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The History of The Varsity Theater

by Charly Mann

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Comments:

Bebe Johns Fox      8:03 PM Wed 12/7/2011

You know what bothers me...nobody that I know of in Orange Co. has a deep interest in the origins of Chapel Hill. I know that the lots that were sold at the first auction are identified as to the buyers. Some lots even consisted of TWO ACRES!! One of the buyers was hmmm... a Johnston, Jr., George, I think, who had two sisters at least, one of whom married Mathew McCauley and another who marr. his bit older brother, William. These fellows between them gave a total of 250 a. for the founding of Carolina, were Masons, and active at the laying of the corner stone of UNC first bldg., Old East. This land may have been sold in order to purchase bricks for UNC buildings. Johnston, above, bought 2 a. about where Silent Sam was eventually seated. Mathew, his bro in law, purchased, but not at the first auction, the area where the planetarium is now. and I think I know why. Carolina was supposed to have grand entry!! But, if yall have noticed there is not an entry at all unless one enters across from the Carolina Inn! Mat. and Geo. had thought they were purchasing the coolest lots...the entry corner lots!! Mat. died in ca 1822. His lot at the University was mentioned in his will. Bebe
 

BEBE      7:04 PM Wed 12/7/2011

REGARDING THE Carolina Theater...run by E. Carrington Smith.
He knew my granddaddy, Bruce Strowd, whose Ford dealer was catty corner across from the theater. HOWEVER, Mr. Smith was determined to charge me ...hmmmm ,35 which I believe was the adult entree fee....he handed me the phone and my granddaddy made it across the busy street to assure him that i was whatever...under twelve, for sure! Was in the 4th grade!

Jewel Blackwood, above, remembers the real Chapel Hill. We or I, anyway, walked several blocks to and from home even in the first grade! NO CRIME!! Well, one day I did not go straight home as got the great, haha, idea to stay on Franklin and BEG MONEY!! Back then most everybody knew everybody and SOMEBODY called my granddaddy, who came and took me home. Poor mother was sitting on the floor crying about her LOST CHILD! I was born at Watts in Durham in '38, but we lived in C.H. I, at current 73 am only 10 years younger than the pavement on FRANKLIN STREET...YIKES!

Mother tried to get me to behave....and all she needed to say was my sister and I could not go to the Varsity that Sat....always had cowboy movies, cartoons AND a news short re WWII.

Well, I thought Randolph Scott was cool and Julie loved ROY ROGERS, so mother was safe from my mischief for the week. We got a quarter a week and saved it for Sat. Folks say we paid ten cents if under age 12 but I thought it was nine cents!! We would have enough money left over from seeing the movie for a drink, popcorn, and a comic book, if memory serves!! HEAVEN ON EARTH, IT WAS! Mother and her Daddy often said...there is no place like NC and CHAPEL HILL IN PAR-TIC-U-LAR! Bebe
 

BEBE      6:48 PM Wed 12/7/2011

REGARDING THE Carolina Theater...run by E. Carrington Smith.
He knew my granddaddy, Bruce Strowd, whose Ford dealer was catty corner across from the theater. HOWEVER, Mr. Smith was determined to charge me ...hmmmm ,35 which I believe was the adult entree fee....he handed me the phone and my granddaddy made it across the busy street to assure him that i was whatever...under twelve, for sure! Was in the 4th grade!

Jewel Blackwood, above, remembers the real Chapel Hill. We or I, anyway, walked several blocks to and from home even in the first grade! NO CRIME!! Well, one day I did not go straight home as got the great, haha, idea to stay on Franklin and BEG MONEY!! Back then most everybody knew everybody and SOMEBODY called my granddaddy, who came and took me home. Poor mother was sitting on the floor crying about her LOST CHILD! I was born at Watts in Durham in '38, but we lived in C.H. I, at current 73 am only 10 years younger than the pavement on FRANKLIN STREET...YIKES!
 

Donna      1:07 PM Mon 8/23/2010

I'm surprised there isn't a post with an update about the Varsity and its rebirth. The Varsity re-opened just shortly after this story announced its death. The old Varsity didn't close due to the reasons listed here; which frankly are used on this site repeatedly to justify all sorts of town ills.

