Center Theater is coming back to life

Ben Gore and Monty Bell stand in front of the Center Theater, which is undergoing a complete renovation. PHOTO BY STEPHAN DREW

By Stephan Drew, Editor

Nestled in the heart of Hartsville, South Carolina, The Center Theater has embarked on an extraordinary journey of renovation, aiming to revive its grandeur and bring back the glory days of entertainment. This historic theater, once a pillar of the community, had fallen into disrepair over the years. However, Ben Gore, Monty Bell and a dedicated team of professionals, with a shared passion for preserving its rich legacy, have undertaken a series of extreme, loving and detailed renovations. 

Originally built in the mid 1930s, the treasured building, located at 212 North Fifth Street, is undergoing an extraordinary transformation that promises to revitalize the historic venue and provide the community with a deluxe state-of-the-art entertainment hub. Started in April 2022, this extensive renovation project is being carried out in multiple stages, ensuring that each aspect is meticulously addressed. From the roof membrane to the lighting system, every detail is being given careful consideration. With millions of dollars dedicated to the endeavor, the restoration is expected to be completed in mid-to-late 2024, emphasizing the importance of achieving complete excellence rather than rushing the process.

The first stage of the renovation focused on replacing the existing roof membrane, which has deteriorated over time. A sturdy and reliable roof is crucial to protect the structure from water damage and ensure the safety of the interior. The new roof membrane was very carefully installed, employing advanced materials and techniques to ensure its longevity. By addressing this fundamental component, the theater’s building will be waterproof and the foundation will be fortified, allowing subsequent stages to proceed smoothly. “The main thing we had to do was stop the building from leaking,” Gore said, “until we did that, there was no use working on anything else.” This stage of the process took approximately 11 months. “I can assure you right now,” he said, “this building does not leak.”

To preserve the architectural and structural integrity of the theater, the second stage of the renovation involved meticulous mortar replacement on the exterior. Over the years, weathering and general wear and tear caused damage to the mortar joints, compromising the building’s structural stability and aesthetic appeal. Skilled artisans will meticulously remove the deteriorated mortar and replace it with a high-quality mixture that matches the original design. This painstaking process ensures that the theater’s historic charm is preserved while fortifying its structure for the future.

With the aim of modernizing the facility and providing the audience with a seamless experience, the third stage of the renovation focuses on an extensive electrical upgrade. Outdated wiring will be replaced with state-of-the-art systems that can handle the demands of modern theater technology. This includes installing advanced sound and lighting controls that will enhance performances and immerse the audience in an unforgettable audiovisual experience. The electrical upgrade is crucial for supporting the theater’s future growth and enabling innovative productions. The seating capacity will also increase from 853 to 900 after renovations are complete.

The Center Theater is committed to ensuring optimal comfort for its patrons, and thus the fourth stage of the renovation involves installing a cutting-edge heating and cooling system. This modern HVAC system will provide efficient climate control throughout the theater, ensuring a comfortable environment regardless of the external weather conditions. The implementation of this system is essential for creating an inviting atmosphere and accommodating diverse audiences throughout the year.

One of the most transformative aspects of the Center Theater renovation is the implementation of a state-of-the-art lighting system. This stage involves the installation of advanced fixtures, including spotlights, stage lights, and ambient lighting, designed to enhance performances and create captivating visual experiences. The new lighting system will provide versatile options for setting the mood, highlighting actors, and creating dynamic stage effects. By combining cutting-edge technology with expert design, the renovated theater will become a beacon of visual excellence.

The funding for the project has come from many sources, with approximately $2 million secured through grants by Senator Gerald Malloy and S.C. Rep. Robert Williams. “They have really been wonderful to us,” said Gore, “and helped us get a lot of the money we need.” But, with costs rising constantly, more funds are always needed. They are also finding ingenious ways to save money. Gore said the team saved over $18,000 by allowing school students to come remove the 853 seats, instead of hiring a construction firm to do it. 

Monty Bell, who is helping coordinate the project with Gore, also spoke of a newly-created group charged with helping the theater raise money. “We’re just getting that group off the ground,” Bell said, “Mrs. Davita Malloy will be heading that up with Nancy McGee. We’re looking forward to that, giving us their talent and ability to raise the money we need.” As the cost of labor, materials and services continually rises, the group is now working on a list of those who are skilled at garnering funds for such projects.

The renovation of the Center Theater is a testament to the dedication and vision of those involved in this ambitious project. From the meticulous repair of interior plaster damaged by mold to the installation of a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, no detail has been overlooked. The generous funding dedicated to the project ensures that the restoration is carried out with utmost care and precision. Although completion may take 12 to 18 more months, the focus remains on doing it correctly rather than hastily. When the project is finished, the Center Theater will shine as a cultural gem, offering the community an exceptional entertainment venue for years to come.

Author: Stephan Drew

Share This Post On

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Posts Remaining