Morton Theatre

195 W. Washington Street,
Athens, GA 30601

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Morton Theatre

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The Morton Theatre and Building was built for prominent early 20th Century African-American businessman Monroe Bowers "Pink" Morton. It once was part of Athens' bustling black business district, most of which is no longer standing.

Built in 1909-10, the theater opened in spring of 1910, with a piano concert, attended by both black and white patrons. For most of its early decades, it was a live performance space, with vaudeville and stage shows filling the bill. It wasn’t until into the 30s that films were shown at the Morton.

The theater also remained an important meeting hall for Athen’s African-American community for decades until closing in the 60s after a fire.

The Morton could seat about 550, and when it opened, held two small balconies, four boxes and seating for about 300 on the orchestra floor. When a projection room was installed during the 30s, the tiny upper balcony was taken out.

After the theater closed, and most of the office building remained vacant, a few black-owned small business continued to operate on the street level. However, during the 60s and 70s, the Morton fell into a state of disrepair, and by 1980, the Morton Theatre Corporation was founded, with a goal of rescuing the historic showplace from being lost forever.

By the mid-to-late 80s, nearly $2 million had been raised to restore the Morton to its original appearance.

Also during the 80s, the auditorium was sporadically used by local bands, including R.E.M and the B-52s, for rehersal space and filming videos.

Since the early 90s, the Morton has been under the joint control of the Morton Theatre Corporation and the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government which operates the theater as a community performing arts center. It is also the home of the Morton Heritage Players, which presents contemporary African-American theater productions.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

Patsy
Patsy on December 19, 2004 at 1:01 pm

Near Athens in the Town of Hartwell GA was another theatre called the Julie. It is now an Ace Hardware Store, but the current owner recalls going to the movies at the Julie. The name came about because the family that owned the Julie and another one across the town square along with a drive-in south of town were all named after the owner’s daughters. Sadly, none of them today exist.

Patsy
Patsy on December 19, 2004 at 1:38 pm

The Julie had a ‘crying room’ which I had never heard of. It was a special area in the back where a mother could take her crying child so as to avoid bothering fellow patrons. Great idea!

Patsy
Patsy on December 19, 2004 at 2:49 pm

Just read in a great book entitled How They Met by Joey Green about Laurel and Hardy. Ollie Hardy was born in Harlem GA and attended the University of Georgia in Athens GA. He dropped out of college and “opened a movie theatre”! Interesting!

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on May 25, 2006 at 2:30 pm

If you’re lazing around on your hammock this holiday weekend, with your laptop of course, you may wish to peruse this master’s thesis on African-American theaters in Georgia. There are sections on the Morton as well as several other theaters:
http://tinyurl.com/kftsq

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on January 15, 2007 at 1:47 pm

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979

Morton Building ** (added 1979 – Building – #79000709)
Also known as Morton Theater
199 W. Washington St., Athens
Historic Significance: Architecture/Engineering, Event
Architect, builder, or engineer: Unknown
Architectural Style: Beaux Arts
Area of Significance: Performing Arts, Architecture, Black, Commerce
Period of Significance: 1900-1924
Owner: Private
Historic Function: Commerce/Trade, Recreation And Culture
Historic Sub-function: Business, Theater
Current Function: Commerce/Trade
Current Sub-function: Business

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on September 27, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Here is a photo and some information about the Morton:
http://www.athensclarkecounty.com/tour/tour6.htm

Doonyman
Doonyman on November 28, 2009 at 7:50 pm

I hope I’m making this up, but I could swear the last time I visited Athens, this place was closed down. I think it’s a handbag store now. If that’s true, what a sad turn of events for such a classy old theater.

Doonyman
Doonyman on November 28, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Wait, forget what I just said. I just went to the Morton website and they’re still open and running and doing events. I must have been confused when I was walking around downtown. Sorry, y'all! :–)

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