Campus Theatre

163 W. Hancock Street,
Milledgeville, GA 31061

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Campus Theatre

The Campus Theatre is typical of the many Art Deco sites built by the Martin (now Carmike) chain that once dominated the movie business in small towns throughout the southeastern United States. Most towns or counties with a population of at least 10,000 seemed to always include a theater named the Martin on the town square. In Milledgeville, the name was the Campus because it was located one block from the campus of Georgia College, which was located on the edge of downtown.

The entrance to the theater was a storefront located in an office building that fronted Main Street. There were other businesses on either side, and upstairs were professional offices for doctors, lawyers, and dentists. The box office was located outside in front of the entrance. You entered the theater after walking down a hallway that ran the depth of the office building. The downstairs held about 400 or so seats and the balcony about 150 more.

The projection booth was equipped with Century projectors, 2000 foot reels, and carbon arc lamps. The projectionist apparently was worried about seeing the cue marks so he placed a strip of opaque tape the length of the four cued frames. This double blackout at the end of each reel was distracting, but it was better than missing the changeover. They used a 2 to 1 ratio lens set up which meant that while the flat picture was nice and filled up the entire screen, the scope picture was badly cropped on both sides.

I attended the Campus many times while in college in the early 1970’s. They usually changed movies twice a week, showing one feature for Sunday – Tuesday, and a different one Wednesday – Saturday. Sometimes, a big hit like “The Godfather” would run for an entire week.

The Campus Theatre and the Martin-operated Starlite Drive-In were the only theaters in town although there were about a dozen first run screens in Macon, Georgia, a 30 mile drive to the west. In 1972 Martin opened a single screen in the new Hatcher Square Mall just north of town. The better films played there while the Campus Theatre got what the drive-in used to play. The drive-in was closed and is now a Wal-Mart.

In the 1980’s, Martin, now operating as Carmike, built a new six screen site in the mall parking lot and closed the mall screen and the Campus Theatre. The old downtown theater still looks much as it did the day it was closed up. The one sheet for its final attraction, “Married To The Mob”, is still in its frame in the entrance hall. The old fashioned Martin Theatres logo is still visible on the front. The building looks to be in good shape and the other store fronts and professional spaces upstairs are still in use. It seems to be a great candidate for renovation for someone with the money and the love of old theaters. It would make a nice venue for live shows although the college auditorium gets all of that business. Since Carmike apparently still holds the lease it is doubtful they would be willing to allow anyone to reopen it as competition to their mall site.

Contributed by StanMalone

Recent comments (view all 23 comments)

chendamoni on October 18, 2007 at 9:55 am

Regents approve key projects for Georgia College, FVSU
By Jennifer Burk –

CARROLLTON — Georgia College & State University received authorization Wednesday to move forward with the purchase and renovation of Milledgeville’s downtown Campus Theatre.

The Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s 35 public institutions, approved the project at its scheduled meeting at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton. The project was part of a seven-project list to be funded through a pooled bond issuance by the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority.

Also included on the approved list was a student center and stadium project at Fort Valley State University.

The Georgia College project is planned to convert the 21,000-square-foot art deco Campus Theatre into a bookstore and black box theater.

The estimated cost of the project is $6.9 million, and it is expected to be funded through tenant rental and retail sales revenue, according to University System of Georgia documents.

The bonds should be sold by the end of the year, and then the university can complete the purchase of the building and hire people to do the work, Georgia College President Dorothy Leland said.

“We’re ready to go,” she said.

bryjack on June 30, 2008 at 2:32 pm

The Baldwin Bulletin – Milledgeville,GA,USA

Funding for Campus Theater project gets the green light

By Pam Beer

Downtown’s iconic landmark – the Campus Theater – became the scene of much activity this week as workers started in on creating something new within the confines of something old and treasured.

“We purchased the building in February using Auxiliary Services funding as a sort of a bridge,” explained Georgia College Director of Communications Bryan Jackson. The university’s plans to finance the purchase of the building through bond funding from the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority were slowed as the state Attorney General’s office examined the issue.

“That kind of funding was originally set up for college dormitories and the like,” Jackson said. What Georgia College plans to do with the Campus Theater is outside that realm so the Attorney General’s office studied the issue to make sure the project meets the criteria for that type of bond funding.

The process took roughly three months, but college officials finally received word last week that the AG’s office has approved the funding for the project as submitted.

The Baldwin Bulletin – Milledgeville,GA,USA

Funding for Campus Theater project gets the green light

By Pam Beer

Downtown’s iconic landmark – the Campus Theater – became the scene of much activity this week as workers started in on creating something new within the confines of something old and treasured.

