Remembering the days of stand-alone theaters

100_5441My 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.

saluda at nightThe Saluda Theater was built at a cost of $25,000. The first picture shown featured child star Shirley Temple.

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


6 thoughts on “Remembering the days of stand-alone theaters

  1. I remember going to the State theater located in Kingsport, TN in late 1954 or early 55 and watching “Tarzan’s greatest Adventures,” The black folk sat in the balcony and things were getting thrown down. The usher was told, he went upstairs and it stopped right away. Yes, those were the days, some of my good memories of my childhood.

    • I’ve got a feeling it wouldn’t have mattered who sat in the balcony then or now, things would have gotten thrown. Balconies have a way of doing that. I say that, because I did the same thing while a junior high school student in rural western Colorado in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Good times.

  2. I remember the stand-alone theaters. That’s when going to the show was an event, not just a time killer. The ornate lobbies, actual butter in the popcorn, ushers that were helpful, the sound not so loud that it permanently damaged your hearing, polite people, balconies… Sigh…

    • I’d like to experience a theater where the sound: a) isn’t so loud that it makes my ears bleed; b) doesn’t bleed in from the screens on either side of the one I’m watching; and c) features a movie that isn’t interrupted by the ringing of cell phones. I vaguely remember ushers in the early ’80s, but they didn’t seem very interested in being helpful, and I can guarantee the popcorn hasn’t had real butter in it during my lifetime.

  3. The structure of the Saluda say it all, I love anything retro, what an interesting link there so many theaters. We have a local theater “Cine Rey” and it was built in 1947 it is still open and is intact, I remember going when I was younger best popcorn ever and we did not mind not having options, I use to sneak pizza and other things inside the theater. Now they do special events there, like film festivals and concerts…I go there to see foreign films…every time I go I feel like I am transported to another time, it is different from what movie theater now, just the vibe, the smell and the sound.

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