Five years ago, you never would have heard Mast General Store owner John Cooper explaining the difference between a proscenium stage--arc-shaped to allow for a curtain--and a smaller vaudeville stage. Now, he talks about fly towers, orchestra pits and other architectural components of a playhouse like a theater professional.
Cooper is campaign chairman of the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, a nonprofit group that has raised $6.4 million to renovate the downtown Boone theater that opened in 1938 and has hosted such famous acts as the late folk singer Doc Watson. A former member of the state arts council, Cooper and his wife, Faye, own Valle Crucis-based Mast, with nine stores in the Carolinas.
The community group dedicated to restoring the historic theater first met in December 2011. Now, a 22-member board of trustees includes musicians, two CPAs, an attorney and others involved in the cultural arts.
"This is the most knowledgeable theater group that we have ever had the privilege to collaborate with," says Steve Schuster, principal at Clearscapes, the Raleigh-based architecture firm that designed the project. His company has converted other historic movie houses across the state, including Burlington's Paramount Theater and the Turnage Theater in Washington.
The original 999-seat theater offered both live entertainment and movies and was enormous at the time for Boone, which had a population of about 1,800. Now 18,000 people live in the Watauga County town, plus another 18,000 students at Appalachian State University.
In 1950, a fire set off by a popcorn machine gutted the building, destroying most of the original art deco elements. The theater was restored, and eventually, Columbus, Ga.-based Carmike Cinemas bought it. Carmike sold it in 2008 to local developer Frank Mongeluzzi, who invested about $1.3 million before encountering...