“We purchased the building in February using Auxiliary Services funding as a sort of a bridge,” explained Georgia College Director of Communications Bryan Jackson. The university’s plans to finance the purchase of the building through bond funding from the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority were slowed as the state Attorney General’s office examined the issue.

“That kind of funding was originally set up for college dormitories and the like,” Jackson said. What Georgia College plans to do with the Campus Theater is outside that realm so the Attorney General’s office studied the issue to make sure the project meets the criteria for that type of bond funding.

The process took roughly three months, but college officials finally received word last week that the AG’s office has approved the funding for the project as submitted.

According to a Feb. 2008 news release, the college plans to restore the exterior of the Art Deco building – including the facade, marquee, doorways, and ticket booth – to its original condition.The building will house a bookstore that features a variety of general selections in addition to textbooks. Under the plan, the useable interior space of the building will be expanded from the current 17,000 square feet to 21,000 square feet.

The interior also will include a “black box” performance space designed to accommodate a variety of configurations, depending on the type of programs being presented. According to the warranty deed, the building was purchased by the Board of Regents from local businessman Randall Hattaway for $817,996.41.

Currently contractors are working on abatement issues, removing debris and hazardous materials from the building. In November the bonds are expected to be sold, which will repay Auxiliary Services and provide funds for the balance of the project. Between now and November, Jackson said, a final design will be completed.

Georgia College hopes to open the facility some time in 2009.

philbertgray on July 19, 2008 at 3:23 am

Here are three photos of the exterior of The Campus Theatre. This facade is to be restored in the current renovation of the building. The renovation will replace the theatre’s interior with a bookshop in the basement and a black box performance stage ( a simple performance space with black walls and a flat floor) in the current auditorium. The balcony will be converted into office space.

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atlcubsfan on March 23, 2009 at 8:52 am

Lost Memory:

The Colonial Theater was across the street and has been the local pool hall for at least the past 50 years, and probably longer. If you go into the pool hall today, you will see in the tiled floor below you the word “Colonial” in the floor in darker colored tile than the normal floor. It is basically across the street from the Campus Theater and a little bit west.

former Milledgeville Resident 1979-1983; 1995-1998

bryjack on March 23, 2009 at 11:38 am

The Campus Theatre â€" An Overview
By R. Bryan Jackson

The Campus Theatre was the most ornate movie house ever built in Milledgeville and an estimated 5,000 local residents turned out for its grand opening on March 18th in 1935. When the doors swung open at 1 p.m. for the first time, the crowd surged in to marvel at its sophisticated decorations, plush furnishings and state-of-the-art sound and projection systems.

Among the advanced features of the new theatre were the main doors, which opened electrically when a patron walked past an “electric eye.” A similar device turned on the water fountain in the mezzanine when it was approached. The lounge featured wicker furniture where patrons could relax while cooling off under ceiling fans.

A few days before the theatre’s official opening, its manager, Frank D. Adams, had taken out a large newspaper ad to announce that “we have spent money, time and thought and the best talent we could get to give Milledgeville one of the finest theatres in the South.” The ad continued to say “We want the people of this city to feel free to use the auditorium… it will be open for public meetings at any time, when it does not interfere with our regular programs.” Adams’ announcement also invited local ladies to “feel free to use the mazenine (sic) floor to serve refreshments whenever a theatre party is given.”

To ensure a successful opening day, the Martin theatre chain â€" which had spent the staggering sum of $135,000 on the building’s construction â€" made sure the bill at the Campus was chock full of entertainment. In addition to the day’s feature film “Broadway Bill” and its all-star cast with Myrna Loy and Warner Baxter, the first program also offered a live six-act Vaudeville stage show with music and comedy starring “The Bob Continental Flashes” and its 25 member cast.

At 9 pm, with every one of the 1,328 seats in the auditorium filled â€" and thousands more turned away outside — the official dedication of the Campus Theatre took place. Theatre owner Roy Martin took the stage along with Milledgeville Mayor J.A. Horne and a host of other dignitaries to express appreciation for the new theatre and to highlight it as another forward step in the progress of the city. After the event, Martin hosted a barbeque diner and dancing at the country club for the managers of his theatres and their wives.

Like most theatres in the south at that time, the Campus was segregated and remnants of that legacy remain visible today. These include the main entrance â€" which was reserved for the use of whites only â€" and the separate side entrance that was used by black patrons, who were relegated to sit in the balcony.

Inside, the first floor mezzanine featured a lounge with a smoking area, men and women rest rooms, and a refreshment stand. The main theatre featured upholstered seats for its patrons. Again, these were reserved for the exclusive use of white patrons.

