The Carolina Theatre
By Dan Gibbs
Having grown up in Hendersonville in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, my friends and I spent many Saturday afternoons and as we got older, many weekend nights at the Carolina Theatre on North Main Street in Hendersonville.
Just about everyone that grew up here has a story about what movies they saw and when they saw them. My oldest sister Denise took me and my little brother Derek to see Star Wars when it came out in 1977. I was 11 years old and he was 4 and that movie turned him into a Star Wars fan for life. Other iconic movies I saw at the Carolina was Animal House and Caddy Shack. Animal House is the movie that inspired me to want to go to college.
The Carolina Theatre was the main movie theatre in Hendersonville from 1940 until it closed its doors in 1986. The Carolina’s origins date back to the Rex Theatre that opened in 1924. The Rex was built by local businessman E. A. Smythe and former professional baseball player Jake Wells and was designed by local renowned architect Erle Stillwell. It burned in 1932 and was reopened a year later as the Carolina. Stillwell also designed this version but it burned in 1940. Stillwell also designed the next version that reopened in 1941 and he included a balcony in the last reincarnation.
Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald who penned The Great Gatsby even mentioned looking out of his hotel room window when he stayed at the Skyland Hotel on Main Street in 1936 and being able to see the Carolina’s marquis. He probably caught a movie or two during his brief stay here.
The Carolina occasionally hosted live acts on their stage, the most famous of these being James Brown and the Famous Flames. The Carolina also hosted community events such as pep rallies, local concerts, and stage plays.
There are several good resources for the history of movie theatres in Hendersonville. Cinematreasures.org is a great starting point for the history of most of the classic theatres in North Carolina and local Henderson County historian wrote an excellent article about the history of movie theatres in Hendersonville for the Hendersonville Times-News (“That’s Entertainment!”) on 8 JUL 2018.