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December 2011

Ritz Theater in Newberry For Sale

The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation is offering for sale, the wonderful Ritz Theater in Newberry, South Carolina. The property is listed at $75,000.

We visited the Ritz Theater in late June, 2002. Jane Britt, a resident of Newberry, gave us a tour. She took us into the auditorium. We stood in the dark while she moved to turn on more lights. With a click, the auditorium was illuminated by Art Deco sconces running the length of the room on both sides.

“I told you it would take your breath away. I get such enjoyment out of showing this to people. I get chilly bumps."

Jane Britt and John Coles in the Ritz Theater - 2002

When the Ritz opened in Newberry on October 16, 1936, The Newberry Observer ran a special feature section describing the theater in great detail calling it “A modern house of entertainment.” Plans were altered at the last moment in order to install a newly developed sound system. The article stated that the Ritz was the first theater south of Washington to have the new system called “Microphonic Sound.”

The marquee was described as having chromium bands, neon tubes and many electric bulbs. “The sign can be easily seen and read for several blocks in either direction.”

The seating capacity was 800. The auditorium was 44 feet wide, 90 feet long and 25 feet high. The stage was 18 feet deep, 25 feet wide and 72 feet high. Materials listed included 47 solid car loads of Newberry county granite, 63 tons of steel girders and trusses, two and three-fourth miles of conduit, and 535 light bulbs.

The Ritz was entirely fireproof with six emergency exits. The projection booth had no wood or other flammable materials used in its construction. This was of great concern at the time, especially because the nitrate films that were shown were extremely flammable. The projection room at the Ritz still has the heavy metal plated doors that can be closed to prevent fire and smoke from entering the auditorium.

Like so many other single-screen downtown movie theaters, the Ritz eventually closed its doors. Those doors reopened to enthusiastic audiences when the Newberry Community Players purchased the building as their permanent home in 1974.

Now, the Ritz Theater sits waiting for another chance to serve the active community of Newberry. Few of South Carolina's old movie theaters survive today. This one is a gem. It sits downtown in a city known for its cultural tourism. The nearby Newberry Opera House draws crowds from all over the state for its outstanding seasons of national touring shows.

Clemson Theater History Course

Professor James M. Burns is offering a history course this semester that takes a look at theaters in Charleston, Bennettsville, Anderson, and other towns across the state. Students from his class have been combing the libraries looking for relavent material. Some of them have contacted us for material. We have enjoyed working with these eager young history students.

In a recent message from Professor Burns, he wrote, "Thanks for your note, it is great to hear from you. I’m delighted you have had a good experience with my students—your web site and publication have been enormously helpful to them.

I’m considering running the class again sometime in the future, and having students focus on other towns, as there seems to be an enormous amount of material, and a good deal of enthusiasm among the students."

We love
hearing from you.

On August 21, we received an email regarding another South Carolina Drive-In. Karen McAlhaney wrote that her mother-in-law, Shirley McAlhaney, recalled the Nu Era Drive-In located in Williston. We have added it to our list. Karen has promised to send a photograph of a poster from this Drive-In that is now hanging on the wall of Goodland BBQ in Springfield, SC.

Slow and Steady Progress

We know from a Sanborn Map that there was a movie theatre in Leesville, SC, on the corner of Main and Palmetto Streets. But, we don't know any more about it. Maybe one of our visitors can help with this one.

We will soon add an article on Sunday Movies in South Carolina. We did a report in our November Newsreel in 2005 that Sunday movies were first shown during World War II. That seems to have been a temporary situation. In an article from Charleston's News and Courier dated December 12, 1958, we learn that "Sunday movies may come to Greenville in 2 years." It may be hard for people today to understand that, in the not-so-distant past, Sunday was a day of rest, when stores and theaters were closed.

For information on the sale of the Ritz Theater, visit the web page about it at The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation.


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