Way before McGregor Hall, the Cinema or even Raleigh Rd. Outdoor Theatre in Henderson, patrons of the arts could enjoy a live performance, a silent movie or even a vaudeville show in any number of theaters and performance halls that dotted the community.
Most folks in Henderson remember the Embassy, located just a block off Garnett Street, its interior dripping in burgundy velvet and the stairs leading to the balcony where the “cool” kids hung out.
Local historian Mark Pace said it was billed as “the grandest movie theater in the U.S.” when the Stevenson family opened it in 1940. He joined WIZS’s Bill Harris for the tri-weekly Around Old Granville segment of TownTalk.
The Embassy closed in 1987 and the building was torn down in 1996; its name lives on in The Embassy Square Project, an $8 million privately funded endeavor that gave way to McGregor Hall Performing Arts Center and Perry Memorial Library.
The Stevenson family owned dozens of movie theaters across the state and the former Moon-Glo Outdoor Theatre (renamed Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre) is one of only a handful of drive-in theaters that are still in operation across the state.
Then there’s The Stevenson, located along Garnett Street near the spot where the former Rose’s store was. The Art Deco style building was designed by Henderson architect Eric Flanagan, who also designed the Henderson High School – now the Center for Innovation for Vance County Schools.
Just down the street from The Stevenson – near Frazco – was The State, another movie house.
Downtowns across the Old Granville area had at least one movie theater, Pace said.
The Orpheum in Oxford on Williamsboro Street was built in 1913. It burned in 1943 and was rebuilt in an Art Deco style that the newly restored location has retained in its new incarnation as a wedding and event venue.
A group is Lousiburg is trying to do a similar thing and save a theater downtown, which opened in 1935 and was in operation until about 2009.
Oxford also had The Liberty Theater, located near the current location of Hall’s Flooring. The Mills family ran this theater, which was in operation from 1929-1942 for African Americans.
The Carolina Theater occupied a spot near Strong Arm Baking Co. on Main Street in Oxford from the mid 1930’s to the early ‘60’s, Pace said. The building burned down in 1997 when it was being used as a fitness center and now is the site of the Hugh Currin mini-park.
There was a drive-in in Oxford, across from the Food Lion at Hilltop, called the Starlite. Pace said he’s looking for a photograph of this theater, so if anybody has one, he’d love to see it.