African-Americans (then called “coloreds”), were restricted to a separate side of the ticket booth, as well as their own adjoining exterior side entrance. This led up a staircase to a small lounge area with a candy stand, a single unisex bathroom, and a partitioned balcony which had separate seating for blacks and whites. Unlike the main theatre, the balcony was equipped with only wooden seats. These separate entrances and facilities remained in use until 1964, when the policy of racial segregation fell to the civil rights movement.

Still, the Campus Theatre was an exciting attraction for every moviegoer — including the opportunity to escape the often brutal heat of a summer’s day in middle Georgia. In fact, newspaper ads for the theatre highlighted that it was “cool and comfortable” inside. The exact date air conditioning was introduced to the building is not clear, but it appears this amenity was added very early on and was quite powerful. Some patrons of those early days remember being so cold inside the theatre that they had to bring a sweater to keep warm — despite the fact it could be more than 100 degrees outside!

Ticket prices for matinee movies were ten cents for children under 12 and twenty-five cents for adults. For evening shows the price for adults rose to thirty cents. For small children who could be carried by a parent, admission was free. “Program Boys” could also earn themselves free admission by distributing advertising flyers on upcoming movies to homes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

During its early years, the theatre changed its movies as many as three or four times a week. However, there were occasions when a blockbuster hit like “Gone with the Wind,” would play for an entire week to packed houses.

During the 1930s and early 1940s, the Campus would also continue to regularly intersperse its film offerings with live stage entertainment. For example, on April 18th, a month after the theatre opened, it offered a live performance of a show called the “Passion Play.” According to a newspaper advertisement, it featured “Gorgeous Pageantry” and “Beautiful Sacred” music — and prices much higher than those for a standard movie admission, with tickets ranging from 50 cents to a dollar.

For Milledgeville, everything about the Campus Theatre was grand, with the Martin chain working hard to fulfill its claim that it was “the finest theatre in middle Georgia.” Patrons only had to step inside to experience the elegance as “usherettes” in neat navy blue uniforms with brass buttons escorted them to their seats. This “high class” atmosphere was further refined by strict rules which included no gum chewing and no talking during the performance. Armed with flashlights, these young hostesses would quickly approach and briefly illuminate such offenders amid the darkness, much to their embarrassment. Those who failed to heed the warning would find themselves confronted by the theatre’s manager.

Saturday matinees were always popular, especially with kids. Many would spend an entire afternoon at the theatre enjoying cartoons, action-pack serial adventures, and whatever main feature film was playing. Of course, Saturday evening was also popular, especially with the dating set which often saw students from Georgia State College for Women (now GCSU) together with cadets from Georgia Military College. According to legend, more than one future marriage got its start at the Campus Theatre.

As the area’s premier movie house, the Campus generally showed Hollywood’s latest and best releases while the other local theatres â€" the Colonial and the Co-Ed — tended to get second-rate fare or second runs of films that had already been shown at the Campus. A review of the movie listings from the 1930s and 1940s clearly shows that all of the big films of the time were playing at the Campus.

The movie ads from that era also show that the Campus Theatre regularly hosted the films of a famous former Milledgeville resident, Oliver Hardy of the celebrated comic duo of Laurel and Hardy. In 1903, when Hardy was ten years old, his mother had moved the Milledgeville to run the Baldwin Hotel. A few years later, he was hired as the projectionist at the newly opened Palace Theatre, which was located just across the street from his mother’s hotel. Working at the Palace sparked Hardy’s interest in the movies and he eventually left Milledgeville to pursue his acting career, first in Jacksonville and then in Hollywood.

Oliver Hardy was still well remembered by many local residents when his larger-than-life image appeared on the silver screen of the Campus Theatre years later. According to movie ads which appeared in Milledgeville’s Union-Recorder newspaper, The Laurel and Hardy two-reeler “Our Relations” was shown at the theatre on Christmas Eve 1936, and their feature film “Way Out West” was part of a double bill that played on Saturday, June 12, 1937. There is strong evidence that Laurel and Hardy films were a regular part of the theatre’s line up, often with one of their “shorts” being double billed with a feature film.

While many people worked at the Campus Theatre over the years, none was more durable than Nathan Morgan, who would spend 43 years as its manager. During his early career with Martin Cinemas, Morgan oversaw the opening of new theatres all over Georgia. Then, in 1940, he was offered the opportunity to settle down and manage the Campus Theatre. With the chance to earn $35 a week â€" nearly double his current salary of $18 a week — he jumped at the chance and relocated with his wife and children to Milledgeville.