It suffered from horrible mis-management, a lack of marketing, and competition from the 21st century's technology, and an inability to compete with the creature comforts of theaters near-by. Independent theaters today can't simply slap letters up on the marquee and expect people to show up.

The new owners are operating a very successful theater that engages the community, shows movies that appeal to many generations, can be rented out, holds World Cup/Monday Night Football/ UNC basketball showings, and much more. The Varsity is once again a thriving downtown theater.

 

JC      11:33 PM Wed 4/14/2010

I remember as a high schooler road-tripping to Chapel Hill from Wilmington one weekend to visit friends and seeing MASH at the Varsity. What do I remember most? The aroma. Nuff said.
 

T. Davenport      9:12 AM Tue 3/23/2010

The Chapel Hill Musuem celebrates the character and characters of Chapel Hill. While it is not included on this excellent and informative website, consider viewing its entry on Wikipedia or at the Museum's own site at www.chapelhillmuseum.org or visit it in person at 523 E. Franklin Street Chapel Hill, NC 27514 For more information please call 919-967-1400
 

Jane Faatz Mitchell      4:16 PM Sun 2/28/2010

Charly, I've been looking for my old high school friend Mickey Hurysz for years, and just saw her on this site. Can you give her my information or give me hers? Thanks, Jane
 

Larry Howell      8:37 AM Tue 10/27/2009

This news just in today's Herald-Sun newspaper. The Varsity theater will reopen under new management and new renovations on Nov. 9. I wish someone would do the same thing for The Rathskellar. I hope the new theater will be successful; the new owners plan to show current feature films to attract younger audiences as well as having a kid's party room and a reception area for social functions.
 

Bob Jurgensen      7:04 AM Sun 9/27/2009

Hey Billy Chamberlain:

I'm sure you don't remember me - you might even think I'm some kook, but way back in 1964/65/66, not sure, I was working at the Vasity as a projectionist for Andy Guiterrez (Mgr) - sometimes on Saturday evenings I would help out as a ticket taker for extra cash - back then we had to wear a coat and tie... and the Carolina Team bus would often pay us a visit for a movie before a big game... I remember you and recall one evening when you and Andy and others wanted to go out to some fancy restaurant that required a sport coat be worn - you didn't have one or it wasn't convenient to go back to your dorm so Andy ask me to lend you mine (I was 6'4" even at the age of 16) - it was a tan cordoroy sport coat my grandmother made for me. I never got it back and boy did I catch hell for lending that jacket to you that was hand made by my grandmother.

Just wanted to say hello and see if you remembered this - probably not, but it's made for an interesting tale my mother used to tell at gatherings of Carolina fans. Dean Smith used to come to her parties - she was the editor of "Town and Gown" section of the CH Newspaper for nearly 30 years. Dean even told her he would get the jacket back but he never did...

Funny story I thought I would share... I guess my brush with greatness (well, not really, if it had been Michael Jordan, THAT would be a brush with greatness!!)
 

Bob Jurgensen      9:54 PM Sat 9/26/2009

I worked as the marque boy at the Varsity in 1962, became a projectionist there in 1963 and worked there until 1967 before taking a job as the projectionist in 1967 at the Carolina Theatre, across the street - Andy Gutierrez was the manager - he fired the projectionist one night and ask me if I could run the projectors and since I had been hanging out in the projection booth every night, awaiting the beginning of the last show of the evening to change the marque, I had picked up some skills - I was 14 and earned $50 a week, more than my mother, Paquita Jurgensen, earned those days as the society editor for the CH Newspaper, coming from school after 12 (coop ed job allowed early out at CHJH) and working to 6PM every day - before I was working there I used to go see those 10 cent movies (Disney was 25 cents!) on Saturday mornings but my mom had to call to confirm I was under 12 because I was already over 6' tall !

It's so great to see these pictures - we live in VA now, but visit CH from time to time (this summer, my youngest took did a week at UNC camp for high schoolers)

What a fun site - chock full of memories of my childhood in the 50's and 60's. My dad ran the Carolina Coffee Shop for years (50's) and my grandmother ran Nonnie's (Bissell) Beauty Nook on Rosemary St (across from "THE SHACK") during the 50's and 60's, before they tore down her house to build a parking lot for the frat house next door.

