Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

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Carolina Theatre (opened October, 1925; closed 1953)

The Carolina Theatre was the new name given the Victoria Theatre when George W. Bailey leased the Victoria from James Howard and Percy Wells in October 1925.

The Carolina Theatre was located on Market Street at the corner of Second Street. The renovation that accompanied the change in name from Victoria to Carolina brought new projection equipment, the installation of a new marble box office, and the construction of new stairs to the balcony. Ticket prices were fifteen cents for matinees and twenty-five cents for evening performances, with children admitted for ten cents. The absence of any mention of a racial policy in newspaper articles accompanying the Carolina's opening along with plans to have the stairs to the balcony open to the main floor of the theater together suggest that the Carolina did not admit African Americans.

Plans began to be made to accommodate synchronous sound movies in late 1928, when George W. Bailey, the proprietor of both the Carolina and Royal theaters began discussions with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) for the installation of sound equipment in the two theaters.

Talking pictures came to Wilmington at the Carolina Theatre on February 25, 1929. The first talking feature film to play there was a Vitaphone production, Lucky Boy, starring George Jessel.

Ad for film at the Carolina Theatre , Wilmington, N.C., Courtesy of The Reaves Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.

An article in the Wilmington Star predicted that the debut of talking pictures in Wilmington combined with the beginning of the spring shopping season would prompt Wilmingtonians and "those to live within a 75-mile radius" to organize "Vitaphone-Shopping parties," and would organize group excursions to downtown Wilmington to shop and experience the talkies for themselves.

Lucky Boy and the program of talking short films on the first program were greeted by a capacity crowd at the Carolina. The Wilmington Star pronounced the new technology a great success: "From the roar of thunder to the chirping of a bird, the new system reproduces all sounds with extraordinary fidelity. So perfect is the synchronization that one almost forgets that the characters on the screen are not real actors on the stage."

The Carolina's downtown competitor, the Bijou, converted to sound in April 1929.

The Royal Theatre, also managed by George W. Bailey, did not make the conversion until January, 1930.

The Carolina was thoroughly renovated in 1934, reopening on September 29, 1934. It was depression-era Wilmington's most elegant theater. It was here that Wilmingtonians saw Gone with the Wind in February 1940. Reserve seats were available at the Wilmington Furniture Company and cost $1.10 (including tax).

In the late 1940s, the Carolina frequently offered stage shows in addition to feature films on its programs. Some of the programs were variety shows featuring chorus girls and blackface minstrel acts. Other shows reflected regional tastes in music, especially country and western, and starred performers whom the audience knew from records or from hearing them on the radio.