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Orangeburg, SC

A Rich History of Theaters

Orangeburg has had a variety of "brick and mortar" theaters as well as tent shows and some interesting "traveling" theaters. We have listed as much about the regular theaters as we could gather on two recent trips to Orangeburg. We will be traveling to Orangeburg again soon. The theater history of this city is too great to compile in only a couple of days of research. We welcome any input from our visitors to this site.

Three traveling movie shows caught our attention. In 1937, Wannamaker Motor Company hosted a traveling movie theater from Chevrolet. The large movie van parked at the high school athletic field and presented a "free" sound movie on Monday, May 10, 1937. The advertisement at the right proclaimed, "See and hear this wonder on wheels."

Another interesting traveling show came to the Carolina Theatre in April, 1936. The Chilean Nitrate Educational Bureau, Inc., in cooperation with all fertilizer distributors of Orangeburg, presented a two-reel show dealing with mining, refining and transporting Chilean natural nitrate of soda. The program also showed twenty-four hours of growth of tobacco, tomato, and cotton plants "in three and a half seconds." The program was described as being, "of vital importance to all farmers."

The "Clemson College Motion Picture Truck" was in Orangeburg in March 1937. The newspaper article stated "Miss Louise C. Fleming, Home Agent, or Miss Matilda Bell, Assistant Home Agent, will accompany the truck. The pictures were shown under the auspices of the Home Demonstration Clubs.

The Times And Democrat
May 7, 1937
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Star Theatre
29 N Broughton Ave

An advertisement in The Times And Democrat newspaper dated December 7, 1912, states, "You will go wild with patriotic enthusiasm when you see "When Uncle Sam Was Young." The film showing was a two-reel 101 Bison Feature that included scenes of the Declaration of Independance, the Boston Tea Party, and Bunker Hill. Shows ran from 3 pm until 10:45 pm.

Note: 101 Bison was a motion picture company run by Thomas Ince. In 1912, Ince's Bison Company production studios, known as Inceville, purchased Miller Brothers 101 Ranch and the Wild West Show to use their props and performers for his assembly-line process of making westerns.

The Times And Democrat
December 7, 1912
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Bluebird Theatre
49 E Russell Street

The Bluebird Theater was opened in September 1916 by The Standard Entertainment Company, James Izlar Sims, president. The advertisement at the right describes a combination of plays and motion pictures. For twenty-five cents, you saw both the play and the movie. Programs changed daily.

The 1921 Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Directory by Cahn and Hill lists the Bluebird Theater. It lists the seating as 225, and states that Mr. J. Harold Ziegler was the manager. It also says that the Bluebird Theatre was designated as a moving picture theater. In 1929, the Bluebird Theatre was offering feature movies for as little as ten cents. Their advertisements claimed "Big Pictures at Little Prices."

We are continuing our research on the Bluebird Theatre to discover when it closed, and if it may have relocated in 1935. As always, we would love to hear from anyone who remembers or has information on any of South Carolina's home town theaters, including the Bluebird Theatre.

The Times And Democrat
March 14, 1929

Reliance Theatre
44 W Russell Street

An early Orangeburg theater that provided both live stage shows and motion pictures.

c. 1914 - 1940

The Cahn and Hill Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Directory of 1921 lists the Reliance Theater as a 350 seat house providing Vaudeville and motion pictures under the management of Mr. J. Harold Zeigler.

We continue to look for information, stories and photographs of this large Orangeburg theater. We will add information as we receive or find it.

The Times And Democrat
June 18, 1923
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The Times And Democrat
January 1, 1937

The Times And Democrat
December 3, 1918
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The Times And Democrat
March 9, 1937

Edisto Theatre
42 W Russell Street

In 1941, a brand new movie theater, The Edisto, was opened next door to the closed Reliance. The Edisto was operated by the Sims family until it was leased in the 1960s to another company. It was closed in the 1980s with the building used only for storage until late 1996. The 1945 edition of Film Daily Yearbook lists the Edisto Theatre and indicates that it had 500 seats.

The Times And Democrat
July 4, 1958

Carolina Theatre
222 S Middleton St.

The Carolina Theatre opened around 1927. It was grand and elegant with seating for 1000. The auditorium ceiling was 40 feet above. The ceiling of the stage area had a height of 70 feet. There were six dressing rooms near the stage. The procenium arch was edged with handsome medalion carvings. Great gilded eagles with spread wings hung high on the walls. The plush seats were the best to be had and the box seating was luxurious. Near the projection room was a fine lounge with chairs and sofas.

Ushers helped you to your seat and patrolled the auditorium to ensure good behavior.

Live shows came regularly to the Carolina Theatre. In the early 1930s, Bob Jennings, II, began running motion pictures. Some time later Max Bryant took over. In 1939, the Orangeburg Theater Company took over operation and Ray Linn became the manager.

In an article that appeared in The Times and Democrat shortly after the Carolina Theatre closed in 1969, Ray Linn discussed the many great, and near great stars who performed there, the music of three decades, and more movies than he could recall.

The biggest drawing card and publicity gimmick he remembered was the old Carolina Jackpot every Friday night. He said, "Everybody had to buy a ticket whether they went to the movie or not, and if their name was called they could still win the jackpot. It ran from $125 to $1000 and a lot of people won!"

Like many other large theaters, the Carolina Theater lost patrons when television came on the scene. The declining tickets sales meant less money to maintain such a large theater. When it finally closed, in December, 1969, the paint was chipped, the curtains in tatters, and the walls covered with graffiti. The newspaper proclaimed, "Old Lady Bows Out."

Carolina Interior
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Appearing at Carolina Theater
Shirley Temple in "Stowaway"

Blulebird Theatre (New)
44 W Russell Street
Home of Orangeburg Part-Time Players (OPTP)

The current Bluebird Theatre is located on the site of the former Edisto Theatre. James H. Gressette, Jr., owner of the theater building, was aware of the search for a permanent home for the Orangeburg Part-Time Players, the local theater group of which he is a member. In December, 1996, he made the donation of the building to the OPTP. Since then, it has undergone extensive renovation and restoration. The name Bluebird was chosen at Gressette’s request in honor of his grandfather, James Izlar Sims, one of the owners of the original Bluebird.

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Palmetto Theatre

The Cahn and Hill Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Directory of 1921 lists the Palmetto Theatre with 200 seats and Mr. Brown as manager. The Palmetto Theatre is not listed in the 1945 edition of Film Daly Yearbook.

African American theater c. 1920

Prince Theatre

c. 1935

Ritz Theatre
49 E Russell Street

c. 1935

State Theatre
9 Boulevard Street

c. 1945 African American theater
Listed in the 1945 edition of Film Daily Yearbook with 400 seats.

Carolinian Theatre

c. 1930 - 1935


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