Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

Cabarrus Theater, Concord, N.C. 1939

Henderson County Public Library, Henderson, N.C.

The Cabarrus Theater in Concord, N.C., was built for North Carolina Theatres, Inc., the company used by the Wilby-Kincey theater chain for its North Carolina operations. Concord was a textile city of some 15,000 residents in 1939, approximately twenty percent of whom were African American. It was located at 22 N. Union Street in downtown Concord. The county seat of Cabarrus County, Concord is located twenty miles north of Charlotte.

For the design of the exterior of the 1000-seat Cabarrus Theater, Stillwell used the spare, modern style he regularly employed in plans for his theaters in the late 1930s and early 1940s. White patrons entered through a central exterior box office lobby, flanked by two storefronts, into a shallow foyer, and from there into the rear of the 890-seat auditorium. The Cabarrus was designed for both movies and live performance, with a deep stage, footlights, and three dressing rooms behind the stage. Stairs led from the foyer to a mezzanine with lounge, cosmetic room, and toilets.

Portion of Front, Rear, Left and Right Elevations, Cabarrus, Concord N.C., Henderson County Public Library, Henderson, N.C.

The Cabarrus was designed to admit black patrons into segregated areas of the theater. A separate entrance (show on the left side of the exterior elevation) led to a balcony stairway, at the top of which was a second box office and small toilets. It is difficult to tell from Stillwell's design whether the balcony was to be used exclusively by black patrons or if it was to be used by whites as well. Although the balcony was divided into upper and lower sections, there was no physical barrier separating the two areas, as was the case in some other Stillwell theaters of the period. In addition, only one stairway served the balcony. Theaters typically included two stairways if balconies were intended to accommodate both white and black patrons. Newspaper accounts appearing at the time of the opening of the theater do not indicate its racial policy, and ads do not mention separate admission prices for African American patrons.

The Cabarrus Theater opened on Monday, June 19, 1939. As had become customary, an opening ceremony provided an occasion for the theater to be "received" by the town's mayor on behalf of the people from the theater's manager. Most of the stories about the opening of the Cabarrus that appeared in the Concord Tribune were only slightly rewritten from press releases provided by the North Carolina Theatres, Inc. , which had also been used in articles for the Center Theater in High Point, and the Dilworth Theater in Charlotte. ("New Cabarrus Theater is in Heart of Concord," Concord Tribune, June 18, 1939, Section 3)