Age Of
The Movie Palace (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York, 1961), and David
Naylor, American Picture Palaces: The Architecture Of Fantasy (Van
Nostrand Reinhold, New York, Cincinnati, Toronto, London, Melbourne, 1981).
6 Naylor, p. 11.
7 Ibid., p. 31.
8 Charlotte News (March 22, 1926), p. 5A. Building
Permit #6752 (Charlotte Building Inspection Department).
9 Charlotte News (May 20, 1891), p. 1. Charlotte
News (September 17, 1938), p. 12.
10 Charlotte Observer (September 8, 1902), p. 5. The
architectural firm of Hook and Sawyer designed the Charlotte Academy of
11 Charlotte Observer (March 5, 1927), p. 14.
12 Building Permit #6752 (Charlotte Building Inspection
13 Charlotte Observer "Carolina Theater Section" (March
6, 1927), p. 10.
15 Ibid., p. 6.
16 Ibid., p. 10.
17 John Hastings Cutter's Certificate of Death (Mecklenburg
County Public Health Department). Charlotte News (July 11, 1958),
Sec. 2, p. 1.
18 Charlotte Observer (July 11, 1958), Sec. B., p. 1.
This article contains a photograph of John Hastings Cutter.
19 "Carolina Theater" (A Folder in the Vertical Files of the
Carolina Room of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library.
23 Charlotte Observer (November 14, 1980), p. 1-A.
24 Miller's Official Charlotte, N.C. City Directory
(Miller Press, Asheville, N.C., Vol. XXX, 1930), p. 1232.
7. A brief statement of the architectural significance of the
property: This report contains a brief statement of the architectural
significance of the property prepared by Thomas Hanchett, architectural
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4:
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture,
and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property
known as the Old Carolina Theater Building does possess special historic
significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its
judgment on the following considerations: 1) it is the only extant
building in Charlotte-Mecklenburg which once served as a lavish movie
palace; 2) it was designed by the architectural firm of Hook and Sawyer,
and C. C. Hook was an architect of enormous importance in this community;
3) J. H. Cutter, the owner of the property, was an important figure in
business and civic affairs in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling
and/or association: The Commission judges that the exterior of the Old
Carolina Theater Building does retain its integrity; also, the Commission
judges that the property continues to make an important contribution to
the N. Tryon St. streetscape.
9. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal: The Commission is aware that
designation would allow the owner to apply for an automatic deferral of 50%
of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the property which becomes
"historic property." The current Ad Valorem tax appraisal of the .416 acres
of land is $181,350. The current Ad Valorem tax appraisal of the building is
$30,880. The total Ad Valorem tax appraisal is $212,230. The property is
Ben M. Hall, The Best Remaining Seats: The Story Of The Golden Age
Of The Movie Palace (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York, 1961).
Miller's Official Charlotte, N.C. City Directory (Miller Press,
Asheville, N.C., Vol. XXX, 1930).
David Naylor, American Picture Palaces: The Architecture Of Fantasy
(Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, Cincinnati, Toronto, London, Melbourne,
Records of the Charlotte, N.C., Building Inspection Department.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Public Health Department.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Tax Office.
Vertical Files in the Carolinas Room of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public
Date of the Preparation of this Report: September 1, 1982
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill, Director
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
3500 Shamrock Dr.
Charlotte, N.C. 28215
by Thomas W. Hanchett
The 1927 Carolina Theater is a good example of an early twentieth century
"movie palace", the last surviving theater in downtown Charlotte, North
Carolina. The building's plan combines a restrained Classical Revival
decorated theater with rental retail and office space along the two street
fronts. The exterior makes use of four separate architectural styles,
applied like stage sets to create the illusion that the structure is four
The Carolina Theater is located on North Tryon Street, the city's main
street, at the corner of Sixth Street. The building consists of two-story
block containing three major components. On Tryon Street is a two-story
block containing the theater lobby and large retail spaces on the ground
floor, with office space above. Behind it is a taller brick mass containing
the theater seating, with three tiny storefronts nestled into the Sixth
Street side. At the back is the tallest unit, the stage house which holds
the stage and its paraphernalia.
