Construction began on the Athens Theatre at 412 Pollock Street in 1910. The doors opened April 11, 1911. Designed by architect Herbert W. Simpson, the Athens Theatre was a gala theatre for silent movies, Vaudeville, traveling theatre troupes and locally-produced live productions.
It was regarded as one of the most beautiful and best equipped theatres in the area. A local newspaper article described The Historic Athens as having gas-electric lights, fans to cool the patrons, elaborate interior decorations of forest green colors, velvet upholstery, ornate woodwork, chandeliers, gold gilded theatre boxes, modern dressing rooms and many other features. The original curtain was painted with the chariot race scene from Ben Hur. New Bern enthusiasts of that day once called New Bern "The Athens of North Carolina" because of its Greek revival architecture and that is where the Theatre probably got this name.
By 1929, Vaudeville and the silent movies bowed to talkies. The Athens experienced major renovations to accommodate the talkies and the new laws that were required. The ornate gilded boxes were removed, the balcony staircase relocated and a metal-lined projection booth was installed. This was a requirement for the talkie projectors.
The Theatre was renamed many times over the years - The Show Shop, The Kehoe Theatre and the Tryon Theatre. During the 1970s when many downtown businesses moved to the suburbs, the theatre seemed to languish. For a time it was vacant and deserted.
In February 1980, NBCT purchased and renovated the Athens Theatre. Many NBCT members and volunteers from the United States Marine Corps, Cherry Point, 3rd LAAM BN, accomplished a major clean up and painted the interior. The stage was recreated, theatre seats were installed, bathrooms refurbished, walls patched, a major beam in the fly loft replaced, and new heating and air conditioning system installed.
In September 1980, NBCT presented its first live production in the new home - Star Spangled Girl, a Neil Simon comedy. The Athens Theatre, "home" of New Bern Civic Theatre, is fully utilized for performances, auditions, rehearsals, and set construction.
In December 1981, NBCT purchased the building next door to the Athens Theatre at 412 Pollock Street known as the Athens Cafe Building. The Athens Cafe Building is used for administrative offices, daytime box office, auditions, rehearsals, meetings, and makeup and dressing rooms for the cast. It also houses lighting instruments, small technical equipment, costumes and stage props.
NBCT continues to play a major role in the performing arts of Craven County. It serves as a vital artistic resource for the people of Eastern North Carolina. The Theatre's rich history and legacy is a source of great pride to the staff and many Theatre directors, producers, actors and patrons.