The Center Theater

Matt Winburn Downtown Stories

A key tenant of the Main Street ApproachTM is historic preservation. As part of our ongoing storytelling series, we are excited to highlight the preservation and revitalization work happening at the historic Center Theater in Downtown Hartsville.

The Center Theater is housed in the beautiful Hartsville Community Center Building on N. Fifth Street. The building was a dream of the Hartsville community during The Great Depression of the early 1930s. The Community Center Building, also known as “Building A,” was one of three built on the block as part of the same project. The project also included the Hartsville Post Office, also on Fifth Street, which is now used as the Hartsville Museum. Third, the Hartsville Community Market building was built just behind the Community Center on College Avenue and now hosts the Black Creeks Arts Council.

Much of the project was funded by the Public Works Administration through federal loans as part of the New Deal era public projects in South Carolina. The striking art deco facades were designed by architects Lafaye & Lafaye of Columbia. Wheatley & Mobley of Augusta, Georgia, constructed the buildings.

On July 15, 1935, a ceremony was held to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone for the Hartsville Community Center Building, the first building to begin construction. Inside the cornerstone was placed a sealed copper box holding a copy of the first town charter, a list of local men who died in WWI, a 30-page scrapbook of photos of early Hartsville scenes, and written histories of Hartsville.

When asked about the value that the Center Theater brings to Downtown Hartsville, Manager Kim Cranford says, “This is the only facility in the city that has the ability to host the number of events and quality of events that we’re looking to bring in. By having events in Downtown Hartsville, not only does the Center Theater attract visitor to downtown restaurants and shops, but they’re also contributing to local Accommodations and Hospitality taxes, which are, in turn, rechanneled back into the community through various projects and programs.” Since its inception, the Center Theater has hosted nearly every type of programming imaginable, from plays and concerts to pageants and celebrity guests, including the Three Stooges, Loretta Lynn, the Von Trapp Family Singers, and Johnny Cash. However, with nearly a century of offering quality entertainment, a building is bound to start to show its age.

Kim states the biggest preservation issues with the building came from a moisture problem. “The rain would literally seep into the walls causing leakage and interior damage to the walls” he said. The entire exterior of the building has been repointed, which is the technique of removing the old mortar between the bricks and replacing it with new, hence the fresh look of the exterior of the building. Kim says he has already seen the effectiveness of this treatment in preventing new seepage from rain and moisture. The building also has a new roof which was installed at $270,000. There are no plans to deviate from the original art deco charm of the original design.

Kim says that the revitalization of this building is crucial for the longevity and sustainability of the Center Theater. The remodel will allow for additional and new seating, will make the space ADA compliant, and will allow for new types of programming and entertainment. He notes that the current capacity is 853 with the upgrades to the facility expanding occupancy to 900. They’ll also be replacing all of the old seats with new seating and repainting the interior of the theater. A state-of-the-art sound system will also be installed, which will bring possibilities for supporting larger, more detailed productions and events. As for the second floor, a new elevator will be installed to make the build ADA compliant. Cranford says they also have plans to rent out second floor space for events, offices, and other functions. 

The outpouring of support from the Hartsville community has been insurmountable with many different organizations, businesses, and individuals contributing to revitalization efforts of the Center Theater. Kim says none of this would be possible without the support of the community. Ben Gore, Chairman of the Building Commission, echoes Kim’s report and says the Center Theater is slated to reopen to the public in early to mid-winter. Thanks to the work of the Center Theater and historic preservation projects like this, Downtown Hartsville continues to set the standard for downtown beautification, and continues to attract visitors, new businesses, and a diverse community of individuals. Interested in taking home a piece of Hartsville history? Call Kim at 843-332-5721 for more information about purchasing one of the original chairs from the Center Theater.

Business Name: The Center Theater

Year Opened: 1936 as part of the New Deal Program

Owner Name: Manager, Kim Cranford

Business Address: 212 N. Fifth Street