History of The Carolina Theatre of Greensboro

The Carolina Theatre, originally billed as “The Showplace of the Carolinas,” opened on Halloween night in 1927 as a vaudeville theater that was considered to be the finest theater between Washington D.C. and Atlanta.

Our Story

On October 31, 1927, Mayor Paul Lindley was issued the first ticket and joined opening night crowds in exclaiming over the glittering crystal chandeliers, gilded railings, marbled columns, and classical statues.

The most monumental structure of its type ever built in the city, the terracotta façade is in a Greek design with embellishments painted in greens, reds, and golds. Tall windows light the floors above the lobby, which were intended to be the regional headquarters of the Publix-Saenger Theater Corporation until the Depression struck. The Carolina was also Greensboro’s first commercial building to be air conditioned.

The opulent décor was designed to provide the ordinary citizen with an experience of fantasy. Uniformed ushers greeted patrons passing through the elegant lobby and under handsome archways into the auditorium where clouds were seen on a sky-blue, domed ceiling above the columns and draperies reminiscent of a Greek amphitheater. Even during the Depression, the cost for an evening at the theatre was affordable at $0.75 for an adult and $0.50 for a child.

Operated as a part of the Keith Vaudeville chain, the Theatre’s early programs featured live performing acts, the Carolina Theatre Orchestra, the Carolina News newsreel, an audience sing-along, and a silent film accompanied by the impressive Robert Morton theatre pipe organ. Vaudeville’s days were numbered, however, and in 1928, the Carolina became the first theater in the state to install the new Vitaphone speakers, and crowds flocked to see films five times daily.

During the late 1960s, suburban businesses and neighborhood movie theaters began to attract citizens away from the heart of Greensboro. Just as Downtown began to decline, so did the Carolina Theatre. In 1975, responding to the growing need for centrally located community performance spaces, the United Arts Council raised funds to save the deteriorating building from demolition. By stretching the restoration budget with volunteer labor and donated services, the Carolina was refitted for use as a performing arts center and reopened in February 1978.

The bumpy journey was not over for the Carolina. Thick smoke greeted people coming to work on Wednesday, July 1, 1981. The Carolina was beset by a raging fire in a stairwell that had once led to the segregated balcony. The Theatre was closed for a year to repair the damage. The United Arts Council then staged the Renaissance Capital Campaign in 1988, raising $5,000,000 to help expand the city-owned Cultural Center on Davie Street, and to undertake the next phase of renovation at the Carolina. In 1991, the Theatre reopened.

In 2018, the Board of Directors launched the “Setting the Stage Capital Campaign.” With $2.8 million in funding secured, Phase I was completed in early 2022, including critical upgrades and renovations focused on the audience experience, including interior updates to seating, plasterwork, carpet, restrooms, concessions, lighting, sound and video equipment, heating and cooling systems, fire alarm system and upgrades to the black box theatre, The Crown. Unexpected downtime due to the COVID pandemic was maximized during Phase I, allowing completion of the slated projects. This phase also included a careful assessment of the decorative terra cotta façade and windows. Today, the Carolina Theatre has completed “Setting the Stage Capital Campaign Phase II – Renovate,” a project to restore and preserve the Carolina’s decorative terra cotta façade and leaded glass and steel windows.

The Carolina Theatre is a fully functioning performing arts facility, welcoming more than 100,000 guests through her doors each year. She has been home to the Greensboro Ballet – presenting an annual production of The Nutcracker as well as family favorites Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella; Community Theatre of Greensboro – performing their annual production of The Wizard of Oz for more than 25 years with over 125 community volunteers in the cast, crew and orchestra; Greensboro Opera bringing over 6000 Guilford County fifth graders every year to experience an opera at The Carolina Theatre. Other local performing arts groups, as well as civic groups, businesses, and individuals rent the facility for seminars, meeting, dance recitals, graduations, receptions, and even for weddings. Whether taking in a show in the Betty and Ben Cone, Jr. Auditorium or in The Crown at the Carolina located on the theatre’s third floor, the theatre continues with its mission of Presenting Arts, Preserving History, Promoting Community!

Our Timeline

February 1927 – Construction of The Carolina Theatre.

View from the corner of Exchange & S. Ashe Street. Southwest corner of Carolina Theatre. Notice Lincoln Financial in the background.

