Historic Bonnie Kate Theater goes on the auction block April 8
Published 10:22 am Monday, March 21, 2016
The historic Bonnie Kate Theater building and an adjoining parking lot is scheduled to be auctioned off April 8.
Jim Wood, owner of Jim Wood Auction and Realty of Jonesborough, confirmed Friday that the property will be auctioned off April 8 at 11 a.m. on site. Wood said he was contacted a few weeks ago by Citizens Bank of Elizabethton about disposing of the property via an auction.
News of the auction came somewhat as a surprise to John Huber, local businessman, who is heading up a group of interested citizens interested in buying the theater and converting it into a performing arts center.
“I don’t know what that is about. It’s news to me. I just learned about the impending auction Thursday. I plan to check with the bank today,” Huber said Friday. “We’re still going forward with our plans to purchase the building. We’re still raising money toward that effort.”
Huber said the group has raised about $135,000 of the $200,000 needed for the purchase. “We have some pledges out, but, hopefully by the time of the auction, if there is one, we will have the money in hand to buy the building,” he said.
The bank foreclosed on the building last year. However, there were no buyers at the foreclosure sale. That was when the group of citizens headed by Floyd Storie and Huber decided the building needed to be preserved for historical reasons and set out to raise funds for its purchase.
In late October the Bonnie Kate made The Tennessee Preservation Trust’s List of Most Threatened Historic Sites in the state.
The Bonnie Kate Theater is an institution in Elizabethton. The theater was built in 1926. For a number of years it was home to a radio show called Barrel of Fun, reaching over three million people.
Located in downtown Elizabethton, the Bonnie Kate opened when movies cost just a dime. From silent films to the Twilight saga, the theater witnessed the progression of both movies and their audiences. Many have stories to tell about the theater. Many of these theater goers, who are now senior citizens, remember seeing “Gone With the Wind” for the first time at the Bonnie Kate. During World War II, movie goers also caught the war news before every feature show.
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 held at the Bonnie during the 1960s and ’70s.
However, unchecked roof deterioration led to multiple leaks and significant water damage. That along with the expense of converting to digital film forced the previous owners to close the Bonnie Kate.
Some temporary roof repairs were made to the building by the bank after it foreclosed on the property. However, it is estimated that it will take about $200,000 to put a new roof on the building and to make other repairs.
The group hoping to preserve the theater worked tirelessly to get the building on the endangered site list.
The local foundation, which hopes to purchase the building, has expressed a desire to give it to the city for longtime care. At this point the city hasn’t made any donation toward the purchase of the building or even discussed the administration of it in the long term.
“Hopefully, we can make an offer to the bank before the auction,” Huber said. “The theater as a performing arts center certainly has a lot of potential.
“We want to reach out to the public, to businesses, civic groups and philanthropists,” Huber said. “Until we get ownership of it, we can’t do anything,” he said.
The Bonnie Kate was named for Katherine “Bonnie Kate” Sherrill Sevier. She was the wife of John Sevier, the first and third governor of Tennessee and governor of the State of Franklin. She held the title of “First Lady” three times.
Her legacy lives on through the Bonnie Kate Theater.