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Theatorium - Charleston, SC

Letterhead used by Theatorium in 1907

Theatorium (Charleston's first movie theatre)
321 King Street
Opened: February 2, 1907

George S. Brantley and his wife, Florence, came from Macon, Georgia, to open the first movie theatre in Charleston. He rented a storefront in the American Hotel at the corner of King and George Streets. The realtor threatened to revoke the lease when he found out the Brantleys intended to open a movie theatre in the space.

Brantly purchased 114 kitchen chairs and nailed them together in rows. He covered a large board with cheesecloth for a screen. After arranging for the purchase and delivery of a moving picture projector, he constructed a ticket booth. Florence suggested he place a phonograph with a large horn on top of the ticket booth to attract attention.

In an article in Charleston's News and Courier in 1958, Florence recalled those early days saying, "From the time it opened, we did a land office business. Crowds formed, edging themselves out into the middle of King Street, obstructing street cars that rode down that street's middle. There were continuous performances daily from 2 to
10 p.m. No shows on Sunday. Shows lasted fifteen minutes and changed daily."

A newpaper account in 1907 stated, "Here you will see some of the best moving pictures that can be produced on canvas by the most powerful apparatus. They are lifelike and the subjects are the most amusing that can be had, and when one is seated before the big canvas he feels as if he is in a fine theater enjoying a first-class performance by some high-priced theatrical company. The illustrated songs also are quite an attractive feature of entertainment given in the Theatorium and are alone worth the price of five cents!"

When the Theatorium opened in 1907, there were no established social patterns regarding movie theatre attendance. At first, only men attended. That soon changed. Within a few weeks, during a George Washington's Birthday Parade, four young women locked arms and charged into the Theatorium. Other women followed. After that incident, women attended the movies regularly.

By the end of 1907, ticket sales began to decline. George told Florence that he believed the movie theatre business was a fad that had played out. She recalled, "I was appalled and very upset for I thought we had a wonderful future in it." George sold the Theatorium to John C. Sherrill and A.T. Jennings for $5,000.

Apparently, Florence had a great influence on George because, in February, 1908, he leased the property at 343 King Street for a new theatre he would call the Majestic.

We have been unable to locate a photograph of the Theatorium, but archivist and historian Harlan Greene provided us with a letter from George Brantley dated August 16, 1907, inviting the children of the Charleston Orphan House to visit the little theatre for a special program of Moving Pictures and Illustrated Songs. The letter is from the Orphan House Papers at Special Collections, Charleston County Public Library.

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