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History of the American Theater – Upper King Street

By January 31, 2013 March 27th, 2014 Around Charleston

If you’re shopping or dining on Upper King Street, you may pass the American Theater  Chances are, there won’t be any movies advertised on its marquee or any “coming attraction” posters leading to the ticket booth. While this beautiful Art Deco building was once one of dozens of theaters lining King Street, the American Theater is now the only one left of its kind, the rest renovated or bulldozed to make way for new construction.

The American Theater and its Art Deco facade stands out against the more neoclassical architecture of the surrounding buildings on Upper King. Architect Augustus E. Constantine built the American during the early World War II years. Constantine, an immigrant from Greece, made his home in the South after graduating from Georgia Tech. He was heavily influenced by the architecture of his native country, and combined elements of Hellenic architecture with the modern Art Deco look of the time. While he was quite influential in contributing to the style of Charleston in the 40s and 50s, only a handful of his creations remain other than the American Theater  Other notable Constantine building designs include the Chase Furniture building and 299 King Street (which currently houses the Quiksilver store).

The American opened in 1942, and was named in honor of the military men and women serving abroad during the Second World War. The first offering? The 1942 release of Joan of Ozark, starring Judy Canova and Joe E. Brown. It featured Art Deco details, including vaulted, gilded ceilings and milk glass chandeliers. The Theater remained open until 1977, when (along with the rest of Upper King) business tapered off and profits dropped sharply. In the late 1990s, the property was reopened as a dinner theater venue, where patrons could order food from roaming servers before and during the movie.  Many contemporary movie goers will recognize the American Theater as one setting in the 2003 Nick Cassavetes’ movie, The Notebook, which stars Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. When Noah (Gosling) takes Allie (McAdams) out on a date, the two see a movie at the American with friends.

The venue was revised again in 2003 when it was converted to a rental property, where business meetings, private movie screenings and private events could take place. Today, the American continues its service to the Upper King area as an exclusive meeting space and premier wedding venue.

Sources:

“American Theater.” Cinema Treasures. http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/283

“American Theater.” Patrick Properties Group. http://www.pphgcharleston.com/venues/view/american_theater

“Joan of Ozark.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034918/

Morris, George J. “Charleston’s Greek Heritage.” Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2008.

Walker, Kristin B. “Master Preservationist Program-Day Six. Preservation Law, Upper King St and a Challenge for Local Architects.” Charleston Inside Out blog. http://charlestoninsideout.net/master-preservationist-program-day-six-preservation-law-upper-king-st-and-a-challenge-for-local-architects. 2 March 2011. 

 

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