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The Airdome (opened May 27, 1911; closed fall 1915)

The Airdome was an outdoor theater located on a vacant lot at 119 N. Front Street in downtown Wilmington, on the site of the former Delmonico Cafe, across the street from the Post Office building. The lot was approximately 40 feet by 100 feet. This postcard, published in 1905, shows the Orton Hotel and, to its right one building down, the wooden structure that housed the Delmonico Cafe before it was torn down. Its opening was announced in the Wilmington Star on May 27, 1911. It is assumed that African Americans were not admitted.

According to Lewis Philip Hall in his Land of the Golden River (Hall 1975, p 328), the Airdome was a true open-air theater. It was roofless, its space defined by the walls of the buildings adjacent to it. A green wooden fence along the street front served as a facade. An arch was constructed in the center of fence upon which “Airdome” was lettered.

Wilmington, N.C. in The Dr. Robert M. Fales Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.

The Airdome was managed by Frank Peiffer, who had opened and managed the Joyland Theater. Peiffer, himself a drummer who had performed at the Lumina dance pavilion, attempted to distinguish the Airdome by hiring one of the largest orchestras to play at a movie theater in Wilmington—a total of seven instruments—under the direction of “Professor” Herman Kahn, whom Peiffer had brought to the Airdome from Newark, New Jersey.

Like other open-air theaters, including movie screenings on the beach at Lumina in Wrightsville Beach, the Airdome’s operation was seasonal (roughly Memorial Day in late May to Labor Day in early September). It was an accommodation to the hot and humid summer conditions, which forced some theaters to close for the summer. But open-air theaters necessarily operated only at night. The Airdome’s daily (except Sunday) program began at 7:30 pm and ran until 11 pm.

The Airdome operated for five summers in Wilmington (1911-1915). The lot upon which it was located was sold in November 1915 to James Howard and Percy Wells, owners and managers of the Bijou Theater, as the site for a new, purpose-built theater, the Royal, which opened in 1916.