Documenting the American South

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Going to the Show

What is a Venue?

One of the key features of Going to the Show is a relational database of movie venues that came into existence in North Carolina at some point from 1896 to 1930. Coverage for African-American venues extends through the 1950s.

Database diagram

At the center of our database is the movie venue. Most of the venues we have documented are commercial movie theaters that operated in North Carolina communities from 1906 (the year of the opening of movie theaters in Charlotte and Wilmington, the state's two largest cities at the time) to 1930 (roughly but not comprehensively the end of the silent film era and transition to synchronous sound motion picture exhibition in most theaters in North Carolina). Commercial theaters have left the most distinct traces in surviving historical records (city directories, Sanborn® Fire Insurance Maps). However, films were also shown in other kinds of theatrical spaces — vaudeville theaters and opera houses, for example — particularly but not exclusively prior to 1910. Documentation (principally in newspaper notices) of movie exhibition in those theaters qualifies them as "movie venues" for our purposes as well. Movies were also shown in a variety of non-theatrical spaces that include high schools, churches, amusement parks, YMCAs, tents, vacant lots, fraternal and social clubs. They, too, are "movie venues" for the purposes of our database.

Venue, then, is not so much a fixed place as a process — a "coming together" (as the etymology of the word suggests) of physical location, agency (individuals, groups, and institutions responsible for regulating, arranging, and authorizing a film exhibition), and event (the experience of at least one instance of movie exhibition).

Some movie venues operated over long periods of time in the same place and under the same name. Wilmington's Bijou Theater, for example, operated at 205 N. Front Street from 1906 to 1956. But most other movie venues were much less stable. Particularly in the early period of movie theaters in North Carolina (1906-1915), it was not uncommon for theaters to change names and locations. A change in name or location creates a new venue. We have tried to note these changes in the database.