On Tuesday the Foundation for the Carolinas will ask Mecklenburg County commissioners for a $4.2 million grant to restore some historical elements of the Carolina Theatre, an 88-year-old theater in the center of uptown.
The foundation wants to turn it into a civic arts facility and community gathering space. The restoration is expected to begin early 2016.
The building, at 230 N. Tryon St., doesn’t look like much on the outside now, but in its heyday — it was built in 1927 and has been vacant since 1978 — it was the epicenter of entertainment in Charlotte. (That was a little before our time.)
Now it’s a long-abandoned relic, with a small pocket park connecting it to Tryon Street right next door to the foundation’s headquarters. One Observer article called it “Charlotte’s most high-profile vacant building.”
Quick facts about the theater:
– From a 2012 Observer article: “When the Carolina Theatre was completed in 1927, it was among the grandest public halls in Charlotte, with wrought-iron chandeliers, reproductions of priceless Cluny weavings, Moorish tiled floors and a Spanish cathedral window.”
– When it opened it was Charlotte’s first air conditioned building.
– The Observer ran a 14-page special section about the theater’s opening on March 4, 1927.
– The theater hosted celebrities like Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, Guy Lombardo and Ethel Barrymore.
– The theater’s demise can be linked to Charlotteans moving to the suburbs. As people left uptown, so did movie theaters and entertainment venues.
– The last movie to play at the theater was “Fists of Bruce Lee” on Nov. 27, 1978.
– The building’s facade was dismantled in the ’80s. The pieces were numbered and stacked in the basement under the stage. Plans are to restore the facade after the renovation.
– The Foundation for the Carolinas bought the theater and property from the city for $1. Does the city want to sell us some real estate for a buck?
– The renovated theater would be a part of a larger complex — Belk Place — that could help revitalize the North Tryon Street corridor.
The theater, then and now
(Slide the bar back and forth to see how the theater used to look and how it looks now.)
For more information, visit the Carolina Theatre Preservation Society’s website.
Top photo: Diedra Laird/Charlotte Observer.