My younger girls were taken aback when they recently learned that movie theaters once were stand-alone structures with but a single screen, rather than multi-screen monstrosities that today often accompany major malls and show eight or more movies at a time.
They were also flabbergasted to learn that theaters like the above, the old Saluda Theater in Saluda, SC, once charged kids as little as a dime for admission, particularly when some of today’s shows cost $10 or more.
The Saluda Theater was built in 1936 and operated as a regular movie theater until 1981. It’s been listed on the National Historical Register since 1993.
Designed by Charles B. Thompson, the two-story, stuccoed masonry building sits on the Saluda town square. Although like many small Southern towns, Saluda has been in decline for decades, the theater served as a focal point for entertainment in the community during the 1930s and 1940s.
“The crisp simple lines of the façade the geometric designs of the interior wall finishes and lighting features reveal the influences of the Art Deco style,” according to the National Register of Historical Places registration form.
Not surprising given the era in which it was constructed, the Saluda features a balcony which was originally designed for use by black patrons. Access to the balcony bypassed the main lobby by way of a stair corridor that opened on the rear of the building. At one time, in keeping with Jim Crow traditions, there was a separate ticket booth for black patrons.
The Saluda not only reflects a period of motion picture theatre construction that swept the country in the 1920s and 1930s, but is significant as an unusually intact example of a small-town Art Deco theater, according to National Historical Register information.
The theatre and the building next to it were purchased in 1987 by the Saluda County Council. The Saluda County Historical Society accepted deeds to these properties and began a process of restoring the theatre for community use and turning the adjacent building into a local history museum, according to www.scmovietheaters.com.