State Theatre was grand in its time

Posted by Teresa Leonard on January 23, 2014 

Billed as “Raleigh’s Magnificent New Theatre,” the State Theater opened downtown 90 years ago this month. Readers of The News & Observer learned of the spectacular opening planned for the new showplace.

With every seat in the house sold for the first performance, the State Theatre will be formally presented to the public tomorrow night, and after a quarter of a century Raleigh will have a playhouse adequate to its needs, and an ornament to the Capital city of the State. The dedicatory performance will be the “Passing Show” an elaborate spectacle brought here especially for the opening....

Completion of the theatre is the fruition of a desire that has been in the minds of every man and woman who has had occasion to attend the theatre in Raleigh during the past 20 years. The old Academy of Music, built nearly 40 years ago... and a fine place in its day was no longer adequate....

Under plans now being perfected for the operation of the theater it will be used every night in the week, the program alternating between high-class vaudeville features and the presentation of the large er pictures. Several major screen productions have been booked for showing in the near future. These will, of course, take secondary place to the better class of road shows that will be presented here....

Nowhere in the State will there be found a handsomer playhouse than Raleigh may call its own after tomorrow night. There are several that are gaudier, but none finished with better taste, none more comfortably designed or with better acoustic properties. Fourteen hundred people may sit in the theater, and not one of them be where they are unable to see the entire state, and not one so far away that he may not hear the softest sounds.

The building is located on South Salisbury street, just in the rear of the Wake courthouse and within a minute’s walk of the city’s six hotels. Outwardly it has the appearance of an office building. The entrance is by a wide lobby cut through the lower floor of the eight-story structure, widening out into a handsome foyer that leads into the orchestra floor of the theater.

Above the foyer is a broad lounging room, with corridors leading into dressing rooms. Comfortable seats are provided for those who wait there. In the lobby is provided a check room for patrons who with to check their wraps. This service will be offered without charge.

The lower floor will seat 700 of the 1,400 capacity of the house. Along the right and left, aisles are arranged ten boxes, with eight chairs each. The chairs are comfortably upholstered and the aisles softly carpeted. The walls are finished in classic design and in softly harmonizing colors. The railings and the entrances are hung with purple velvet draperies. the first gallery is furnished like the first floor.

The stage is of ample depth to accommodate the largest road shows with little effort. It has an opening of 39 feet and ample room in the wings for production without confusion. Beneath the stage are seven dressing rooms for the performers, including two large rooms for the choruses. All dressing rooms are equipped with hot and cold water. The N&O 1/6/1924

Later years were not kind to the majestic State Theatre. N&O arts writer Bill Morrison took one last look as the building was about to be demolished in 1987.

The wrecker’s ball will take a long, slow swing and do its worst, bringing down red-brick walls, tiered balconies and a handsome gold proscenium that frames a stage black with age. The old theater deserves better. Our memories deserve better....

The State did it all for 52 years – Keith vaudeville, musical theater and the cinema. People came from every farming community and crossroad when Vivien Leigh did her Scarlett O’Hara turn in “Gone with the Wind.” The theater survived CinemaScope and the earthshaking special effects process known as Sensurround. What it could not survive was the demise of the inner city, the closing of the stores, hotels and restaurants that served as the magnet for the matinee and evening crowds.

The State was shuttered in 1976. There were attempted comebacks as an X-rated cinema, as a nightclub and as a music hall. All of them failed. The State and the Ambassador over on the Fayetteville Street Mall closed about the same time, leaving the city without a single downtown theater. The N&O 5/31/1987

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service