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Fayetteville History: Olde Fayetteville opera houses and movie theaters


By Weeks Parker

The Opera House on Person Street was also called
The LaFayette Opera House.

One of the first opera houses in Fayetteville was in the Williams building that was located on the corner of Hay and Maxwell streets across from the arts center that was once the post office. The opera house was on the third floor of that building that ran to the property line of the Hotel Prince Charles.

Another opera house was located on Person Street across from Liberty Point. That opera house featured lovely little balconies like those in the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C. This opera house, also called the LaFayette Opera House, was later named the Strand Theatre where vaudeville acts were often featured after some of the movies. Directly behind that building was a theater called the Ritz.

The opera house was also known as “The New Market” because on the ground floor there was a meat and produce market similar to the one that had been under the Market House since about 1832. When my wife, Myra, was a kindergarten student at First Presbyterian Church, her teachers took the class to the Strand Theatre to see the movie “Cinderella.” Myra and the other children were greatly impressed to see the little balconies in that lovely auditorium that was inside the old opera house on Person Street. Their teachers and the class were so impressed with the movie that a few months later they produced their own live production of “Cinderella” and performed on the stage in the church fellowship hall.

The Colony Theater on Hay Street was the first theater
to be air conditioned in the 1940s

In 1940, the spacious auditorium of the new Fayetteville High School on Robeson Street, where the Highsmith-Rainey Memorial Hospital now stands, was used as an opera house for traveling vaudeville acts and big bands. The world-famous Von Trapp Family Singers performed in that auditorium during their tours of the United States in the 1940s. Members of the original Glenn Miller Orchestra gave a concert in the Fayetteville High School auditorium in 1950.

There were many theaters in Fayetteville, and most of them were on Hay Street. A popular theater that featured Western movies was the Broadway Theatre. Going west up Hay Street was the Miracle Theatre, the Colony Theatre, and the Carolina Theatre. On the north side of Hay Street was the Lyric Theatre near the Pemberton Music and Player Piano Company across from the S. H. Kress building. The Ambassador Theatre, that was re-named the State Theatre, was next door to the Prince Charles Hotel where Sears
Roebuck was later built. On Haymount Hill was the Haymount Theatre that is now being used as a popular performing arts theatre called Cape Fear Regional Theatre.

In addition to the many movie houses, there were numerous drivein theatres in and near Fayetteville. Some of those drive-ins featured vaudeville acts at the end of each movie. My friend the late Monte Hale who was a Hollywood actor and vocalist once appeared at the Sky View drive-in near Gillespie Street. Monte enjoyed being interviewed by me in my little radio station on Rowan Street. He had a lovely voice, and he liked to make audio tapes in my studio.

The S. H. Kress store in the 1920s after the Williams Opera House had been demolished.

Here is a listing of some of the drive-in theatres you may recall that were in the Fayetteville area: The Boulevard Drive-in Theatre at 3308 Bragg Boulevard opened in 1955 and closed in the early 1980’s. Other drive-ins were: The Midway at 3506 Bragg Boulevard. The Fort Drive-In at 4216 Bragg Boulevard, and The Fox Drive-in at 4701 Bragg Boulevard. Eventually all of those drive-in theatres phased out, possibly because DVD movies could easily be rented from vending machines found in many stores.

In 1994 Lynn Pryer founded the Gilbert Theatre in the basement of his home. The theatre was later located above the Arts Council building on Hay Street, and then moved to its
present location on the corner of Bow and Green Streets in the former city hall building. The Gilbert Theatre was named in honor of General Marquis de LaFayette for which Fayetteville was named. General LaFayette’s full name is: Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Mortier de La Fayette, Marquis de la Fayette.