Carolina Theatre History

The city of Charlotte has many beautiful, and noteworthy landmarks, including the historic Carolina theatre.

Built in 1927, the Carolina was built as part of a chain theatre project, funded by Paramount. The film production company spared no expense when designing the majestic theatre.

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It was the first building in downtown Charlotte to have air conditioning. Even more notable is the fact that the Carolina Theatre was among the first to be racially integrated.

The first movie to premier was the silent film, A Kiss in a Taxi. For many years, the theatre played silent films at the beginning of the week, then hosted vaudeville performances during the latter half of the week.

By 1938, the Carolina Theatre was briefly renovated to accommodate sound films. This gem of a theatre had a couple of noteworthy events, including a concert by Elvis Presley on February 10, 1956.  Other notable guests include Bob Hope and Katherine Hepburn.

The Carolina is best known, however, as being the premier location for The Sound of Music, on March 31, 1965. North Carolinians flocked to the theatre from all over the state. The movie ran for a record-breaking 79 weeks total, with a total of 398,201 attendees–more than the entire population of Charlotte at that time. 

Trouble began, however, the following decade. Other theatres had been constructed in the surrounding neighborhoods, and many people elected to use those theatres, as opposed to traveling downtown.

Feature films became more costly to purchase and show, while fewer people felt compelled to make the trek into the city. By 1978, the Carolina Theatre was no longer turning a profit. The last movie to show at the theatre was Bruce Lee’s Fists of Fury, on November 27 of that year. 

The Abandoned Theatre with a Bright Future

And then, for many years, the theatre sat empty–a carcass, in the middle of a bustling city. It became an easy target for mischief, including arson during the 1980s. After several failed attempts to renovate, and revive the majestic theatre, the city sold it to the Foundation for the Carolinas, in the spring of 2013.

The Balcony at the Carolina Theatre, Charlotte
The proscenium from the balcony of the Carolina Theatre

Fast forward four years and the Foundation managed to raise a 51.5 million dollar budget to meticulously renovate the theatre. They not only want to restore the original artwork and architectural features of the building, but they wanted the purpose of the building to evolve as well. 

The new Carolina theatre, which is still currently under construction, will not only host movies, and concerts, it will also have adequate space for speakers, community events, and civic discussions.

The project has also been expanded to include a 25-story hotel, that is set to be built on top of the theatre.

Carolina Theatre Ghosts

Paranormal investigators have flocked to the site, and many claim there are at least three distinct spirits that haunt the theatre, but there could very well be more.

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Some citizens of Charlotte speculate what will happen to the lingering spirits during construction.

While some believe the work will drive the spirits away, paranormal researchers often find that construction, and renovation work has a tendency of causing more supernatural activity, particularly in places that have already been deemed haunted.

Will there be an increase in activity, when the doors of the Carolina theatre finally re-open? Only time will tell. Despite the extensive facelift currently underway, the theatre will likely continue to be a noteworthy location for paranormal enthusiasts everywhere.

The Trouble with the Lights 

Many individuals who have been granted permission to visit the previously abandoned building all seem to note the same ongoing problem–the theatre is always preternaturally dark. It doesn’t matter how many lights you bring into the building, there is always inherent darkness in the corners, and recesses of the place.

Others claim that when they have turned on the lights within the theatre, they don’t always like to stay on. Some would inexplicably flicker, while others would go out altogether. A few times, theatre staff would replace lightbulbs around the building, only to have them be completely burnt out a few days later. A lot of the issues with the light have been attributed to an entity named Fred.

The Ghost of Fred 

Fred is, by far, the most notable of the theatre’s resident spirits, as well as the most active. This particular ghost started haunting the building long before it shut its doors to the public.

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Staff members began seeing a white apparition throughout the building. One former employee, a lighting technician named Bill Freeman, saw the ghost of Fred several times. He would often be seen standing on the stage of the theatre, as well as the balcony, overlooking the seas of empty seats.

Freeman was working in the theatre one evening when he got the strange sensation that he was being watched. The feeling set him immediately on edge since he knew all other staff members had left for the day.

When Freeman glanced up at the balcony, he saw a dead man standing there. The apparition was well defined and was staring right back at him.

These eerie, yet harmless, visits from Fred became so frequent, that staff, and guest performers alike began verbally saying goodbye to him every time they left the theatre, as a sign of respect, and goodwill.

A few investigative teams have claimed that if you snap your fingers while visiting the theatre, you will hear a phantom snap in response. Whether or not this is Fred or another spirit, is yet to be clear.

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