Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

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Victoria Theatre (opened January 12, 1914; closed July 1925)

The Victoria was a purpose-built, downtown theater erected by local merchant and movie entrepreneur J.M. Solky on the site of the Bonitz Hotel on Market Street in Wilmington. The Victoria was the second movie theater in Wilmington to have been planned and built "from the ground up" rather than created from an existing storefront space. The first purpose-built theater in Wilmington, the Bijou, had been constructed in 1912. Storefront space in the Bonitz building had previously been home to the LeGrand Theatre and its successor, the Joyland. Solky, who also operated the Grand Theatre, announced his plans to build Wilmington's first "high class" vaudeville theater in April 1913. Solky purchased the lot on which the Bonitz Building stood for some $35,000 and budgeted $25,000 for the cost of constructing the Victoria in its place. The Victoria measured 50 feet 130 feet, including its stage and backstage areas. It had a separate balcony for African Americans. The architect of the Victoria was Burett H. Stevens, who also designed the Bijou in 1912.

The article announcing Solky's plans in the Wilmington Dispatch makes note of the Victoria's excellent location: "on one of the handsomest streets of the city, and within a block of both the Front and Princess street belt [streetcar] lines."

Ad for the Victoria, Wilmington, N.C. in The Reaves Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.

Solky planned the Victoria to be a "high-class" or "big-time" vaudeville theater, announcing that its acts would be furnished by the B.F. Keith vaudeville circuit. "High-class" or "big-time" vaudeville was distinguished from "small time" or "family" vaudeville in several respects. Big-time vaudeville programs were made up of 8-12 individual acts (usually lasting 10-15 minutes each), with movies occupying a limited role. Usually only two or three performances were given each day. The individual acts were booked through one of the major vaudeville booking offices in New York.

Big-time vaudeville theaters were often large and architecturally elaborate. The Victoria was designed to hold 1200 people, and was the largest theater in the city when it opened in 1914. Admission prices at big-time vaudeville ranged from 10 cents to (at some metropolitan houses) more than one dollar. The admission prices at the Victoria started at 10 cents for children at matinees to twenty-five cents for adults in the evenings.

"Small-time" or "family" vaudeville were terms used to designate a variant of vaudeville that emerged around 1905. It interspersed vaudeville acts between reels of films, offering shorter programs-usually five or more times each day. Small-time vaudeville acts were cheaper than those that played on the Keith circuit. Small-time vaudeville theaters were smaller and less elaborate than big-time theaters, in some cases, "repurposed" from retail spaces. Admission was also less: usually five or ten cents.

The Victoria opened with a matinee performance on Monday, January 12, 1914. Owner J.M. Solky brought L.A. Peck from Baltimore to manage his new theater. The Victoria featured a full orchestra and "young lady ushers." In addition to vaudeville acts, the Victoria included two films on each of its three daily programs.

The Victoria closed for the summer in 1914 and reopened on Labor Day, as was the custom among many theaters in the South.

In October 1914, L.A. Peck left the Victoria to take over Solky's other theater, the Grand, when it was enlarged and renovated. He was replaced by Frank W. Peiffer, who had previously managed the Joyland, Airdome, and Crystal Palace Theaters in Wilmington. In November 1915, J.M. Solky turned over both his theaters, the Grand and the Victoria, to James Howard and Percy Wells, owners and managers of the Bijou and Royal Theaters. (Link to Grand, Joyland, Airdome, Crystal Palace, Bijou, and royal Theaters)

Already operating three movie theaters in Wilmington, Howard and Wells chose to use the Victoria as a theater for musical comedy (so-called "tab" or "tabloid musical comedy"), re-opening the theater in February 1916. In December 1916, Howard and Wells decided to transfer vaudeville shows to their Royal Theatre. Management of the theater was taken over by Carl Rehder in 1917.

Howard and Wells purchased the Victoria property in 1917 and renovated the theater, enlarging the stage and remodeling the front.

The theater was closed for a year, reopening as a venue for dramatic companies in February 1919. For the next few years, the Victoria presented vaudeville, dramatic companies, and musical comedies. Movies, accompanied by "a first class motion picture orchestra," supplanted theatrical entertainment at the Victoria in 1923.

Howard and Wells leased the Victoria to Jack Marcus from Florence, S.C., in 1923.

Marcus forfeited his lease in 1924. The following year, it was leased by George W. Bailey. He closed the Victoria, remodeled the property, and reopened it as the Carolina Theatre in October 1925.