The Bonnie Kate: An Historic Icon of downtown Elizabethton
The Bonnie Kate Theater has always been an important part of the Elizabethton/Carter County community. Located in downtown Elizabethton, the Bonnie Kate Movie Theater has opened its doors to many patrons eager to see the latest family flick. As is true with many movie theaters when the movie industry converted to digital equipment the Bonnie Kate was forced to close its doors. In 2016 the building was purchased through the fundraising efforts of the Elizabethton/Carter County Foundation and is under the control of the City of Elizabethton. A board was appointed to oversee building restoration and currently is in charge of theatrical performances and musical and community events.
During the years 1926 through 1929 Elizabethton experienced a boom time when the Bemberg and Glanzstoff Rayon factories began operations there and several theaters were the result of that boom. The Bonnie Kate was built in the Classical Revival style of architecture and opened in the spring of 1926. It was owned by Mrs. Olivia “Ollie” Hogue Brown, a coal baroness from Bluefield, West Virginia.
The theater opened to a full house of 500 enjoying the showing of a silent film. During the 1930’s and 40’s, a live local music show called “Barrel of Fun” was broadcast by two radio stations to a listening audience reported to be in the millions in the southeastern United States.The theater was later converted to a split screen and rocking chair seating was installed in 1969.
The Bonnie Kate Theater was named after Katherine Sherrill Sevier, a heroine of Carter County in the 1700’s and the wife of the first Governor of Tennessee. Her reputation as a fine woman inspired the nickname, Bonnie Kate.
Step One, Complete: Bonnie Kate Ready for Renovations
BY CURTIS CARDEN
After two years of a hiatus, expect foot traffic to pick up at one of Elizabethton’s famous structures.
The Elizabethton-Carter County Community Foundation (ECCF) stood alongside city and county officials to present their check of $111,700 to the City of Elizabethton for the purchase of the Bonnie Kate Theatre Thursday.
“Today is the last step of the first ladder and the first step of the next ladder,” said John Huber, a local business owner and key cog in securing the building. “That includes the restoration. The building is in the city hands so we can move forward now with renovations.”
Elizabethton City Council members convened in a special-called meeting on prior to the presentation to amend the 2015-16 budget to recognize the purchase of the building.
Following the check presentation, the city will turn around and pay the owners the funds to begin
Elizabethton Star, November 10, 2016
Bonnie Kate Renovator Uncovers Piece of History
As restoration work continues at Elizabethton’s Bonnie Kate Theater, the old theater’s history is slowly, but surely being uncovered, and a local art gallery owner is seeing to it that at least one old treasure — dating back to the 1940s — is restored to its former glory.
John Huber, who is spearheading the Bonnie Kate Theater restoration project, recently uncovered a piece of nostalgia as he worked in the upstairs rooms over the theater.
There, he discovered an ornate plaster plaque, awarded to the theater in honor of its patriotic efforts during World War II. Its inscription reads, “This plaque is awarded to the Bonnie Kate Theater, a member of the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry, for Outstanding Service in World War II.”
Huber says he can only guess that it was given as thanks to the theater for showing war clips and perhaps selling war bonds during World War II.
Our First Shows on the Stage
Bonnie Kate Theater Restoration Project
Elizabethton / Carter County Community Foundation, P.O. Box 695, Elizabethton, TN 37644
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