Since 2007, the building at 561 King St. has been boarded up, covered with graffiti and left untouched. Behind the plywood boards, stories of first dates, concerts and a bit of history sat waiting to be rediscovered. Now far from being an eyesore, the building is being restored to its former heyday, when it served as the home for the Appalachian Theatre.
The Appalachian Theatre was built by W.R. Winkler, and opened on Nov. 14, 1938. It was mainly a movie house, but was also used as a performance space for other entertainment.
“The theatre had Vaudeville acts, or other live theater performances besides just movies,” said Keith Martin, the theater restoration’s vice chair of operations and programming. “The theatre had 999 seats at a time when Boone’s population was around 1900, so this is where people came for their entertainment.”
Unfortunately, tragedy struck on Jan. 21, 1950 after a popcorn maker fire damaged the theater.
“The popcorn was made in the back of the theater in an open-flame popcorn maker, and when the teenager who was watching it went to deliver his first round of corn at the front of theater, he forgot to turn it off,” said Eric Plaag, chairperson for the history and archives committee. “He stayed up there too long talking to the concessions girl, who he had a crush on, and it wasn’t until he went back to check on that he realized the theater was on fire."
The fire was contained to just the popcorn room, but made its way through the ventilation system, and engulfed the roof. The entire roof then collapsed into the theatre, but only the room where the fire started was seriously damaged.The theatre was rebuilt soon after, and continued to be run by the Winkler’s until 1981. It was sold in September of that year, and converted into a twin theater which remained open until 1986. It was bought by Carmike Cinemas, and was operated until 2007 when it was sold to a developer.
Soon after purchasing the building, the developer removed any remaining original architecture, hoping to make the space into a bar performance space. After claiming bankruptcy, the developer was forced to leave the theatre in shambles. Seeing the need to fix the space, the Appalachian Task Force was started in 2011 with the goal of purchasing the theater Plaag said. The nonprofit Appalachian Theatre of the High Country group is currently restoring the theater to its former glory. Renovations have not begun yet, but the group has already paid back the Town of Boone in full, and received full ownership of the theater.
As part of the restoration, the theatre will be redone as faithful to the original as possible, with slight modernizations. The theater will be fully restored to its 1938 glory, complete with faithful lighting fixtures, carpets and exterior marquee. It will also feature space for a black box theatre for smaller community theater performances.
Currently, the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country is in the process of raising funds for the project. There is no set date for the theatre to open, but the group hopes to have it completed within the next two years. In the meantime, celebrate the theatre’s 75th Anniversary on Nov. 14, 2013.