Appalachian theater captured Boone history
By Jason Reagan
Had the Appalachian Twin been able to hold on for one more year, the theatre would have celebrated 70 years and continued to reign as Watauga County’s oldest operating theater. However, the theater announced its closing effective Thursday and will take with it a once ornate icon from downtown Boone.
Opening to capacity crowds on Nov. 24, 1938, the theater was built by A.E. Hamby and W.R. Winkler, who pioneered movie showings in Boone by being the first to show films on a projector in the auditorium of the county courthouse.
Later, the duo would open the first theater — the Pastime Theatre on King Street in what is now the Professional Building, which closed in the 1960s.
Winkler’s grandson, Watauga County commissioner and high-school band director Billy Ralph Winkler, said the news saddened him.
The Appalachian Theatre was built in 1938 and is one of the oldest downtown businesses. It is pictured above in 1947 — “West of Sonora” was playing. The house owned by theater founder W.R. Winkler can be seen next door. A municipal parking lot now occupies the space. Photo courtesy of University Archives and Records, Appalachian State University
“It’s another part of Boone that I guess now will be gone and I hate it personally but I understand,” he said. “A business has got to be a business and make money.”
Winkler spent part of his childhood in a house adjacent to his grandfather’s movie house. It’s now a municipal parking lot.
“My earliest memories were of being right next to that theater and Mr. Tom’s soda shop,” he said.
“It’s certainly nostalgic.”
“Breaking the Ice,” starring Bobby Breen, holds the distinction of being the first film shown at the Appalachian, which could seat 999 moviegoers. Admission prices were 10 cents for children and a quarter for adults.
An article in the Nov. 16, 1988 edition of the Watauga Democrat celebrating the Appalachian’s 50th anniversary described its Art Deco opulence.
“The street front was glistening black glass, accented with gleaming, curved aluminum. A giant neon ‘A’ dominated the black-baked porcelain marquee.”
The screen area featured a stage used for live shows in the ’40s and ’50s.
Watauga Democrat reporter Mike Hannah wrote in 1988: “Country and western stars like Smiley Burnette and Little Beaver, the diminutive … sidekick to western star Red Ryder [of BB gun fame], were featured in live shows promoting their films and serials.”
Sams Theatre Corp. of Statesville initially operated the theatre. C.J. Hayes served as manager beginning in 1973. His wife, Polly, succeeded him until her retirement in 2006.
Not surprisingly, Hayes remembered “Gone With the Wind,” released one year after the Appalachian’s opening, as the theater’s most popular film.
Driven by overheated popcorn oil, a fire destroyed the theatre in 1950 and the owners quickly rebuilt — but many say the theatre never returned to its gilded, firstborn beauty.
Later, the operators enlarged the screen to accommodate newly developed Cinemascope technology. Both the screen and audio equipment could be pushed back using a system of rollers to free up the stage area.
As more theaters began to roll into Boone, the Appalachian had to change with the times. The multiplex Chalet opened in the 1970s and was demolished in 2004.
To compete with the increasing number of multi-screen theaters, Hayes decided to expand to two screens by building an upstairs auditorium.
In 1981, the theater’s parent company enclosed the balcony and renovated the lobby. Theater conglomerate Carmike Cinemas bought the Appalachian Twin in 1986.
Over the past several years, the Appalachian changed its marketing plan and began featuring post-box office movies (two-four month opening lag) at discounted ticket prices. For years, the theater was known locally as the “dollar movies” but would later raise ticket prices to $2.