Cary News: Opinion

Cary's Heritage: The Cary theater has rich history

The Cary theater opened last month with much fanfare. The venue hosts movies and live performances. It has a rich history, dating back more than half a century.

Randy Chandler and Fay Chandler Honeycutt: Our father, Paul Chandler, bought property on East Chatham Street and built the first indoor movie theater in Cary, which opened in 1946.

The films were delivered at night by truck that stopped in front of the building. The delivery men would throw them down on the sidewalk, which made an awful racket. The films came in metal reels as big as a car tire, two reels per film.

The movie might change four times a week. The schedule was one movie Monday and Tuesday, a new one Wednesday, another one on Thursday and Friday, and another on Saturday. They usually played westerns and comedies. On Saturday there was a serial, and you’d have to come back next Saturday for the next episode.

Showing movies on Sundays was quite taboo, so they only played them Sunday evening.

They always showed a Walter Winchell newsreel, and cartoons before the feature.

When the theater first opened, a movie ticket cost 9 cents for children, and maybe 13 cents for adults. Prices went up from there.

Many Cary teens got their first job working at the concession stand. Also, younger teens were given a dollar or two to ride their bikes around town on Saturday mornings to put advertisements on telephone poles about what was playing that week.

Mrs. Netha Young managed the theater for years, and her son Alvin ran the projector, along with some local teens. They had two projectors, lit by carbon arcs. Mid-way through the movie, they switched projectors. Occasionally the film would get overheated by those carbon arcs and burn in two. Everything would go black and the audience would go berserk while the projectionist would struggle to splice that thing.

The theater was about the only place in Cary for dates, so the town’s teen couples filled the back two rows. Many Cary natives remember a date at the movies: a 25-cent ticket, a 10-cent box of popcorn, a 5-cent Coke, a 5-cent candy bar and a stolen kiss or two.

There was no air conditioning, but there was a huge attic fan. The building was cinder block and brick, so it was cool inside.

One customer sat on the front row and shelled peas and butter beans from her garden. She came almost every time the movie changed. The next day when we cleaned up, we could tell what was in season by shells and hulls she left on the floor.

It was a segregated theater then. There was a separate doorway and an outside staircase to the balcony for the black community. Inside the door was an alcove with a separate ticket window for them, and a little door in the alcove to the concession stand they could knock on to buy candy. They had their own bathroom upstairs too so they never came into the lobby. The projection booth was behind the balcony.

The Cary Theater was open until about 1955. When television came, people stopped going to the movies. Then until 1960, the building was used for live theater and local talent shows on Saturday nights.

Cary’s Heritage is taken from the book “Just a Horse-Stopping Place, an Oral History of Cary, North Carolina,” first published in August 2006. The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted between local citizens and Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel.