Theatrical Throwbacks

Did you know that 2020 represents the start of Sanford’s second century of theatrical entertainment? It’s a fact that our area has enjoyed a strong reputation for its vibrant arts and entertainment offerings for an extended length of time.  In fact, to this day, Sanford and Lee County’s commitment to performing arts continues to surpass activities in most communities our size. Theater began in earnest in these parts when the San-Lee Theater first opened its doors on Carthage Street in 1920 as the L-Ma Theater. Our first picture displays the theater in all its glory around 1932.

For many years in the first half of the last century, Carthage Street was the place to go, to see a movie. Right across the street from the San-Lee was the legendary Temple Theatre. The Temple, of course, is still going strong today as the area’s leading home for live performances. The next show at the Temple runs through much of February. It’s Jason Petty‘s Every Song Tells A Story … an innovative performance that includes live versions of favorite songs and the narrative story behind them. For much of its early existence, the Temple showed first-run films. The Temple opened in around 1925 and was showing a Laurel & Hardy classic comedy when this picture was taken in 1940.

Another community jewel also opened for business in 1925 as Sanford’s new high school on Steele Street. Today, we know this building as The Mann Center of North Carolina. The Mann Center is a present day home of live performances and other activities for local community groups. It’s lineup for February includes national touring comedian James Gregory on February 13 and 14, as well as a big band show from the NC Revelers on February 28, as part of the Mann’s Kay Yow Concert Series.

The golden era of motion pictures and movie theaters is generally considered to cover the 1930s, 1940s and first part of the 1950s, before television gained in popularity. Downtown Jonesboro had its own booming theater for much of that time frame, as we see in this picture of the Center Theater in 1952. Those were the days, when a popular new movie could attract attendees in lines that stretched for a block or more!

As families began to spend more time at home in front of their new televisions, the movie industry began to experience a rapid drop off in attendance and profits.  And sadly here at home, the SanLee experienced its own demise as a result of this fire in 1954. A severe tropical storm came through the area shortly after the fire, basically ensuring that the theater would never be rebuilt.

Editorial content, pictures and research background, compliments of Jimmy Haire and Images of America: Sanford and Lee County, by Jimmy Haire & W.W. Seymour, Jr, available here for purchase. All book proceeds go to Sanford’s Railroad House Historical Association, Inc.