In January of 1910, Mr. J.W. Smith of Atlanta announced that he would soon be constructing a new Opera House at the corner of Wall Street and Market Streets in downtown Cartersville, Georgia in the old Exchange Hotel. In November of that year, The Greenwood Theatre was opened. Patrons entered from Market St., now known as Cherokee St. The theatre, which occupied the second floor of the building, seated 800 and featured a 20-foot by 50-foot stage.
The Grand Theatre was originally operated by Manning and Wink Enterprises. Daniell and Beutell were the architects (also architects for the Madison and Buckhead Theatres in nearby Atlanta, GA).
The Grand has a most impressive neo-Palladian front with double pilasters framing three plaster panels. The upper facade cornice was quite elaborate, flanked with classical urns, a railing of stone balusters at each end, and “faux fenestration” of three oriole windows.
January of 1911, a contest was held in which the stylish young ladies of the town sought to find a new name for the theatre. The winning entry was Grand Opera House, suggested by Miss Emily Daves.
Performances at the new opera house included live shows such as orchestra concerts and plays by community theatre groups. Also featured were silent “moving pictures”, and there was a different show each night.
On November 15, 1923, tragedy struck when a fire broke out in the stable located adjacent to the opera house. The entire block was destroyed, including the theatre. Mr. Germain, the theatre operator, also resided in the building, and was able to escape unharmed with his wife. The theatre was rebuilt on a smaller scale using some of the outer walls of the building which were still standing, and it reopened in 1924. It was that year that it began to bear the name, The Grand Theatre.
With the new name came new stars and constant improvements in theatre technology. Techniques in lighting, costume, and makeup gave a more professional look to the movies. Often seen on the screen at The Grand during the 1920’s were movie stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Loretta Young, Rudolph Valentino, and Charlie Chase.
The first “talkie”, or motion picture with synchronized picture and sound, debuted on May 9, 1929. It was called “Syncopation” and was advertised as the entertainment sensation of the age.
In 1930, a newly designed façade was built on the theatre featuring the Beaux-Arts style of architecture with Corinthian columns, urns, swags, and an elaborate marquee. The interior was appointed with plaster relief carvings, stained glass skylights, and terrazzo flooring. A small stage remained for occasional live performances, but motion pictures were the main attraction. It was advertised as offering new air conditioning, cushions on the seats, a new screen, and the latest talking devices.
In the 1940’s, film star Lash Laroo appeared in person at the Grand, as did western stars Kitty Wells and Little Beaver.
Throughout the years, the Grand was the place to go for family entertainment. On Saturdays, the house was filled every weekend with children who came to spend the day. For the price of a quarter, a kid could see a cartoon, serial, a western, a newsreel, and a main feature and still have money left over for popcorn and a soda. Most patrons had their favorite seats and many have fond memories of spending the day with friends, while occasionally getting into trouble from the theatre manager, Mr. Anthony, who ruled the Grand with an iron hand.
Late in the summer of 1977, the Grand Theatre, then owned and operated by the Martin Theatre Company, presented its last movie performance with “Silver Streak” starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.
The Grand Theatre’s programming was kept alive between 1978 and 1983 by a local theatre group called The Pumphouse Players. Cartersville native William Brown served as manager for The Grand, bringing in shows including rock and roll bands, beauty pageants, and plays. The Pumphouse Players performed plays including “Arsenic and Old Lace”, “The King and I,” and “Oklahoma”. They mounted a “Save the Grand” campaign to make the community aware that the theatre was a local historic treasure, well worth saving.
The campaign was successful as the Grand Theatre was purchased by a local resident and slated for a complete renovation. In 1988, Don Kordecki was hired as manager of the renovation project. The theatre was completely converted from movie theatre to live-performance venue including stage expansion, fly system, orchestra pit, lighting and sound equipment, and acoustical tiles to enhance sound. The Grand Theatre re-opened as a live-performance venue on May 19, 1989 with a production called “Gallavantin’ at the Grand”. It was managed by The Etowah Education Foundation for the next 11 years.
The Grand Theatre Opera Company and The Pumphouse Players produced shows featuring local performers as well as professional singers and actors.
In 1990, a two-week summer music theatre camp program was started for the youth of Cartersville and Bartow County. It was directed by George and Jonalyn Bew and Don Kordecki. Students learned not only how to sing and act, but how to express themselves with confidence and the wonderful camaraderie of a cast. This program has now expanded to include camps for four age groups, each culminating in a stage performance. The senior high group has presented many well-loved musicals including “Grease,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Bye Bye, Birdie,” “Li’l Abner,” and “Oklahoma”.
Today, the Grand Theatre serves as a cultural center for the community. The summer music theatre program now serves over 100 students per year. The Grand hosts school groups all during the year for educational performances. Groups also come individually and learn about areas of the school curriculum through drama, music, and dance. An annual Entertainment Series is presented featuring professional performing groups of many genres including country music, orchestral concerts, comedy, drama, musical theatre, and bluegrass.
The Grand Theatre also provides a venue to many community groups who rent the theatre for their performances. Theatre personnel assist in the productions and advise clients on how to make the most of their experience.
An extensive renovation in 2004 gave The Grand a beautiful new look, harkening back to its original art deco look of the 1930’s. A beautiful gold “G” inlaid in the terrazzo floor marks the location of the original ticket booth. The lobby has expanded into a new concession area adjacent to The Encore Room– The Grand’s reception hall.
The décor of the lobby features detailed wood paneling and columns lining the walls.
Many improvements have also been made inside the theatre. A new color scheme features burgundy and gold designs on the walls, carpets and seating. The new seating provides comfort and improved visibility for every patron. All in all, the theatre gives an elegant atmosphere to each performance.
Always on the cutting edge of technology, The Grand Theatre continues to upgrade the sound and lighting equipment to better serve our entertainers and our audiences.
The Grand Theatre continues to remind us of a past rich with exciting entertainment. It also provides many opportunities for citizens of all ages to participate in the performing arts. Our vision is to continue to serve as the cultural center for the Cartersville/ Bartow County area and beyond while building on our heritage.
We will use every resource to make true the Grand Theatre’s theme through its history: There’s something for everyone at The Grand Theatre.
The mission of the historic Grand Theatre is to foster a life-long appreciation for the performing arts by offering quality educational programs and providing a variety of cultural events to diverse audiences in Bartow County.
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