Hanbury Preservation Consulting

P.O. Box 6049
Raleigh, NC 27628 USA
(919) 828-1905 phone

Gem Theatre

The Gem Theatre is a fine example of the Art Deco style and it follows in the tradition of late period "picture palace" theaters. Its purpose-built, single screen picture palace status is dually significant as an architectural form and as a recreational resource supporting a specific mode and period of movie theater construction. The theater was built by Cannon Mills to provide recreational opportunities for millworkers. One of many amenities built in Kannapolis for Cannon Mills employees, it exemplifies the range of influence of a mill company town from employment to recreation.

Drawings salvaged from the former Cannon Mills engineering department show that the original theater was designed by Charlotte architect Marion R. Marsh in 1936. The theater suffered a devastating fire in February of 1942. The auditorium was a total loss, however the north end of the building including the facade was saved. War-time shortages delayed rebuilding the Gem though the lobby was used to distribute war ration books until the theater was rebuilt. Architect Charles Benton of Wilson was hired to design the rehabilitation of the theater and early reports and plans suggested a re-design of the facade to Williamsburg-inspired Colonial Revival style. However, the original facade was retained and Benton's work was limited to the auditorium, balcony, stage areas and some aspects of the lobbies. Benton stayed in the Art Deco Mode for his contributions to the building including the curved walls in the upper lobby at the restrooms and large panels of exotic birds over the fire exits in the auditorium.

The Gem Theatre was listed on the National Register in August 2019. The nomination can be found here https://files.nc.gov/ncdcr/nr/CA0262.pdf