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Newberry, SC

Newberry Opera House

The Newberry Opera House was completed in 1881. Built of brick from local brickyards, the French Gothic style building has two floors and a 130-foot clock tower.

The first floor originally housed the fire engine room, city council chambers, a clerk’s office, a police office, and three jail cells. The second floor was a performance hall 53 by 52 feet with a stage 29 by 52 feet. Acts that performed there included touring companies of New York plays, minstrel and variety shows, famed vocalists and lecturers, magicians and mind readers, novelty acts and boxing exhibitions.

Silent films were shown at the Opera House in the early 1900’s. A “talkie” shown in the late teens signaled a change in the use of the house as movies replaced live shows. In the 1930’s the Opera House was remodeled as a movie theatre.

The Opera House closed as a movie theatre in 1952 following a showing of The Outlaw. By 1959, the building was in danger of being torn down. Preservation of the historic Newberry Opera House was promoted by the Newberry Historic Society and other community groups. In 1970, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1992 the Newberry Opera House Foundation was formed. Over the next several years, the exterior was restored and an additional 10,000 square feet was added to the building, creating a full theatrical production facility.

With seating for 450, the theatre is equipped with state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems. The pneumatically operated orchestra pit can accommodate Broadway and operatic productions. Beside the stage is a full size soundproofed rehearsal hall.

Wells Theatre

All we have been able to discover about the Wells Theatre was that it was built by Mr. Wells who previously ran the Newberry Opera House.

Ritz Theatre

For more information and phtotgraphs of the Ritz Theatre - Click Here

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 article described the air conditioning system, seats, curtains as well as the soda shop, managed by Ellerbe Sease, and the Southern Auto Store that would occupy the spaces on either side of the theater entrance.

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.

At the time of its opening, the Ritz had Mrs. C. H. Albrecht as president and treasurer; Mr. Theo Albrecht, vice president and secretary; Mrs. Darby and N. C. Wilson, cashiers; Bill Darby, assistant manager; and Lewis Waddell, projectionist.

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. Keeping the building safe, clean and ready for stage productions consumes most of the resources of this all-volunteer, nonprofit group. Their current fund-raising campaign is focused on raising the large additional funds needed to restore the Ritz to its former Art Deco appearance.

Newberry Opera House
Newberry Opera House

Newberry Opera House, Interior
Auditorium

 

 

 

 

 

Ritz Theatre, Newberry, SC
Ritz Theatre - 1940

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