The only remaining historic theater in this section of the state, the Carolina Theatre has been well-preserved and serves as a community center and center for the performing arts. Upon its creation in 1927, the building was dubbed “the showpiece of the Carolinas." Like many other downtown theaters throughout the United States, the building faced possible demolition as movie-goers began patronizing suburban metroplexes. However, the building was saved in the 1970s thanks to the half-million-dollar campaign led by the United Arts Council of Greensboro.
Backstory and Context
The first show at the Carolina Theatre opened on Halloween night in 1927. The lavish and opulent building held 2,200 seats and was one of the first commercial buildings in the state to have air conditioning. The mayor, along with other notable Carolinian figures, were in attendance. The remarkable furnishings, decor, and architectural features were celebrated, along with the entertainment process itself.
The first programs were typical Vaudeville performances, including live performances, such as the Carolina Theatre Orchestra, audience sing-alongs, silent films, films accompanied by the theater organ, an impressive Robert Morton edition, and the Carolina News newsreel. The Vaudeville act was dropped following the development of sound films. The first sound film shown was Glorious Betsy, followed by The Jazz Singer.
The theater was built to include a segregated balcony and mezzanine. A back doorway was installed for Black patrons, who were only allowed to sit in the balcony. White patrons entered through the main doors, and were ushered to seats in the front of the building. The building continued to remain segregated until May of 1963. In coordination with the North Carolina A&T University student Civil Rights protests, students blocked the theater entrance after they were refused admission to the main portion of the theater.
In the 1970s, the building was slated for demolition following a decline in attendance and structural integrity. The United Arts Council of Greensboro raised half a million dollars to purchase the building. When the sale was complete, they were able to refurbish the theater. The Carolina Theatre reopened to the public in 1978 as a performing arts and community center. The building continues to fill this role today.