The block fronting on Tryon Street has the most architecturally elaborate
exterior. It is divided into three distinct units, each with its own
architectural theme. At the street corner is the first "building with a
stuccoed exterior of Spanish origin, a style chosen by architects R. E. Hall
and C.C. Hook because it supposedly reflected the theater's Southern
location. Its curved-top corner parapets, tile false roof with sculpted
eaves of stucco, pilasters, and arched windows with one remaining false
balcony of iron are all hallmarks of the Spanish Colonial style.
The second "building" of the front is the smallest, but the most
opulently decorated because it is the theater entrance. It is faced with
carved stone and has a glass and steel cantilevered marquee. The
architectural style is hard to pin down, for it borrows the Spanish tile
roof of the first "building" and also incorporates a Classically inspired
modillion cornice and oversized swag molding. The primary architectural
influence, however, can be identified as Art Nouveau, because of the curved
cornice and lintels, the curving wooden tracery in the transoms above the
second floor windows, and the generally playful feeling of the oversized
stone ornament. Art Nouveau was just emerging as the new style for
storefronts at the end of the 1920s when the Carolina Theater was
constructed, but never reached widespread popularity due to the Depression's
curtailment of building activity.
The third "building" is faced with stone and brick in what architectural
historian Marcus Whiffen has termed the Jacobethan style. It combines motifs
from the Jacobean and Elizabethan eras in England, probably chosen by Hall
and Hook for its association with Shakespeare. Particularly distinctive are
the flat arched windows framed by alternating bands of brick and stone. The
first floor shopfront has been altered over the years: in fact, none of the
original Tryon Street shopfronts survive today.
On the Sixth Street side of the theater the exteriors of the seating
block and the stage house have been treated as a single architectural unit,
the fourth "building". Its red brick massing conveys a robust functionalism,
with hints of Classical decoration. At either end of this facade two story
office/exit units pop out of the main mass of the building, joined by a
one-story row of small stores. Above these, a steel stairway from the
theater balcony cascades down the side of the building. Second floor windows
in the office units have blind brick arches with Classically inspired
keystones, springers, and sills of concrete, and there is a concrete
medallion over each storefront. The simple wooden shopfronts survive much as
they were when the theater was built.
One entered the theater itself from Tryon Street through the long, narrow
lobby, which was decorated in the Venetian style according to contemporary
newspaper accounts. The body of the theater, with its large balcony, had
Classical Revival pilasters and moldings of plaster. This may be the mark of
architect C.C. Hook, a local champion of the Classical and Colonial
Revivals. Old photos indicate the theater was quite grand, though
considerably more dignified than the gaudy opulence of some of the era's
best known "movie palaces", like the Fox Theater in Atlanta.
There has been little change in the spatial configuration of the lobby
and theater over the years, but a significant amount of ornament was
destroyed in a 1960s remodeling. The proscenium arch remains but the
pilasters that visually supported it were sacrificed to a wider movie
screen. According to Bruce Keith, of David Furman Architects, who has been
inside recently, the low relief plasterwork remains largely intact, and
there are enough remnants of the larger pieces to accurately recreate them
Addendum to the Survey and Research Report on the Carolina Theater
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the
Carolina Theater is located at 222 North Tryon Street in Charlotte, North
2. Name and address of the present owner of the property:
City of Charlotte
600 East Fourth Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
3. Representative photographs of the property: This addendum
contains representative photographs of the property.
4. Maps depicting the location of the property: This addendum
contains a map depicting the location of the property.
5. Current deed book reference: The most recent deed to the
property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 6303, page 619. The tax
parcel number for the property is 080-011-10.
6. A brief architectural description of the property: This
addendum contains an architectural description of the building's interior.
7. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal: The current total Ad Valorem tax
appraisal of the .416 acres of land and the building is $2,358,510.00.
8. Date of Preparation of this Addendum: April 1, 2000
9. Prepared by:Emily Ramsey
745 Georgia Trail
Lincolnton, NC 28092
The Carolina Theater, completed in 1927, is the last remaining "movie
palace" in center city Charlotte. The theater, which opened as a Publix
Theater franchise for vaudeville entertainment and silent movies, was
designed by R. E. Hall and Charlotte architect C. C. Hook as an "atmospheric
theater." Hall and Hook, under direction of Publix Theaters, used a variety
of Mediterranean and Spanish motifs to reflect the theater's Southern
location. In its heyday, the Carolina Theater was host to prestigious stars
such as Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Guy Lombardo and Ethel Barrymore; "Gone
With the Wind" premiered in the Carolinas at the Carolina Theater, and in
the mid-1960s, over 398, 201 people (more than the entire population of
Charlotte) flocked to the Carolina to see "The Sound of Music" on the only
Cinerama screen in the Carolinas. The theater, which showed its last movie (
"The Fist", starring Bruce Lee) on November 27, 1978, is now owned by the
City of Charlotte. The Carolina Theater Preservation Society, a non-profit
corporation formed in 1997, is currently leading efforts to restore the
theater, which is presently unoccupied.
Original Condition of the Theater
The interior of the theater is, despite its deterioration, representative
of the extravagance of cinemas constructed during the 1920s across the
United States. Originally, moviegoers entered from North Tryon Street into a
long, narrow lobby, which, according to 1927 newspaper accounts, was
designed to "suggest a Venetian palace." The lobby has since been
demolished, physically separating the remaining facade from the theater
itself. Otherwise, the spatial configuration of the theater has remained
unchanged. From a promenade beyond the entrance lobby doors, one can walk
down to the orchestra level or take one of two staircases leading up to a
second lobby on the mezzanine level. Stairs continue upward to access the
mezzanine and balcony, which originally accommodated 550 seats. The main
level of the theater, the orchestra level, slopes down towards the imposing
stage, which rises three stories and dominates the space.
The original design for the interior of the theater was lavish and
intricately detailed, intended to give the overall effect of a Mediterranean
palace and formal garden. The orchestra level of the theater formed the
principal seating area, with 900 seats stretching from the promenade to the
stage. The balcony, visually supported by gargolyed brackets, swept over the
back of the orchestra level, creating a low ceiling lined with small,
twinkling "star" lights. An orchestra pit fronted the stage. The backstage
area included several upstairs and downstairs dressing rooms.
The mezzanine lobby was the most elaborate of the theater's three
lobbies. The lobby featured low, exposed ceiling beams with geometric
patterns and Art Deco style stenciling in shades of gold, green, and pink.
Textured stucco walls provided a background for green and red tiled
baseboards and intricate plaster rosettes and moldings. Each door in the
lobby was also crowned with plaster detailing. The focal point of the
mezzanine lobby was a decorative recessed arch framing a marble statue and
pedestal, which sat on a stepped tiled base. A tiled cigar room for men and
a women's rest room opened off of the mezzanine lobby.
The mezzanine and balcony levels, located directly above the mezzanine
lobby, afforded the best view of the main theater space itself. The stage,
framed by a proscenium arch and pilasters decorated in a colorful Spanish
motif, formed the center of the space, and was flanked by two equally
impressive organ chambers, which housed the pipes of the theater's 8-rank
Wurlitzer organ. The organ chambers were designed to resemble romantic
window balconies ñ both were topped with an elaborately decorated arch
supported by spiraling columns and framed at the bottom by a balustrade.
