Documenting the American South

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Going to the Show

Winston Theater, Winston-Salem, N.C. 1949

Henderson County Public Library, Henderson, N.C.

Stillwell designed the Winston for North Carolina Theatres, Inc., the subsidiary of the Wilby-Kincey theater chain, for which Stillwell designed many theaters from 1934 to 1950. It was located at 641-43 W. Fourth Street in downtown Winston-Salem. An important tobacco and textile manufacturing city located in the Piedmont area of the state, Winston-Salem had 87,000 residents in 1949, eighteen percent of whom were African American.

Marquee - Winston Winston-Salem, Courtesy of Henderson County Public Library, Henderson, N.C.

The Winston was designed to seat 999 patrons in a single auditorium, with no balcony or mezzanine. Stillwell used an inward curving design for the modernistic facade, a style William Mitchell notes he had recently used for the Rogers Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. A triangle marquee jutted out over an exterior ticket lobby and center box office, topped by an upright (an illuminated vertical sign spelling out the name of the theater). The curved stucco front was embellished with bands of contrasting colored stone, creating, as Mitchell puts it, "an explosion of color." (Mitchell 2006, p. 153)

The curved lines of the front also appear in the theater's foyer. Amenities at the Winston were fairly modest: a small cosmetics room for women, toilets, and concession stand were located off the foyer. There was a nominal stage, but no provisions for live performance (fly loft, dressing rooms, etc.).

Above the foyer was another level, but it was not accessible to the public and used only for storage.

The Winston opened on April 13, 1949, as a first-run house. The Winston-Salem Journal describes the "brilliantly lighted marquee" under which patrons passed before walking through "fan-shaped entrances" and "stainless steel portals with sidewalls of fluted satin aluminum, to be greeted with a flood of light in soft shades and harmonious color from the interior." The "simple lines" of the "ultramodern interior" were embellished with "hand-wrought details." The article also mentions the "controlled weather equipment" of the "latest design." (Winston-Salem Journal, April 13, 1949, p. 15).