Varsity Theatre

123 E. Franklin Street,
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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Varsity Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened as the Carolina Theatre in 1927, it had a seating capacity for 703, and a Robert-Morton theatre organ was installed. In later years it was operated by Paramount Picures Inc. through their subsidiary H.F. Kincey. Wilby-Kincey built a New Carolina Theatre in 1942, and this theatre was renamed Village Theatre. In the early-1950’s it became the Varsity Theatre.

Tammy Conner writes:

“Extremely short in the front but when you get in you are lead down an illuminated hallway to a very dark theater. Mind you she is looking rather dated in styling and decor, she more than compensates for running rare indie films and well just for being a classic old theater.

Amazingly enough she is located on the next block and quarter mile down from the Carolina Theatre in Chapel Hill. Very cool indeed."

Sadly, the Varsity Theatre was set to close on May 29, 2009, which was postponed to June 4, 2009. However, it was reopened in November 2009.

Contributed by Tammy Conner

Recent comments (view all 38 comments)

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Thanks raysson.Great story.You always seem to find the right articles to submit.

canibfrankwithyou on September 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm

I was involved with the installation of the projection & sound equipment in 1982 when the theatre was disected. The twinning was accomplished in a front/rear layout. The rear auditorium was accessed by a lighted tunnel that used “Tivoli” style lighting which was becoming popular at that time. The effect was to immulate a time tunnel which was sometimes disconcerting to some patrons. The theatre was operated by the Janus Theatres of Burlington N.C. at that time.

raysson on August 27, 2013 at 3:15 pm

During the 1950’s and early-1960’s this theater was the subject of its segregation policies towards African-Americans and was picketed. It was also the subject of many sit-ins that were against the Jim Crow laws of the South. Plenty of demonstrations occured here as well as other establishments throughout Chapel Hill that were segregated.

DavidDymond on August 27, 2013 at 4:22 pm

This theatre was really neat. I loved how they made a small tunnel to the front theatre and illuminated it with Tivoli lighting. They were very independent and proud. They used REAL BUTTER and popped their popcorn in extra virgin olive oil. Saw many movies here!!

raysson on August 28, 2013 at 1:10 pm

David Dymond: The small tunnel to the front theatre that was illminated with Tivoli lighting was done in 1982 when this theatre was split into two sections and was renamed THE VARSITY 1 & 2 under Greensboro/Burlington based Janus Theatres. From 1982 until 2009,this theatre was Chapel Hill’s only venue for first-run features as well as foreign and independent releases until it changed hands when it became an independent cinema that was owned and operated by Bruce H. Stone that shows second-run films and classic Hollywood releases..

raysson on August 28, 2013 at 1:11 pm

From 1952 until 1982,the VARSITY was owned and operated under H.B. Meiselman-Eastern Federal Theatres.

raysson on August 28, 2013 at 2:47 pm

David Dymond: the original STAR WARS movie played here first-run on July 1,1977. Saw it here.

the original SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER played here first-run as the original ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW

raysson on February 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm

It opened as the CAROLINA THEATRE in Downtown Chapel Hill under the Publix Theatres chain on September 23,1927 with the opening features “Cheating Cheaters”, and “The Way of All Flesh”.

The coming attraction was “Hula” starring Clara Bow.

From 1927 until 1942 it was the CAROLINA THEATRE.

On October 15,1942, a new CAROLINA THEATRE in Downtown Chapel Hill opened across the street that seated 1,145 patrons. The cinema went under new management as it was renamed the VILLAGE THEATRE. It remained the VILLAGE THEATRE Downtown from 1942 until 1951.

On May 4,1951 the theatre was under new management and the name changed from the VILLAGE THEATRE to the VARSITY THEATRE. Under this new change upgraded additions were featured that included an expanded lobby section and a larger auditorium with super widescreen projection. By late-1954,more features were added to the VARSITY including the latest stereophonic sound and was equipped to show films in Cinema Scope projection. This theatre was owner and operated under H.B. Meiselmen/Eastern Federal Corporation from 1951 until 1982 as a single screener with 703 seats.

By November of 1982,the theatre underwent another renovation with the original auditorium of 703 seats were split into two sections and renamed the VARSITY 1 & 2 under Burlington/Greensboro, NC based Janus Theatres. Auditorium 1 seated 350. Auditorium 2 seated 205,bringing the total seating capacity to 555 seats. The theatre also changed formats from showing first-run movies to showing independent and foreign releases where it remained from 1982 until 2009.

raysson on July 20, 2014 at 1:47 pm

the comments that ray revised here need to be posted for this theatre on the cinema treasures site.

ray must be a walking encyclopedia of Chapel Hill movie theatres.

raysson on December 30, 2014 at 3:26 pm


Downtown Chapel Hill’s landmark since 1927 is about to close it doors without it’s support. Go Digital or Go Dark Campaign……

See article about this landmark theatre…….

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