Curtains completed the illusion and hid the bulky pipes from the audience's
view. Beyond the organ chambers, flanking the mezzanine, were intricately
painted murals depicting a Mediterranean garden of dark painted cypress
trees and flowering plants. When illuminated with blue lighting projected
from the ceiling, these murals transformed the Carolina Theater into an
outdoor pavilion. Each mural was bordered by projecting ionic pilasters;
stuffed pigeons and peacocks perched from the balustrades that framed the
murals closest to the stage. "Garlands of flowers, clambering vines, and
masses of tropical foliages" at the base of each mural completed the outdoor
Alterations and Current Condition of the Theater
The earliest alterations of the original interior came only a few years
after the Carolina Theater opened. During its first years, the Carolina
Theater was used mainly for vaudeville acts and silent movies. In the 1930s,
the theater began showing movies with sound. To improve the acoustics, the
walls of the theater were covered with soundboard. New murals with a
slightly different design were painted on top of the soundboard that covered
the original murals. Otherwise, the theater remained relatively unchanged
until 1961, when a $250,000 "modernization" of the theater, including the
installation of a Cinerama screen, began. While this made the Carolina
Theater the only Cinerama theater in North Carolina or South Carolina, it
also damaged much of the original interior. To accommodate the new movie
screen, which was much wider than the stage itself, the pilasters around the
stage were removed. The projecting capitals of the ionic pilasters flanking
the theater's murals were removed so that heavy curtains could be hung to
cover the walls completely. A large portion of the mezzanine was carved out
to make room for the three projectors necessary for showing Cinerama
productions. The theater's original projector room, suspended above the rear
of the balcony, still remains. In the luxurious mezzanine lobby, the
original stucco wall treatment was covered by a smooth white plaster. The
stairs leading down to the promenade were widened, and sections of the
wrought iron railing were replaced with new railing with a modern, geometric
shape. The wrought iron chandeliers above the balcony were replaced with
sleek, modern light fixtures. Much of the original high relief plaster
detailing that had covered the theater was removed.
After the Carolina Theater closed in 1978, neglect and vandalism caused
further deterioration of the original elements of the theater's interior. A
fire in 1982 badly damaged most of the stage, which was later rebuilt four
feet higher than the original when developers considered incorporating the
theater into City Fair. The effort to extinguish the fire dumped copious
amounts of water into the theater ñ its effects can be seen most clearly on
the soundboard murals.
Much of the originally opulent interior of the Carolina Theater is now
gone. The floors, once covered with intricate tiled designs and plush
carpets, are now bare concrete. None of the theater's seats remain. The
detailed scenes in plaster above the organ chamber and the gargoyled
brackets under the balcony are gone, and crude columns have been placed
beneath the balcony to provide structural support. However, important
details remain, and remnants of what used to be abound. The stage's
proscenium arch, the organ chambers and balustrades, the soundboard murals
(still impressive even with water-damage), and the original projection booth
are all still intact. Parts of the textured stucco walls, stenciled ceiling
beams, and tiled baseboards in the mezzanine lobby have been uncovered, and
may possibly be restored completely. The outlines of the plaster rosettes,
door crownings, and the recessed arch centerpiece of the mezzanine lobby are
clearly visible, and could be recreated. The ionic pilasters framing the
murals are still intact, though their capitals were damaged in the 1961
remodeling. The ceiling of the theater remains largely as it was in 1927,
suffering mainly surface damage. Well-preserved plaster detailing remains on
the front of the mezzanine and balcony, and much of the low relief plaster
molding remains, particularly on the ceiling.
1 The Charlotte Observer. "Carolina Theater Places
Charlotte in High Class As Amusement House Center" (March 6, 1927) p.10.
2 A small lobby and men's restroom was located in the
3 The Charlotte Observer, "Carolina Theater Places
Charlotte in High Class. . ." p. 10.
5 The Charlotte Observer. "Cinerama Coming To Carolina
Theater: Carolina's First Due Dec. 1" (November 3, 1961). The Cinerama
projected movies onto a screen with an arc of 146 degrees, created almost a
complete semicircle. This type of movie screen was supposed to make the
viewer feel more involved in what was on the screen.