Theater opened when movies cost a dime

Published 8:37 am Monday, September 21, 2015

The Bonnie Kate has been around since 1926 and has some nostalgic memories for many Carter Countians.

The Bonnie Kate has been around since 1926 and has some nostalgic memories for many Carter Countians.

When the Bonnie Kate Theater had its formal opening in Elizabethton July 4, 1927, former Gov. Alf Taylor was chosen to christen the theater and the Bristol Band played to a packed house.
The $100,000 theater had been announced in September 1926 by Mrs. J.S. Browning. It featured upholstered, comfortable chairs, a stage and lights.
The Brownings, who came to Elizabethton from Bluefield, W.Va., also owned the Ritz Theater, which was located downtown.
At one time there were four theaters in town — the Bonnie Kate, the Ritz, the Capitol and the Grand. When these four theaters operated in town, a trip to the movie cost a mere 10 cents — 25 cents at the most. According to old-timers who remember going to the theater in those days, it was “the good old times” when there was an intermission every 10 minutes to hand-change the film.
There are vivid memories of cards being placed in the ticket windows announcing “Standing Room Only” or “No Standing Room.”
Some of the stars of the silver screen back in the early days of movie theaters were Charlie Chaplain, Harold Loyd, Buster Keaton, Snub Poland, Ben Turpin, Jackie Cooper, Jackie Coogan, Billie Burke and Shirley Temple.
The westerns also provided excitement and often attracted large crowds, especially on Saturday mornings when serials played.
Many remember seeing “Gone With the Wind” for the first time and several times later at the Bonnie Kate. During World War II, movie goers also caught the war news before every feature show at the theater.
But for many local residents, the only movie theater in town they knew was the Bonnie Kate, located on Sycamore Street. In latter years it was known for its double screens, rocking chairs, and buttered popcorn.
Inside the lobby the warm light of crystal chandeliers blend with the pale red glow of concession machines and reflect off the marble walls and tile floors.
For many years Earl Bolling owned and operated the theater. Others that have had their turn at the Bonnie Kate were Ray Glover and Leroy Policky. Bolling bought the theater in 1950 from Bob Neal. He also operated the State Line Drive-In Theater.
From about 1973 to 1987, Ray Glover owned and operated the Bonnie Kate.
Both, Glover and Policky when they owned the theater often did it all – from selling tickets to making popcorn, selling concessions, running the movie projector to cleaning the theater between shows.
The building, which opened in 1926, has housed a multitude of businesses, from law offices and a clothing store to a skateboard shop and restaurant. In the very early days, the upstairs served as a doctor’s office with connecting examination rooms.
Mrs. Browning, the owner lived upstairs and eventually passed ownership of the business to her son, which was later purchased by Bob Neal.
When Mrs. Browning lived upstairs, the building had a dumbwaiter (a small elevator for sending food or other items from one floor to another). It still remains hidden in a back corner of the theater.
In the late 1920, a six to eight-chair barber shop operated in the south wing of the building.
Originally an arcade building, the lobby ceiling once opened all the way to the second story skylight windows. It was boarded up at the second floor offices’ balcony in the early 1940s for insurance purposes.
Bolling, when he purchased the theater, replaced the old fixed-back seats with wider rocking chairs seats. Under Ray Glover, the theater was divided for two showings.
Barrel of Fun, a local talent shown, performed live on the Bonnie Kate stage in the 1940s and 1950s.
Many still remember the 1960s when Saturday’s admission was paid for with bottle caps. Kids saved Pepsi Cola and RC Cola bottle caps and rode the bus into town for 25 or 30 cents; the bus stop was in front of the theater.
Also, for a period of time the Men’s Sunday School Class of First Christian Church met in the theater on Sunday morning. Noonday preaching mission services were also held in the Bonnie Kate.
Time has a way of changing things. The Bonnie Kate hasn’t showed movies in some time. The bus no longer comes to town and Pepsi rarely comes in glass bottles.
Discarded bottle caps, an antique change machine and a forgotten dumbwaiter are now illusive ghosts which remind us of things that will never again be.

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