By Ian Faulkner, Staff Writer
Friday, February 8, 2013 —
In cooperation with the Historical Society of Stanly County and the Stanly County Museum, John Williams presented “Reel History” last Thursday to a crowded audience.
Originally scheduled to be in the Grove’s building, beside the old Alameda Theatre, the event had to be relocated to the fellowship hall of Central United Methodist Church because of the sheer amount of interest in the presentation.
As the audience trickled through the doors, smells of popcorn assaulted the nose, marking this as an authentic theatre experience.
Williams compiled a lot of his information by combing through old newspapers, analyzing old photographs and schematics and performing personal interviews with residents who remembered the theatres.
Williams, a local history buff and an art teacher, began the evening by showing a clip of “Phantom of the Opera.” He explained how the scene, of the Phantom mask-less, used to freak people out and how this is in stark contrast to gore in modern films.
The project began when Williams was asked to compile a calender for Uwharrie Capitol Corporation; the calender was of local theatres in Stanly and surrounding counties.
The first theatres to be discussed were the Badin ones.
Badin had the Dreamland Theatre, which was for the black community when the town was segregated.
Another was the Badin Opera House. It cost $160,000 to build back in the early 20th century and was three stories tall.
The Badin Opera House became the Badin Theatre, also known as the Carolina Theatre.
The building was deemed unfit in 1958 and subsequently demolished.
“The company that tore it down said it was the hardest building they had ever tore down,” said Williams, citing the building’s steel frame as the reason why. It was never meant to be demolished.
Norwood had the Mazda Theatre, which became the Norwood Theatre in 1930.
Oakboro had a small theatre that burned in 1958.
Downtown Albemarle has seen its fair share of theatres come and go, Williams said.
According to Williams, Jethro Almond, a recurring figure in the history of theatre in Albemarle, may have had the first motion picture show in Albemarle in 1907.
In 1908, A.W. Thompson opened a candy store and in the back he had nickelodeon machines.
Also in 1908, the Albemarle Opera House opened. There are supposedly ghosts in the opera house, Williams said.
The Edisonia was built in 1910 and on its opening night, the theatre had problems with their electricity.
The Alameda started off in 1916 as an air-dome, a big tent open to the sky, and as popularity grew they soon constructed the building on Second Street.
The Columbia Theatre opened in 1921 in the building that would come to house Vac & Dash. The building was so small they had to construct a tiny room on the back to house the projector.
Operated by George Hughes, in 1930 the Columbia Theatre became the first theatre in Stanly County to have talkies.
Hughes also operated the Stanly Theatre, which caught on fire and was rebuilt in 1937.
The Center Theatre took over the old Stanly Theatre in the 1950s.
“From what I can tell, it looks like they took the word ‘Stanly’ off the marquee and added in ‘Center,’ ” Williams said.
Williams was told there was a cemetery underneath the Center Theatre, but after inspecting the area himself he wasn’t able to say conclusively one way or the other, though he didn’t find any headstones.
Williams ended the presentation by showing an old film that had been made in Albemarle in the 1930s. The film featured a young Albemarle on the cusp of full industrialization and the residents that populated and colored the town.
For more information on the history of Stanly County, its buildings and residents, check out stanlycountymuseum.com.