What fond memories...
 

Ex-Chapel Hillian      9:05 PM Sat 9/12/2009

The big movie other than Star Wars was The Gods Must Be Crazy, which must have played there for at least two years straight. Maybe longer.
 

Jewell Merritt Blackwood      1:58 PM Thu 7/23/2009

I remember well when Chapel Hill was a quite little Viallge , as it grew into a lovely Franklin Street with all business own and operated by Chapel People, form Sloan, to Stow Motor Co. a small radio staion in one cormer, going to school in a Cone House and a Home ect. cottage.Varsity, Roses Five and 10 store, Sheilds Grocery, Bennet & Blocksigh, Carolina Theater with E>C>m Smith, Jim Ellis and his good food next door, and then Daivs Florist Little Shop, Ulities Office, Port Hole Carolina Coffe Shop, Julians, Wentworth & Sloan, Varsity Clothing, with the Ratscellar and Varsity soda shop down stairs and J.B Robbins came along to offer the fashion Andrew Henniger had never seen and we have never seen since. Oh, those days were the good old days don;t forge Jeff's place, carried all the papers one could read. Those truly were the days. Rember when or Memories. Carl Williams dressed like a king and walk the streets straight as an arrow, Leo could help you eat and tells tales at the same time and Joh Carswell had any drug you needed and you could still walk to Eubanks drug and get tourseld weigh. Thanks fpr the memerios, Jewell M. Blackwood
 

Charly Mann      8:52 PM Sat 7/18/2009

I think in the 1940s the theater was called by another name. I believe it was The Village.
 

noel      8:39 PM Sat 7/18/2009

As you may not know Chapel Hill had the north carolina Pre flight program which trained pilots all the information need would need to know before going to flight school.The Varsity was there theatre during ww2 as they could go to movies but only Navy people not even us kids however kids did have the run of the town going thru the guard gates but no one else unless you were in uniform. Never went in the Varsity until the war was over and it is sad that it has closed
 

David Jennings      11:44 AM Tue 7/7/2009

Thank you for this tribute to the Varsity. I seem to remember that for a few years in the late 1940s and early 50s the theater had a different name. I think it may have been The Village Theater.
 

Barb Coe      12:08 PM Mon 7/6/2009

I'm shocked and saddened that the Varsity has closed its doors. There is liitle left of the charming village that I knew in the 1950s and 1960s. I hope that Chapel Hill will bring in an urban planner to redesign downtown into a people friendly pedestrian area like Boulder Colorado.
 

StatesvillePride      6:52 PM Sun 7/5/2009

Do you recall the names of any of the managers of the Varsity in the 1960s through 1980s? I think Jim Steele was the manager at one point during this time.
 

Clare Jenner      1:34 PM Sun 7/5/2009

I recall that by 1970 the Varsity began showing top movies from time to time. My future (and now former) husband and I had our first date there to see LOVE STORY.
 

Dewey Stedman      7:55 PM Sat 7/4/2009

The Varsity was already half the size of the Carolina before they made it into two theaters. For me the VARSITY died when they cut in half.
 

Billy Chamberlain      5:19 PM Sat 7/4/2009

Thank you for doing this tribute to the Varsity. It is sad to see so many of the great businesses that once defined downtown Chapel Hill disappear.
 

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Bite Sized Facts Link



Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.

 

 

What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

-- Charles Kuralt

 

 

Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".

 

 

Check out Charly Mann's other website:
Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies

http://oklahomabirdsandbutterflies.com

 



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.

 

 

The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.

 

 

 

 

The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.

 

 

 

 

William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.

 

 

The official name of the Arboretum on the University of North Carolina campus is the Coker Arboretum. It is named after Dr. William Cocker, the University's first botany professor. It occupies a little more than five acres. It was founded in 1903.

 

 

Chapel Hill's main street has always been called Franklin Street. It was named after Benjamin Franklin in the early 1790s.

 

 



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.

 

 

Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.

 

 

The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.

 

 

Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.

 

 

Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.

 

 

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