Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dead Cinema: Charleston, South Carolina

I forgot to include another image I took while on my recent trip in the low country. The Gloria Theatre qualifies for my "Dead Cinema" project since it's not being used for movies anymore (community based theatre performances are common use for these one time film houses) and based on the damage on the bottom of the marquee. It looks like some kind of truck or tall vehicle attempted to pass beneath the marquee and didn't quite fit. That's painful to look at.

Check out the first comment for a long history The Gloria by Justin. Thanks Justin!


Justin Nathanson said...

This is the old sign to the Gloria Theater, which is now a sort of defunct side entrance to the beautiful new Sotille Theater.
The Gloria Theatre opened on Saturday, August 19, 1927 with "After Midnight" starring Norma Shearer.
In addition to films, the Gloria Theatre presented Vaudeville shows, concerts and dance contests. It was definitely Charleston's premiere showplace and the closest thing the city ever had to a movie palace.
Entering under the brightly lit marquee, patrons found a spacious ticket area with a terrazzo floor, artwork, and posters of current and coming attractions. From there, they proceeded down a long beautifully decorated vestibule and into the foyer where they waited for the uniformed ushers to guide them to their seats.

The foyer offered access to a smoking room or attractive lavatories and a stunning "Rockery" containing a goldfish pool, stuffed birds, Spanish moss, and colored lights.

The abundant beauty of the Gloria Theatre continued inside the auditorium which was decorated with murals, highly detailed iron grillwork, and cast sculptures. But, the most visually stunning feature of the auditorium was the dome with its special lighting effects. "At first a soft amber light pervades, gliding into yellow, and then to a bright daylight effect. Then come the climax effects. The sky changes, daylight giving way to night. One gazes into the infinite depths of the firmament. Stars twinkle most realistically, while fleecy clouds roll by, traveling serenely in the sky."

The Gloria Theatre had a separate side entrance and ticket window for African-American patrons, as did most theatres of the time. Blacks sat in a separate section called the gallery and had separate restroom facilities. Ushers were not provided in the gallery.

When "Gone With The Wind" opened at the Gloria Theatre in 1940, Pastime Amusement Company announced it would sell tickets to white patrons only. This policy was amended four days after the premiere and blacks were allowed to purchase tickets at "Orchestra" prices.

During World War II, Charleston saw a large increase in military personnel and began allowing movie theatres to show films on Sundays.

The post-war years saw financial growth for theatre owners in Charleston, but new theatre construction focused on the suburbs. At the Gloria Theatre, like all downtown theatres, attendance began to decline. By 1975, when the Gloria Theatre presented its last film, "The Little Prince," the majority of seats in the auditorium were empty.

The Gloria Theatre closed in 1975 and the property was purchased by the College of Charleston the following year. For a decade, it was used as a storage facility for the college's Fine Arts Department. The "rocking-chair" seats, the first such seats installed in a theatre in the southeast, were sold for $3 each to the Abbeyville Opera House in Abbeyville, South Carolina.

In 1986, the new president of the College of Charleston began a restoration of the theatre. In 1987, the Gloria Theatre was renamed to honor Albert Sottile, who was president of Pastime Amusement Company from its formation in 1908 until his death in 1960. Today, the Sottile Theatre offers a variety of stage shows and concerts.

The entrance, no longer on King Street, is now at 44 George Street. The long vestibule and ornate foyer are gone. The auditorium has many of the original features including the dome ceiling with twinkling stars and the expansive ornate iron grillwork surrounding the dome. Many technical improvements and changes to the stage area and rigging have made the Sottile Theatre a useful contemporary facility. This is Charleston's only surviving downtown single-screen theatre. It is a joy to go there. Thanks to the efforts of the College of Charleston, the show goes on at the former Gloria Theatre.

Thats probably more than you ever wanted to know. If you give me your email address I can send you some photos of what it looked like 90 years ago!


Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Justin: Thanks a lot for the history on The Gloria! Really sounds like a magical place and I wish I could have seen a movie there when I was in Charleston recently.