Walnut Cove, NC – Walnut Cove hoping for revival of old movie theater

posted by ThrHistoricalSociety on July 11, 2017 at 4:36 pm

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From the Winston-Salem Journal: For a generation of people in Walnut Cove, memories of spending a quarter to see a Saturday matinee at the Palmetto Theater on Main Street come alive in Technicolor.

The theater itself? It’s dusty and dilapidated and, because of renovations over the years, barely recognizable as a 1940s-era movie house.

A small group of long-time residents wants to bring the shine back to the Palmetto and in the process, inject some life into a struggling downtown that has been hit hard by shifting shopping patterns and a slow decline in the town’s population.

“The building was in bad shape, and we were sad to see some of these old buildings fall down,” said Durward Bennett, one of seven investors in the project.

The 2013 demolition of the Dodson Hotel, a few blocks from the Palmetto, stung many residents. Once an anchor of a bustling downtown, the hotel had fallen into disrepair and was deemed unsafe by inspectors.

The investors did not want to see the same fate befall the Palmetto.

Given the current shape of the Palmetto, they know it will be an endeavor of many years.

“This is not a business for us; it’s a passion,” said Kim Ferrell, one of partners in the renovation. “So many people have said, ‘We are so glad you are doing this. We need something nice to do in Walnut Cove.’”

The group would like to see the Palmetto become an events center where people could watch plays and concerts, as well as a spot where groups could hold meetings or families could have parties and receptions, Ferrell said. If the money is available, a kitchen could be added for catering.

At this point, however, the group is still trying to find funding resources and clean up the interior, which was filled with old cars and other remnants of a garage.

Although it wasn’t one of the grand movie palaces of old, with the Art Deco flourishes and Wurlitzer organ, the Palmetto did add some pizzazz to Main Street when owner Jesse Booth opened it in 1949.

The exterior included a marquee, a vertical neon sign and the letter “P” inlaid in the brick façade. The inside walls were cement block painted rose and green. Columns were painted on the cement block, a low-budget effort to mimic a look found in the Art Deco theaters that were the rage in the 1920s and 1930s.

The rise of television put an end to such lavish theater architecture, with more people choosing to stay at home than spend money at the movies.

The theater was segregated for years, and black patrons were forced to take a set of stairs attached to the outside of the building to the balcony.

But the Palmetto was the only theater in southern Stokes County for several years and remained a popular draw. Horror movies and Westerns seemed to be on heavy rotation in the early 1960s.

The offerings expanded to live concerts, and Bill Monroe and Ernest Tubb were among the musicians who played the Palmetto.

By the late 1960s, the Palmetto could no longer compete with the multi-theater complexes and closed. In the ensuing years, it was turned into a car dealership, garage and license plate branch.

At various points, the seats and stage were ripped out, the sloping floor was leveled and paved with cement and a drop ceiling was added.

All of which leaves the investors with a lot of work to do. One job seems to have been made easier. The original seats, about 140 of them, were found to be in the possession of the King VFW, which has agreed to give them back.

Some folks in Elkin had a similar notion about its historic theater, the Reeves. After years of renovations, it is about three months away from opening as an events center, café and bar, said Debbie Carson, a partner in Historic Reeves, LLC.

Despite years of work on the theater, she sees such renovations as valuable projects for small towns.

“Theaters used to be the hub of nightlife in small towns, and they are usually prominent structures in small towns, so to be a prominent dead space is like a drag on your main street,” she said.

The work at the Reeves in Elkin already seems to be spurring some economic development downtown, Carson said.

The group in Walnut Cove hopes bringing back the Palmetto might lead to something similar in Walnut Cove.

“We want the community involved,” Ferrell said.

Story link: http://www.journalnow.com/relishnow/the_arts/walnut-cove-hoping-for-revival-of-old-movie-theater/article_d3292628-d3b4-5bf9-8df6-414cdcf3095e.html

ABOUT THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA: Founded by Ben Hall in 1969, the Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) celebrates, documents and promotes the architectural, cultural and social relevance of America’s historic theatres. Through its preservation of the collections in the American Theatre Architecture Archive, its signature publication Marquee™ and Conclave Theatre Tour, THS increases awareness, appreciation and scholarly study of America’s theatres.

Learn more about historic theatres in the THS American Theatre Architecture Archives and on our website at historictheatres.org

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Comments (1)

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