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Q and A with Sally Van Allen

by Mark Peres

June 3,2004

Sally Van Allen serves on the Board of Directors of the Carolina Theater Preservation Society. Sally has been active in the arts in Charlotte since 1950, serving in several leadership roles, including as president of the Charlotte Junior League. 

Tell us about the Carolina Theater.

The Carolina is a magnificent historic theater built in 1927 that was once the center of Charlotte’s art and culture and could very will be again. In mid-century, there were several theaters downtown, including the Broadway, Imperial, Charlotte and Alhambra. The Carolina was the grandest of them all, and is now the only one left standing. The motif was atmospheric. When you were inside, you felt you were in outdoor gardens. I remember watching the Broadway production of Mr. Roberts and later the openings of Dr. Zhivago and The Sound of Music. It was and is a special place.

Why is it important that we renovate it?

We’ve saved so little of our history. If Charlotte doesn’t have a soul, it’s because it chooses not to have one. This is an opportunity to reclaim our traditions. Our past is as important as our future in defining our identity. I was pleased to see MecDec Day revived. Renovating the Carolina is a similar opportunity. The historic theaters from the Roaring 20s are unique. Grand historic theaters that have been reclaimed draw thousands of visitors because of their amazing beauty. The structure of the Carolina is in great shape and prime for renovation.

Is a renovated Carolina Theater compatible with the proposed Bechtler Museum?

Yes, but the current plans for the Bechtler calls for the near total destruction of the Carolina as a working space. If we pause and reconsider the architecture, the Bechtler can build beside, up and over in a cantilever design. The two in combination would be spectacular. Just imagine a modern contemporary museum of art combined with a stunning renovation of a grand historic theater. That corner would own the city.  Programming would not compete with opera, dance or large productions. Instead, the Carolina would serve more intimate music, comedy and plays, including tours that currently bypass the city. It would be a perfect historic place for town hall meetings and civic debate. Each citizen worth his or her salt needs to spend a long afternoon inside the Carolina, imagining the possibilities, deciding what’s right and getting the courage to do something about it.

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