News Column

Former city hall enjoys second life as theater

November 28, 2013


Nov. 28--HICKORY -- There's a place in Hickory where the Titanic sank, Charlie Bucket flew through the air, and King Arthur hunted the Holy Grail. And every now and then, someone wanders in looking to pay the water bill.

Located in downtown, the Hickory Community Theatre has provided laughs and tugged heart-strings for more than 60 years.

Beginning in 1949, the theater was housed in the old City Hall, which opened in the 1920s. On each floor is a vault that still reads "City of Hickory" across the top. The auditorium is original to the building.

One of the original uses of the building was to house the city's fire trucks and the controller for its two traffic lights, HCT managing director John Rambo said. The building served as City Hall until 1976, Rambo said. Today, the city leases the building to the theater for $1 per year.

"We still have people coming here looking for City Hall to pay their water bill," Rambo said.

The theater's first full-length production was "You Can't Take It With You."

During the 1930s and early 40s, the theater was rented to Paramount as a movie theater.

Today, the theater performs on three stages: the Jeffers Theatre, the Firemen's Kitchen and the Old Council Chambers. What started small now produces 14 different shows a year.

The theater has hosted a variety of other events such as screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Dark Side of the Rainbow," where Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" is synced with "The Wizard of Oz." Some think the album was made as a soundtrack to the movie.

"I don't think that theory holds water, because if that were true, you wouldn't have to play the album 2 1/4 times," Rambo said.

The Jeffers Theatre was recently renovated. Seats were replaced. Today, the theater seats 318 people.

One curious aspect of the building is its second balcony. Decades ago, the theater was segregated. The seats were simply wooden slats. Rambo said the balcony hasn't been used since the 1940s, except for technical uses.

One HCT production, "The Miracle Worker," was moved out of the building in the 1970s. The boiler was broken.

Jeff Mingus, actor and theater historian, remembers a production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He was playing Smug. Suddenly, laughs ripped through the audience, as a dog started to defecate on the stage.

"The lesson here is never act against children and dogs," Mingus said.

Upcoming performances include "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" on Dec. 14, an Always Irving Berlin Christmas concert on Dec. 21 and comedian James Gregory on Dec. 31.

The theater is in the middle of a $1.2 million capital campaign to improve the facility.


(c)2013 the Hickory Daily Record (Hickory, N.C.)

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