Morgan’s dedication to the job â€" and to the theatre — was clear and he could be found working at whatever task needed to be done. One minute he might be in his office preparing financial reports for the home office, and the next he would be at the front door welcoming patrons and taking their tickets. For over four decades he remained a fixture in downtown Milledgeville, standing on the sidewalk in front of the theatre each day to greet those who passed by and to answer their questions about the movies that were playing. Fellow employees would often kid Morgan that he only stood outside so he could watch the girls from Georgia College walk past.

Unfortunately, like most downtown theatres, the heydays at the Campus Theatre eventually began to slip away. With the advent of television, more and more people began to stay home for their entertainment. The impact was dramatic between 1947 and 1957, as ninety percent of the homes in America saw television sets come into their living rooms. The decline was further precipitated as shopping malls grew in favor, siphoning off downtown shoppers to their stores and new multiplex cinemas.

As the end drew near, the Campus Theatre found itself with seats that were tattered and torn, carpet that was threadbare and a once ornate lobby that had been covered over with cheap paneling. Although memories of a more glamorous time could still be found in the art deco lighting fixtures that lined the balcony walls, the balcony itself had been closed off, and the heavy red drapes adorning the sides of the stage hung dirty and rotted.

With its grandeur gone, the Martin chain would move to close the Campus in early September 1983. For Nathan Morgan it would be a sad and difficult day, and his last as its long-time manager.

At 9 pm on Thursday, September 8th, the Campus Theatre would show its last film, a forgettable movie entitled “Space Raiders” in which a 10 year old boy is accidentally kidnapped by a futuristic spaceship filled with a motley crew of space pirates. It seemed to be a fitting end to the theatre, just as the all-star Frank Capra film “Broadway Bill” had been a fitting start 1935. Unlike the 5,000 people who had been on hand for its opening, only a handful trickled out the Campus Theatre’s well-worn doors following the final flickers from its projection booth. Shortly after, the neon marquee also went dark, ending its nearly half-century run as a downtown beacon.

With his landmark downtown theatre now dark, Nathan Morgan transferred to Martin’s new cinema at the Hatcher Square Mall (now the Milledgeville Mall), where he would assume the role of welcoming patrons as the theatre’s “ambassador.” There he would remain on the job â€" and on the Martin payroll — until his death in 1991.

The Campus Theatre would eventually be sold three times in the coming years, eventually becoming the property of Randall Hattaway, an accountant who had located his business in offices on the second floor of the theatre building. Because the Martin chain had stipulated in its original sale of the building that it could not be used as a theatre for at least ten years, the movie house itself had continued to deteriorate.

Over the next several years the theatre portion of the building would find occasional use, including rental by a church for its services, and use at least once as the venue for a rock concert sponsored by Georgia College. Meanwhile, the first floor store fronts continued to be rented on a fairly steady basis by such groups as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Milledgeville MainStreet, a community development agency.

But efforts to re-open the theatre itself stalled when Hattaway found the cost of its renovation to be prohibitively expensive. At one point, in April 1999, there was brief hope that the Campus Theatre would see its big screen lit again. Cinema Grill, an Atlanta-based franchise, announced its intention to buy the building and turn it into a movie theater-restaurant. However, the idea never got past a feasibility study and the project was dropped.

Although the office space in the building continued to be in regular use for the next decade, it was not until February 22, 2008 that the next big step for the Campus Theatre took place. On that date, Georgia College & State University completed its purchase of the building, with plans to adapt it into a “black box” performance theatre and to convert its store fronts and office space into a retail book store. In keeping with the building’s historic significance, the university’s plans also call for the exterior façade to be brought back to it original 1935 art deco splendor, including restoration of its entrance, marquee and ticket booth. The project is now slated for completion by fall 2009.

According to Georgia College President Dorothy Leland, “our plan is to not only bring the historic Campus Theatre to life again, but to reutilize its space in a way that plays a significant role in the continued redevelopment of downtown Milledgeville.”

As in 1935, the Campus Theatre is again in the spotlight as a forward step in the progress of Milledgeville.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on September 26, 2009 at 5:34 pm


AllieFox on March 2, 2010 at 6:27 pm

The latest on the Campus:

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JFBrantley on July 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Here is a July 18, 2010 picture of the Campus

cccmoviehouses on July 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm

When I visited the Campus in 2004 it looked bleak as far as being restored, I’m so glad Georgia College stepped in. I used to go to movies here in the early 60’s. It adds so much to Milledgeville.

StanMalone on July 11, 2018 at 7:15 am

July 2018 view of the front added to the photo section.

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