Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

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Bailey Theatre (opened 1940; closed 1980)

The Bailey was a purpose-built downtown movie theater constructed in 1940 at 16-18 North Front Street, on the site of the Purcell House Hotel. The lot was purchased as a site for a movie theater by George W. Bailey, who had managed several theaters in Wilmington since arriving in the city in 1915 from Asheville to manage the Academy of Music. Bailey also managed the Royal and Carolina theaters. Bailey died in July 1940, a few months prior to the opening of the theater that bore his name for another forty years.

The Bailey was designed by Hendersonville architect Erle Stillwell in February 1940.

It was equipped to show wide-screen films, and for a time, was the only theater in Wilmington to do so. Stillwell designed the Bailey with two balconies: a lower one for white patrons, and an upper balcony for African Americans.

This postcard shows the Bailey marquee and its position on North Front Street. In the distance on the left, one can make out the sign for the Royal Theatre, indicating that the photo for the postcard had to have been taken prior to January 21, 1949, the day of the Orton Hotel fire, which also consumed the Royal.

After the theater closed in 1980, plans were put forward to demolish the theater and replace it with a parking lot. Historic preservation groups mounted a campaign to save the art deco building, but managed only to get the developers to agree to preserve its facade and marquee. The marquee was eventually taken down, but a portion of the facade still stands.

Current Google street view of Bailey location:

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