Thanks for the memories

Long before videotape, Netflix or smartphone technologies, going to the movie theater used to be a community-wide social event. Saturday afternoon at “the show” in downtown U.S.A. was the place to take a date or the family for good, wholesome entertainment.

In the town of Allendale, S.C., home to USC Salkehatchie’s campus, the Carolina Theatre was just such a place from the 1930s to the ‘60s. That all changed when something called the interstate began steering tourist traffic away from the little town, which had been a midway point between New York City and Miami. Gone were the tourists who visited the town’s restaurants, shops and hotels, and soon the movie theater became a dinner theater, a pool hall and finally fell into disrepair and closed.

The theater is now owned by USC Salkehatchie, and the feelings and memories of a bygone era are recaptured in a book compiled and edited by two USC art students, Sara Mcgregor and Mari Humphries. The book, titled “The Carolina Theatre” is filled with stories about how the theater was the gathering place for the entire town.

“I want people to get a sense of what it was like back then. The purpose of the book is that I wanted to preserve the memories of the past before we make new memories for the future,” says McGregor, a Masters of Art in Teaching graduate student.

USC Salkehatchie received two grants to restore the theater in its old art deco style. That’s when Ann Carmichael, dean of USC Salkehatchie, asked Karen Heid, professor and coordinator of art education at USC Columbia, to be a consultant on the theater renovations, and to include her students. Their task was to create artwork to go into the renovated theater. From that work, the idea for the book was born.

“I always look for experiential things for my students. I just think that out of the classroom experiences are just really important, especially for soon-to-be teachers,” Heid says. “I looked and saw that there was an opportunity for them to do some things that they might not be able to do in any other studio classroom, like learning to do gold-leafing, learning to do stained glass, learning to create theater interiors.”

Undergraduate student Mari Humphries, a junior majoring in art education, says she wants the book to bring hope to Allendale, and that the reopening of the theater can revive the town, the entertainment and its people.

“Many have told us that, since Interstate 95 opened, Allendale has become much more quiet and lifeless. I do not want it to be forgotten. From all of the stories we were told, it is evident that Allendale had a rich history that cannot, and should not, be forgotten, Humphries says.

 The Allendale community will get the chance to relive their Carolina Theatre memories when it reopens after the red carpet gala set for Saturday, Sept. 28.

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