Arcade Theatre

212 E. Main Street,
Durham, NC 27701

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From the Preservation Durham website:

Address: 212 East Main Street (SW side of E. Main Street and Roxboro Street)
Built: 1909
Demolished: 1916 – torn down by owner
Use of Property Today: Durham County Social Services building

Edward J. Parrish, the first man in Durham to open a tobacco auction warehouse, built an arcade of shops beside the Union Station in 1909, and an adjoining hotel (the Lochmoor) two years later. Located on this site was the Arcade Theatre, a nickelodeon that stayed in business for only a few short years.

Between 1905 and 1914, the nation was swept by ‘nickel madness’ as nickelodeon theaters sprung up in all sorts of converted storefronts. These theaters were often located in working-class neighborhoods, but in Durham they were prominently sited near the train station, hotels, and City Hall. While the exterior of these structures may have been embellished with Art Nouveau style flourishes, the interior would have been sparsely decorated with rows of benches. Orchestras and organists filled the halls with accompanying music and sound effects to heighten the (silent) film-watching experience. Films often lasted less than ten minutes and were rarely exhibited more than a day or two.

Durham had several nickelodeons, including the Edisonia (125 E Main), the Paris (121 E. Main), the Strand (110 E. Main), the Dreamland (112 N. Mangum), and the Electric (211-13 W. Main). None of these structures still stands today, save the Electric, which was housed in the Jourdan building, currently occupied by the Main Street Pharmacy.

After the racially-inflammatory 12-reel “The Birth of a Nation” appeared in 1915, movie-goers preferred to watch feature-length films, not the shorter pictures. Theater owners began offering scheduled showings, reserved seating, improved heating and ventilation, and charged higher admission prices. They paid more attention to drawing in customers by erecting wide canopies and marquees, electrically-lit vertical signs and chaser lights, and a box office right on the sidewalk. The nickelodeons and their nickel-priced tickets gave way to the movie palaces of the 1920’s. The elegant and elaborately-designed Carolina Theatre and the black-owned Regal Theatre are indicative of this change.

As for the Arcade Theatre, it was torn down. It had sat between the Lochmoor and the original County Courthouse. The County built a larger courthouse in 1916, and the Lochmoor was replaced by the County Social Services building in 1965. The ghost of the Arcade Theatre fits in the space between these two modern structures.

Contributed by Andrew Edmonds

Recent comments (view all 1 comments)

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on November 27, 2010 at 5:17 am

Website is more about the history of the YMCA but don’t let that throw you cause it does mention the Arcade Theatre and the 5th photo does show the theatre.

Can always use more info and photos.

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