Carolina Theater was built in the summer/fall of 1934 but was not officially in business until Christmas Eve of the same year opening as a live stage or motion picture theater. The structure had state of the art sound projectors with a seating capacity of 746, 460 on the main floor and 243 in the balcony with 43 seats available for black patrons. The theater also offered new air conditioning with two (2) 25 ton units new at this time. The structure was built by Carl V. Cline and then was leased to John F. Miller, President of Hickory Amusement Company until 1945. After the death of Carl Cline, his estate sold the property to family members forming Cline Realty which included several other properties, who, in turn leased the theater to Colonial Theaters of Valdese , NC around 1947.
There is a time and a place in our lives that hold precious memories. But this "place" is known only to a generation of people who experienced these moments in time. As if carved in stone, the memory of the past, for some, will forever be embedded in our minds and hearts. The experiences of this era can never be touched on again.
John Tate of Newton recalled his memories. Students who didn't participate in afternoon school sports found other ways to occupy their afternoon with Mr. Tate's favorite being an occasional stage show and Saturday night shows at the Carolina Theater. Mr. Tate continues.....shortly after the World War II, my wife, Gray, worked at a record shop between the Carolina Theater and the bowling alley, and remembers a number of the Western stars coming by to plug their records before appearing that night at the Center Theater.
The passing of time and the complexities of this would never lend to forgetting...........
"THE WALK". Kids of the late forties and the rock-and-roll groups of the fifties and sixties know of this walk. It was just a leisurely stroll to the box-office.
On starry Saturday and Sunday nights, hundreds of young boys and girls gathered along the sidewalk leading to the Carolina Theater. Romance was in the air. A ritual was about to take place. The event was both exciting and emotional. After all, it most likely took perhaps a week to prepare for this nightly outing. For a first-date couple, it would have more meaning than one could imagine.
Along the well-lighted street would be parked shiny and elegant cars, the chariots of the era. Classics like the '55 Ford Victoria and sleek '57 Chevrolet Impalas. Other models included Ford's Starliner, Galaxies and Chevy Camaros. A sharp and rare Studebaker Hawk, robed in white and gold was spotted. In the sixties, the ever-popular "Mustangs" were among the parade of automobiles. These cars belonged to the young male patrons coming for the evening's entertainment.
The line of couples reached from the box office, down past the Home and Garden Center , beyond John Setzer's Studio, and up the hill by the Petree Gulf #1 Tire Service Center , owned by Joe Petree Sr. They were made up of teenaged couples, mostly from the Hickory, New-Conover and Granite Falls high school student body, and throw in a college crowd or two. It would be an attractive display of "who's Who" along the sidewalk route. Nearing the ticket window, the opening of the doors would allow the aroma of popcorn to escape into the night air. Can we ever forget?
The ritual was......"After the boy would purchase the tickets, the couple would proceed to walk the line to the end, passing hundreds of other couples. This was in itself the newest and most revealing way to let everyone know who your new date was, be it boyfriend or girlfriend. Mostly it exposed, in public, who was with whom for the evening. It could also be a date so precious, it could remain in one's heart throughout a lifetime.
Meanwhile, along the street, the driver of the cruising car would be trying to spot his girlfriend, mainly to see who was with whom. The drive by would be the other means to an end, or beginning, of an adored friendship.
Back then, a night out with a date would cost about five dollars, $1.25 for gas, two tickets, one popcorn, and two drinks and still have enough left over for two to get a BBQ at the CB.
The history of the Carolina Theater would not be complete without naming the very longtime employee, Ms. Lacy Starnes of Hickory. Ms. Starnes worked in the box office for 64 years up until 1989. Lacy had a very friendly personality and had many repeat customers whom she knew by name sometimes working with several generations (mothers, daughters, granddaughters). You couldn't remember the Carolina without remembering Lacy in the box.
Kenneth Benfield was the CEO of this operation which was remodeled and made into a two screen theater in 1974. The theater was completely refurbished to make the balcony a separate theater consisting of 160 seats with the lower level consisting of 327 seats with the majority of the seats being the "rocking chair" seats that are fondly remembered by patrons of the Carolina Theater. Added to the Carolina was the first Dolby stereo sound system in western North Carolina.
In the spring of 1985, major changes came about at the Carolina Theater. Due to larger theater chains in town competing for the "best" movies, the Carolina changed their strategy and started showing 2nd run movies (playing movies after they had been 1st run) for $.99. This change in market strategy became very popular because of the affordability for people to see movies at an extremely affordable price.
In 1998 Colonial Theaters sold the operating lease to BMB Theaters, Inc. Owners - Billy Ray Teague and Bobby Ritchie. Billy Ray Teague was previously the on-site manager for Kenneth Benfield for fifteen years, handling all theater operations.
After this purchase in 1998, BMB began replacing "critical" items such as heating and air conditioning, painting, wall covering, etc, purchasing new popcorn poppers, etc.
It was in 2005 that these two designed a new and re-mastered theater. Andrew Sarver also helped in the facelift. The facelift consisted of lighted walkways, beautiful carpets, new multi screen operation and new concession stand. All wall draperies for sound effects was replaced, step lighting for the Carolina II (upstairs theater), surround sound was added for this theater also. The screen was replaced with a larger screen and metal fascia was removed on the front of the building to enhance the beauty of the original architecture of the building. The marquee was also replaced at this time.
In 2007, the Carolina replaced the 1940 Simplex projectors with Strong Highlight II projector systems and platters which hold the movies and all new sound to add digital sound to both theaters.
In 2009, seats were replaced in the upstairs theater with new high-back seats for the comfort of our patrons to enjoy.
In December of 2011, the theater was again renovated with new overhead lights, replaced "famous" 1974 rocking chairs with new rocking chairs and refinished the beautiful hardwood floors.
The Carolina Theater continues to make all of these improvements to enhance your visit to the Carolina while still offering the most affordable concessions and ticket pricing which cannot be beat. We consider the customer's "wallet" as much as we consider our being able to stay in business. It just makes sense. For tickets and concessions for $20.00, compared to most theaters being $50.00 up??? - it's great to enjoy a night at the movies with the whole family and still have money in your wallet. We strive to have a "family" atmosphere with as much family entertainment as possible. We feel that the family coming together to enjoy a night out is important to everyone.
COME ENJOY THE MOVIE EXPERIENCE!!
Resource: Parts of this document were taken from the book: "BIG TIME FOR A DIME",
A CINEMATIC CHRONICLE OF THE BIG SCREEN
by Donald Barker