Saturday, February 05, 2011

Downtown’s Eyes Turned 85 This Week!

This week the soulful eyes of Downtown Durham turned 85 years old.

It was February 2, 1926 when The Carolina Theatre opened as the $250,000 Durham Auditorium and hosted famed Will Rogers that first year and the symbolically-even-more-famed African-American contralto opera singer Marian Anderson the next.

When it opened, the facility was the first theater in Durham to admit African-Americans, though through separate doors and with separate seating, but Ms Anderson performed to a diverse audience that is characteristic of Durham and in 1963 it became fully integrated.

I wonder if The Carolina was the Durham venue in which Sam Cooke performed earlier that same year when he was inspired to pen the Civil Rights anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” after talking with demonstrators on his way back to his bus.Capture

In today’s afterglow of Billy Elliot and Lion King, we forget that it was The Carolina that first brought Broadway to Durham with the original cast tour of Oklahoma.

In my time in Durham, The Carolina has always seemed modest and unpretentious and very genuine - all personality characteristics of the community. She hasn’t ever thrown her weight around or petulantly demanded and maneuvered to be the center of attention as some seem to be doing today behind the scenes.

She has been no stranger to controversy and often the victim of neglect until her restoration and reopening in 1994. We forget, as we marvel today at each Durham accolade, that in a little over six years after re-opening back then The Carolina hosted 1,000,000 guests, 70% of them visitors.

One of my personal measures when I came here more than two decades ago to help jump-start, along with others, the community's first official marketing organization, was to promote and defend Durham in a way that would meet the approval of those natives who had witnessed eight or nine decades of her existence.

I’m certain that given time, like The Carolina, some of Durham’s newer assets will also become “place-based” assets, the “built, cultural and natural” elements that give Durham its distinct character and appeal compared to places in general.

Until such time, when The Carolina will probably be nearing the century mark, we know she’ll be watching with soulful eyes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great history of the Carolina Theatre that I never knew. Thanks for sharing this information.