Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

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The Majestic (opened November 26, 1907; presumed closed by Jan. 1909)

The Majestic Theater opened on Tuesday, November 26, 1907. It was located in one of the two storefronts of the Shrier Building (219 North Front Street), just a few doors north of the Bijou (205 North Front Street). It occupied the northern half of the first floor of the two-story Shrier Building. The Shrier Building was approximately 30 feet wide and 80 feet deep, but its first floor was divided into two narrow storefront spaces, each fifteen feet by 80 feet. The Majestic's proprietor was Edgar E. Huston, who had previously managed the Theatorium at 20 Market Street

An article announcing the opening of the theater in the Wilmington Dispatch on November 23, 1907, indicates that Huston had renovated the front of the building, adding ivory colored ornamentation and "hundreds of electric lights,' a box office, and two "bulletin boards" for posters.

Inside, there were also "scores of electric lights," freshly papered and painted walls, and a number of potted plants. The screen (called a curtain in the article) was also framed and "topped by a bower of fine artificial roses."

From this newspaper account it appears that the Majestic was the first movie theater in Wilmington to have a balcony: "A gallery has been placed in the building so as to afford more room and two pairs of stairs lead to it, and this will probably be one of the popular places for the people, as it is to be carpeted and will be aglow with lights."

Balconies were difficult to add to most early storefront movie theater spaces. Assuming the Majestic occupied only the first floor of the Shrier Building, the interior was only twelve feet tall- a common height for storefront spaces in two-part commercial buildings. It is not clear how the Majestic managed to fit a "gallery" into the storefront space it occupied in the Shrier Building, but the newspaper account also mentions that a projection booth had been "elevated above all other points and is entirely fire-proof."

Adding a balcony to early movie theaters in North Carolina was frequently a means of providing separate "accommodation" for African-American moviegoers: when the neighboring Bijou Theater went from tent to built-structure in 1912, a balcony was included in the plans specifically for black patrons. However, it does not appear that the Majestic's gallery was for African Americans. Had it been, mention of this fact would almost certainly have been made in the newspaper accounts describing the new theater.

At the Majestic Theatre - Mme. Rose Ivy, Reaves Collection New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.

Although we must try to assemble a picture of the Majestic from a single newspaper account alone, it seems likely that when it opened in November 1907, it was the most architecturally elaborate movie theater that had opened in Wilmington. Given the fact that Huston was working with leased space, the Majestic's architectural flourishes were necessarily cosmetic rather than structural: the renovation of the building facade, fresh paint and wallpaper, potted plants, a raised gallery and projection booth. But compared with the Bijou's canvas walls and sawdust floor, and the more spartan surroundings of the other storefronts in operation in the fall of 1907, the Majestic probably did seem to most moviegoers "a beaut" of a place to experience cinema.

Following what had become a tradition among Wilmington movie theaters, on the opening night women were admitted free. The Majestic probably did not admit African Americans.

When it opened in November 1907, the Majestic's programs seem to have been the same as its principal competition at the Bijou: a few reels of film with illustrated songs performed between reels. Within a few weeks of its opening, however, the Majestic added a new dimension of live entertainment: an orchestra. It featured "Prof." Jack Atkins as its leader, theater manager Edgar Huston on cello, and Dave Russell on piano (who also "rendered" the illustrated songs). The Majestic appears to be the first movie theater in Wilmington to add musical accompaniment to the films themselves, as well as providing musical interludes between them.

The Majestic continued to highlight live musical performance in its first months of operation. The week of Christmas 1907, manager Edgar Huston ran the largest newspaper ad in Wilmington's year-long cinema history for Mme. Rosy Ivy, the New Zealand soprano, described as "the most expensive illustrated song singer or single vaudeville act in the country today."

The Majestic does not seem to have lasted for more than a year. A "for rent" notice appears for both storefronts in the Shrier Building (217 and 219 N. Front) in April 1909, and the 1909 Wilmington City Directory lists a furniture store occupying the Majestic's old premises. Edgar Huston disappears from the Wilmington city directory after 1907, and reappears in the 1910 census as working in a music store in Greensboro, N.C.