The first phase of renovations at the Gem Theatre are now underway. The City of Kannapolis, the owner of the theatre, is funding the projects, which are expected to cost $1.1 million. The renovations include three major projects: the addition of handicap accessible restrooms on the first floor; a new HVAC system and restoration of the historic marquee.
The addition of accessible restrooms, on the first floor, will be to the left of the theatre entrance, in the adjacent space, which was formerly occupied by Keever’s Photography Studio and Coulter’s Shoe Store. The area will also include event space and an additional exit corridor which will relieve congestion in the lobby.
The new heating and air conditioning system will replace an aging system that is beyond repair.
The iconic Gem Theatre marquee was originally constructed in 1936. Great care is being taken to preserve the historic authenticity of the marquee. City staff are working with experienced professionals to return the marquee to its former glory. Neon lighting will be replaced and original colors such as the famous blue on the marquee will be used to restore it accurately to its 1936 condition. The Gem Theatre is the most photographed location in Kannapolis, and it has been featured dozens of times in national publications such as Southern Living and Our State.
The theatre will be closed during the renovations and will reopen in time for the summer movie blockbusters. The City purchased the theatre property in 2015 as part of the Downtown Revitalization Project. The operations of the Gem Theatre are managed and owned by Steve Morris. “These renovations will ensure that the next generation of moviegoers in the City can experience first run new movies in a beautiful historic treasure,” Morris said.
“This is one of our most significant historical landmarks and our goal is to ensure it remains an integral part of our new downtown,” said Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant. “These three projects are a result of the master plan we recently completed for the theatre. Over 4,000 people participated in the master plan surveys asking what improvements and programs could be incorporated into the function of the theatre. The response was wonderful, and we are pleased we can move forward with this first phase of improvements.”
History of Gem Theatre
The Gem Theatre opened in December of 1936. A fire nearly destroyed it in 1942 but it was rebuilt and reopened in 1948. It is one of the oldest single screen movie theatres with balcony seating in the United States. It’s historic marquee and art deco architecture made it a unique place to see a movie. The theatre has seen a variety of performances over the years including Roy Rogers, Jimmy Pickens and the Grand Ole Opry, and the Avett Brothers. Admission and concession prices are reminiscent of the past and remain affordable allowing families to enjoy first run movies annually. It was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.