October 31, 1927 -- Halloween Night marks the opening of the 2,200-seat vaudeville theatre.

Mayor Paul Lindley was issued the first ticket and program. (Two Photos of Original Program)

1928 – Junior League of Greensboro Fashion Show.

Annie Fred Morton was president 1927-1928.

1930 – Laurel and Hardy in Blotto and Roadhouse Nights with Helen Morgan and Charles Ruggles on the Marquee.

The Publix Saenger Theatres Corporation early programs featured live performing acts, the Carolina Theatre Orchestra, the Carolina News Newsreel, an audience sing-along, and silent films accompanied by the Robert Morgan theatre pipe organ.

December 1930 – Can you find Santa in the picture?

Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Frances Dee in Along Came Youth.

1935 – Vick Chemical Company shed papered with Carolina Theatre Movie Posters

Anne of Green Gables, Released November 1934 and Devil Dogs of the Air starring James Cagney and released February 1935

1937 – Exterior of Carolina Theatre

Robert Taylor and Eleonor Powell in Broadway Melody of 1938. Note the large signs with ticket price matinee: .25 & evening .40¢.

1938 – Corner of S. Greene and Washington, looking at the north side of the Carolina Theatre and adjacent ESSO Gas Station.

Billboard for Carefree with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on the side of the building. Carefree was released in August of 1938.

1939 – Greensboro College Girls at Carolina Theatre Box Office.

The original box office is set back under the marquee and in the area that is now the outer vestibule. Poster for Idiot’s Delight starring Clark Gable and Norma Shearer in background. Movie released in January 1939

1949 – Photo of the stage taken from the segregated balcony.

1949 Circle K Club begins weekly Saturday entertainment for local children.

Generations of Greensboro residents grew up attending the theatre every week until 1965.

1930s -1950’s – Poster was on the walls of the “Sign Shop” now The Crown.

This 3rd floor space was where all posters and artwork were created in the early years of The Carolina.

1952 – The World Premiere of O’Henry’s Full House was shown August 17, 1952.

This new marquee was added in the mid to late 1940’s

1961 – Poster for The Second Time Around starring Debbie Reynolds, Steve Forrest and Andy Griffith.

1970’s – Lobby and Box Office

Note the box office is outside on the right-hand side under the marquee.

1970’s – Lobby and Box Office

The doors below the Mezzanine Lobby were taken out during the 1990 renovation.

1981 – July 1,1981 Fire in the stairwell of The Carolina Theatre

The person who started the fire lost their life in the fire. The building was shut for 14 months for repair and renovations.

1982 – Scaffolding covers the auditorium to clean Proscenium Arch, Ceiling and Walls from the fire damage.

1993 – The Carolina Theatre installed a new marquee made possible by grants from Southern Webbing Mills, Jaycees and Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Cost $45,000.

2006 -- The United Arts Council passes the deed to Carolina Theatre of Greensboro, Inc., granting its independence, on March 1, 2006

2012 – Roberta Flack performed at Carolina Theatre’s annual fundraiser Command Performance on April 19, 2012

2013 – The Crown, a black-box studio theatre, opens as the new performance space on the third floor at the Carolina Theatre, hosting concerts, plays, cinema and private events.

(Photo Barefoot Movement)

2018 – Empty auditorium for Capital Campaign renovation – replacing all seats and carpet.

The closed segregated balcony, behind the black curtains, is now used for storage.

2018 – October of 2018 Setting the Stage, a Capital Campaign for the Carolina Theatre, finishes the first portion of Phase I of renovations, including new seating and carpet, renovated restrooms and concession area, and sound upgrades.

Auditorium seats 1130. $2.8 million was raised.

2021 - Setting the Stage finishes the second wave of Phase I with updates to The Crown

Renovations include expanding restrooms, adding an artist’s lounge (pictured here) and dressing rooms, moving the tech booth, and updating concessions.

2022 – The Crown continues to be a vibrant performance space for emerging artists

2023 - Finished Façade Renovation

Restored and repaired all 10 leaded glass and steel framed windows, terracotta, and all decorative detail.

The Carolina Theatre of Greensboro

Presenting Arts. Preserving History.
Promoting Community.

Box Office Hours:
Monday – Friday
12PM – 3PM