This is the Franklin Theatre of today. After eight decades it’s still bringing people together for movies, concerts, and yes – sometimes in the promise of holy matrimony.
Built in 1937, the theater saw C
Like many theaters across the country, changing tides in the movie business – from digital projection to new methods of distribution – forced a reckoning.
“By 2007 it was struggling to really make it and it closed down,” Hays said. “The community rallied behind an effort to save it – we didn’t want to lose it.”
Through partnerships and individual contributions, the community raised $9 million to not just acquire and save the theatre, but totally reinvent it.
“We asked, what if we built the world’s best 300 seat, live music venue?” remembers Hays. “What would that look like? What would that be?”
Because the original theatre was not architecturally unique, the restoration had some flexibility.
“When it was first built in 1937, that was the Depression,” says Hays. “This was not a movie palace – this was a box, and architecturally there wasn’t much to save.”
Without the necessity of working around classic décor, the restoration was able to focus on elements that would make the Franklin Theatre a unique destination in the era of homogenized entertainment.
“Sound was the first priority,” says Hays. “We essentially built a 300-seat recording studio where we can produce almost any type of show that larger venues can.”
Two sets of audio speakers can be adjusted for the type of performance, with high-definition acoustic speakers on the wings for live performance, and surround sound – including three larger speakers that drop down behind the retractable movie screen – for movies and television.
After that, the restoration team looked to décor, choosing to bring the theatre back to life with an Art Deco splash. Curved lines give way to sparse design elements around the warm lighting. On the second floor, the balcony – where once the theatre’s African American visitors were sequestered during the era of racial segregation – today sports the most comfortable chairs and the best view in the theatre.
Altogether, seeing a performance in the Franklin Theatre is an experience unlike any other you can have at the movies or a concert. Not only do visitors get to experience art and culture, but they get to do so inside a work of architectural and design art. For Hays, the magic is in the community of people come together to share a space and enjoy entertainment.
“Place matters,” says Hays. “This is the place we come to be touched by experience and entertainment with one another – not only to enjoy music and the arts and film, but a place we get to socialize and enjoy each other.”