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Bishopville, SC

Harper Theatre, Bishopville, SC

Bishopville Adapts Old Theatre

The Bishopville Chamber of Commerce has purchased the old Harper Theatre and plans to adapt the building to a new life as a community resource. Ronald Williams, Executive Director of the Lee County Chamber of Commerce recently gave us a tour of the building and talked about the plans. The theatre currently serves as the Chamber of Commerce offices and as a Visitor Center.

Originally opened as the Andrews Theatre, the building retains several features that recall its history as a movie theatre. The balcony is still there and the projection booth still has two arc lights that were used to provide light to the projectors. A few rolls of old film still rest on the shelves. Below the projection booth is the office that once belonged to the theatre manager. On an old desk is a stack of free passes to the Harper Theatre which operated briefly in 1983.

Harper Theatre, Bishopville, SC

The theatre as it looked in a 1983 newspaper story.

Harpter Theatre projection booth

Ronnie Williams with original arc lights in the projection booth of the old Andrews Theatre in Bishopville.

“A fellow from Hartsville came over here and opened the theatre in 1983, but it didn’t stay open a month. It didn’t have the traffic to keep it going.” Ronnie told us. As we walked back down the balcony Ronnie pointed to the balcony railing. “We want to put a wall up here and our projector over there and actually run a mini-theatre just for presentations. We want to build a second floor over the auditorium for a reception hall and have room for a small restaurant downstairs. We’re excited about the potential for this old theatre.”

Ronnie took us downstairs and showed us the original auditorium. He explained how the floor was flat for some distance and then sloped down toward the stage. As we got to the stage end of the auditorium we saw the original letters that had stood above the marquee. “They still have the neon lights in them but I doubt they work.” Ronnie said. “We’d love to restore and use them again.” He showed us where the old stage floor used to be. He pointed up and we could see the old curtain track mounted on the ceiling.

We walked back to the front of the building and Ronnie pointed out where the restaurant kitchen would be. “We would call it the “Old Theatre Restaurant,” he said. “The Chamber of Commerce has always rented so when this building came available it seemed like a good thing to do. We’ve tried to come up with a good community bulletin board that fits the character of the downtown. We didn’t want one of those signs you put on the sidewalk. We rebuilt the theatre marquee and now we change the letters when we have an event. We’ve gotten lots of compliments on it."

It is always exciting to find one of these old community movie theatres still standing. It is even more exciting when we find a community trying to save and adapt their old movie theatre for a new use.

Lee County Chamber of Commerce
Ronald D. Williams, Executive Director
221 N. Main Street
Bishopville, SC 29010
(803) 484-5145

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