When the Park Terrace theater opened in the spring of 1964, moviegoers were greeted with amenities and decor considered quite snazzy at the time – red Formica paneling in the lobby, gold detailing, plush carpeting and luxurious theater seats fixed on rocking chair springs.
Speaking to the crowd that night was Charlotte Chamber President John Belk, the department store leader who would later serve four terms as mayor of Charlotte. The first show was an obscure movie starring Gregory Peck called “Captain Newman.” Adult tickets sold for 90 cents.
But the curtain comes down on over half a century of nostalgia Sunday, when the Park Road Shopping Center theater shows its last movie, “My Friend Dahmer,” based off the graphic novel about the serial killer/cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer.
Edens, the Columbia, S.C.-based owner of the shopping center, said this week it has no plans to tear the Park Terrace building down. Rather, the building will be renovated to make way for a new, yet-to-be-named tenant.
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After the Observer reported that the Regal Entertainment Group-owned theater would end its more than 50-year run before the busy holiday season, dozens of readers reached out to express their dismay with the upcoming closure and to share their stories, from date nights to premiers to high school jobs.
For many Charlotteans, Park Terrace was a place where childhood memories were born.
Tim Parati grew up in what is now Madison Park, just off Woodlawn Road. He went to the theater all the time with his friends before landing a job as an usher when he was a 17-year-old student at Olympic High School. He held a slew of jobs there between 1978 and 1987, including cleaning vomit off the floor when “Alien” was shown.
Parati wound up majoring in theater at UNC Charlotte and watched himself on screen after he worked as an extra in the Stephen King horror film “Silver Bullet” that played at Park Terrace in 1985. Now a Wesley Heights resident, Parati still works as an actor, appearing most recently with a recurring role in AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
“I am so fed up with Charlotte tearing down old buildings just to make something big and new and shiny,” Parati said, adding that he is glad that at least Edens has decided to renovate instead of demolish the Park Terrace building.
Geoffrey Gantt and her best friend, Robyn, also worked at Park Terrace when they were in high school in the early 1970s. It was fun, she said, working kid matinees on Saturdays, when parents would drop off their kids “with a wad of money to buy cola, popcorn, and candy.”
“Now, all these many many years later, my husband and I enjoy attending movies at (Park Terrace.) I’d really hate to see it go,” said Gantt, who now lives near Park Road Shopping Center.
The theater has become a local draw for showing independent films that aren’t featured at larger or traditional theaters.
Eileen and Ed Horgan regularly make the hour-long trip from Conover to Charlotte to catch indie and foreign films at Park Terrace, for instance. Once or twice a month, Elizabeth and Mark Cook similarly drive in from Albemarle to see a movie they can’t see in their small town. They tend to make a day of the trip, with lunch nearby, shopping at SouthPark mall and then a movie.
“I hope very much that the owners reconsider their decision,” Mark Cook said of the theater’s pending closure.
Park Terrace was a go-to date night spot as well for Karen Barrett, who lives in Florida but still keeps up with what’s going on in her hometown. She nostalgically recalled some of the places in the center that have come and gone, including S&W, Woolworth’s and A&P.
“Park Road Shopping Center in the early stages was magical ... and the theater later became part of that magic,” Barrett said.
A new script
Regal Entertainment, which is being bought by a British company called Cineworld PLC, has not commented on the closure. But higher rents have prompted a handful of longtime tenants to opt to move from the popular shopping center since Edens took over in 2011.
As newer theaters have popped up in farther out suburbs, it has become pricier to operate a theater in dense, close-in neighborhoods while property values rise, Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett said.
“The combination of bigger and newer theaters in the farther suburbs and the rising desirability of land in the older suburbs means that we’re not only in danger of losing that particular building (Park Terrace) but also the Manor theater” in Myers Park, Hanchett said.
The Regal Manor Twin is another theater that shows independent and foreign movies. Its owner, also Regal, has not returned multiple calls from the Observer.
The city’s other historic movie theater is the Visualite, which opened in the late 1930s in Elizabeth but is now a nightclub.
Several of readers who reached out to the Observer bemoaned that Charlotte is losing another cultural landmark. Similarly, a number of Charlotte performing arts venues have closed their doors over the years to make way for new development.
UpStage in NoDa closed last year when its building was sold, for instance. Others that have similarly closed include Amos’ South End, the Chop Shop in NoDa, Tremont Music Hall and the Double Door Inn.
“Charlotte is a very big city now, but it seems to be all about sports. It is a crime that our cultural life is so limited,” Park Terrace fan Abigail Schoff said in an email.
Several readers say that while they are not happy Park Terrace is closing, they are pleased that the historic building will stay in place. Edens Managing Partner Lyle Darnall said Park Terrace fans won’t be disappointed with what is replacing the theater.
Darnall said Edens will maintain the integrity of the old building, as it has tried to do with other historic things it owns, such as the Park Road Shopping Center sign, and the historic Park-Cramer mill building at Atherton Mill.
Darnall acknowledged that Park Terrace means a great deal to the area. A petition to try to save the theater has gathered over 3,600 signatures as of midday Thursday.
“Places have character, and our sense of home is embodied in the landscape around us,” said Charlottean Ann Ross, who created the Change.org petition to save the theater, in an email.