When the Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta opens Friday, the restored movie house will have the art deco flavor it had in 1935 when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced across the screen in "Top Hat," the first movie to grace its screen.
The theater opens with a three-week run of "Beauty and the Beast," staged by the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, the Strand's resident company.
"This will give Marietta and Cobb County identity," said Mayor Bill Dunaway, who grew up going to Saturday matinees at the Strand. "This is our crown jewel."
The theater was gutted to the walls and rebuilt with an orchestra pit, dressing rooms, 531 seats, two reception rooms and a rooftop terrace. To come is a 1927 theater organ that is being rebuilt. In addition to musical theater, plans are to use the space to show classic movies.
After the movie theater closed in 1976, the condition of the Strand deteriorated. A 1985 fire did $500,000 in damage. Before closing for good in 2000, the building was used as a cinema draft house, rock music venue, flea market and church. Plans in the 1980s to put a McDonald's restaurant on the site, along with a 10-story office tower, fell through.
Six years ago, a group of community leaders began raising money to renovate the 73-year-old building. "Save the Strand" signs dotted lawns in the city and the Friends of the Strand group raised $3.3 million. Fund-raising continues toward a goal of $4.5 million.
In 2004, the fund-raising group signed a 50-year lease with the owners, the family of Marietta City Councilman Philip Goldstein. The family is leasing the building to the group rent free until 2016.
Downtown merchants are optimistic the Strand will bring new life to the Square. Johnny Fulmer looks forward to theater-goers shopping at his gift store, the Church Street Market, and local merchants holding special events when there are shows at the Strand.
Palmer Wells, co-founder of Theatre in the Square, said the Strand will supplement the local theater scene.
"It's very gratifying to see the diversity on the Square and to see where we have come in 26 years," Wells said. "We've made great strides and the Strand is a definite asset."
HISTORY OF AN ENTERTAINMENT PALACE
> 1935: The $150,000 Strand Theatre opens on the Square, showing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in "Top Hat."
> Dec. 31, 1976: The theater closes. A local remembers that the last movie was "Car Wash."
> 1977: Herbert Goldstein buys the building and converts it to retail space.
> 1982-2002: The building is used as a flea market, cinema and draft house, a church, a venue for rock concerts and the campaign headquarters for a judge.
> 2002: The Friends of the Strand group organizes to restore the theater and begins negotiations with property owners, the Goldstein family.
> July 8, 2004: Friends of the Strand signs a 50-year lease with the Goldstein family to renovate the theater.
> July 12, 2004: Developer John Williams gives $300,000 toward the renovation. Capital campaign begins.
> 2006: Demolition of interior completed.
> Nov. 19, 2007: Community leaders pledge $500,000 toward $1 million to rename it the Earl Smith Strand Theatre, after the prime mover behind the restoration.
> June 2007: Construction begins.
> Dec. 5-21, 2008: Restored Strand to open with Atlanta Lyric Theatre's "Beauty and the Beast."
> Dec. 31, 2008: New Year's Eve concert with Billy Joe Royal.
> Jan. 10, 2009: Strand's grand opening event, a Tribute to the Movies.
Memories of the Strand
Mayor Bill Dunaway, 69, of Marietta
"I remember my first date at the Strand Theater when I was in the third grade. ... Tickets were 14 cents at the Strand. We went on Saturdays to double features and a special Saturday was when they had double cartoons. I loved the serials. Actors like Lash La Rue ... Red Ryder and [his] sidekick, a young Robert Blake, made personal appearances before the matinees."
State Rep. Judy Manning, 66, of Marietta
"Without fail, we went to the show on Saturdays. Everyone went to the movies on Saturdays. That's what you did. I took 50 cents out of my dollar allowance for admission. Sometimes I bought Milk Duds or Junior Mints. My father, O.C. Hubert, banned Elvis Presley movies because he didn't want me to go see that sinful man, and he didn't allow me to go to movies on Sundays."
Marian "Boots" Cuthbert, 78, of Marietta
"When I was growing up, there were three theaters in Marietta, and the Strand was the only one that admitted blacks. We had to use the side entrance and sit in the balcony. We had our own concessions and our chairs weren't as comfortable as the ones below. I couldn't go through the front door. But I didn't give it any thought at the time. I have good memories of going there. I loved the cowboy pictures —- Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy."
IF YOU GO
"Beauty and the Beast"
The Earl Smith Strand Theatre, 117 N. Park Square, Marietta, 8 p.m. Friday-Dec. 21; 2 p.m. Dec. 7, 14, 21,
> Admission: $38.10 adults, $32.80 seniors and students
> Information: 404-377-9948, www.atlantalyrictheatre.com
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