Varsity Theatre

123 E. Franklin Street,
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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Varsity Theatre

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 41 comments)

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…….

raysson on March 16, 2015 at 12:12 pm

And speaking of the Varsity’s first-run showing of THE SOUND OF MUSIC……

It was shown first-run as a specially selective engagement presentation at Christmas of 1967 when the film was a general release.

raysson on March 16, 2015 at 3:34 pm

This theatre also got a lot of the Disney releases too. Some first-run showings. Among the most successful that brought in capacity crowds was the VARSITY’S first-run showing of MARY POPPINS.

Crossroads on August 10, 2017 at 7:38 pm

Varsity showed Rocky Horror Picture Show for a couple of years as a weekend late show. For a time, X rated fare was offered as a late show. Police presence was hired for showing of Pacino vehicle “Cruising” when the theater was warned that the gay community would trash the place if it was shown. Turned out there was a much bigger mess from Rocky Horror toast/water/rice throwing crowd. : )

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