Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

State Theater, Shelby, N.C. 1939

Henderson County Public Library, Henderson, N.C.

The State Theater was designed for George Washburn, who owned property Shelby. Drawings are labeled "Theatre Building for Mr. George Washburn." The theater was located at 318 South Washington Street in Shelby, next to the post office. In 1939, Shelby, the county seat of Cleveland County, had approximately 14,000 residents, some twenty percent of whom were African Americans. Shelby was an agricultural market town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, approximately thirty miles west of Charlotte.

Front Elevation- State Shelby, Courtesy of Henderson County Public Library, Henderson, N.C

The State was a small, one-story theater seating 552. The exterior used Stillwell's by now familiar modern design principles: strong vertical lines accented by horizontal bands. The focal points of the exterior were streamline Moderne-style doors, which were also used on the interior. After purchasing their tickets in the exterior box office lobby, patrons passed through these doors into the theater's foyer, whose curved walls were also in the Moderne style. Stillwell even designed a curved wall surround for the lobby water fountain. A women's lounge and toilet were located on one side of the foyer and smaller men's toilet facilities on the other. There was a small stage, but no other provisions for live entertainment (dressing rooms, fly loft, etc.).

Given the lack of segregated spaces in Stillwell's design along with the absence of a balcony, it is likely that that his client did not intend for the State to admit African Americans.

The State opened on October 27, 1939. Unfortunately, issues of the local newspaper from the period were not preserved and microfilmed.