The UNC Library has put together a wonderful new website called Going To The Show as part of their Documenting the American South series. The site overlays Google maps with old Sanborn Insurance Maps which are marked with the locations of old movie theaters in North Carolina. The site focuses on the introduction of the moving pictures (1896) through the end of the silent era (c.1930), but also has a listing of theaters that existed outside this frame. The site features 45 cities in North Carolina, one of them being Raleigh.
Raleigh’s moving picture theaters go all the way back circa 1905 when the first theater was opened in the popular gathering and multi-purpose spot, the Metropolitan Hall (Editors Note: The GTTS website states that the Gem opened in 1909 at 105 Fayetteville, but Wake: A Capital County Vol.2 and City Directories say it opened in Met Hall in 1905). Before that, there had been a few silent features shown in the Academy of Music, but the Gem was the first in Raleigh to dedicate itself to the moving picture. A relatively new phenomenon, movie theaters had begun to spring up around the country, with the first opening in 1896 in New Orleans.
Since that first theater opened in Raleigh, around 23 movie theaters have existed downtown throughout the years. Most were only around for a year or two, like the Lyric (1914-1917), and The State (1924). Theaters like the Ambassador were around for many years, and people still remember going to movies there as a kid. There have been 8 theaters on Fayetteville alone (the Lyric, Grand, Superba, Gem, Almo, Ambassador, Gaiety, and the Grand), with the longest running, The Ambassabor, closing in 1979.
The Raleigh City Museum will be hosting a kids program Saturday, August 15th called “Let’s Go To The Movies.” Children will learn about the early history of movie theaters in Raleigh, and even make their own flipbook movies to take home. Visit the Raleigh City Museum website for more info.
Palace Theatre in the 1920s
The Capitol Theater interior, c.1930s
The Capitol Theater entrance, c.1940s
Shot from above The Capitol Theater marquee, c.1940
An Ambassador audience in the 1940s. The theater was named after Josephus Daniels, who was the Ambassador to Mexico under Woodrow Wilson.
The audience above as seen from the back at a Piggly Wiggly cooking program.
The Ambassador at night
The Ambassador had a separate entrance for “Colored” (to the left of Adler’s) who at one time were restricted to the balcony.
The stage of the State Theatre
Ushers of the State Theatre
Images courtesy of the Raleigh City Museum and the North Carolina State Archives