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.
A brief history of NBCT.
Video produced by Keith Boyd and narrated by Rip Taggart. Rip was a dedicated NBCT volunteer. Rip died in 2010. Thank you, Rip, for your timeless contributions.
NBCT named one of the top 8 attractions in New Bern.
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.
Painting by Willie Tagleri, 1985, renown local painter, circa 1912
Painting by Janet Francoeur, local artist and entrepreneur.
The Athens Theatre has been the subject of many paintings over the years.
2017 - Facade renovations on
New Bern Civic Theatre complete.
IT’S OUR HERITAGE
In June of 2017 the outside facade renovations on New Bern Civic Theatre was completed, with new plans under way for a major interior renovation of the Athens Theatre on Pollock Street.
The outside Athens Renaissance Project, which was announced in late 2014, cost about $125,000, including a $40,000 grant from the Harold H. Bate Foundation, based on a contribution match.
It was the first major effort to recover the beauty of the Athens Theater’s original 106-year-old Pollock Street exterior.
“The refurbished outside of The Athens matches the dramatic quality of the NBCT productions that take place inside the Athens,” said Angelina Doyle, the theater’s executive director.
She said that the renovation completion and new landscaping was also enhanced by the city of New Bern’s completion of a new sidewalk that matches that of the rest of downtown.
The Athens project was approved by the New Bern Historic Preservation Commission.
“It will make a significant contribution to the overall quality of downtown New Bern, helping attract more patrons to downtown businesses and adding to the overall quality of the downtown experience,” Doyle said earlier.
The refurbishment project included rebuilding the pediment with new brick and architectural detail; repainting all front brick work; painting the windows to match 1915 photos at the 414 Pollock St. location; removing the painted strip; and removing the green tile, which was replaced with brick tile and detail.
The indoor renovation project coincided with the 50th anniversary season of Civic Theatre in 2018.
The interior work includes reworking the box office, which is nearly complete, to be followed by renovation of the lobby and concession area. It will not include additional restrooms, due to a lack of space. The bathrooms, however, will get the renovation treatment, as well.
When the theater opened in 1911, it had been designed by architect H.W. Simpson and was constructed with the highest degree of materials, according to Civic.
It had elaborate interior decorations, velvet upholstery, ornate woodwork, chandeliers, gold-gilded theater boxes and the chariot scene from Ben Hur was painted on the curtain.
It began as a vaudeville venue, along with silent films and then “talkie” movies. During those transition times, it was often vacant awaiting each change.
New Bern Civic Theatre was formed in 1968 and held performances at a variety of local gymnasiums and schools before purchasing the Athens in the early 1980s.
As was the case with many historic buildings in the city, the Neo-Classical/Beaux Arts elements were stripped in the late 1940s and 1950s and replaced with its current façade.
The city has since undergone a downtown revitalization and this project is a continued effort.
In 1986, Lu Hoff and Gena Andrews developed a children’s program that incorporated performing and signing a show for the hearing impaired.
StageHANDS has performed over the years and was the first and only Total Communication (using voice and sign) community theatre group in the state. Today, StageHANDS continues to delight and captivate audiences each year with productions, as well as teach our young actors the true importance of our community and the performing arts.