ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Bonnie Kate Theater has quite the comeback story.
The historic auditorium located in downtown Elizabethton opened as a movie theater in 1926.
“It had 500 seats which was the biggest seating capacity around,” said John Huber, chairman of the theater’s restoration board.
Throughout the years, the Bonnie Kate hosted talent shows, bond drives for the war, and church services.
However, the theater eventually closed its doors.
“They were trying to have some programs and if it happened to be a rainy day there would be buckets out here catching the water where it was leaking,” Jeff Treadway, a member of the restoration board, said.
The Bonnie Kate then fell into disrepair, with roof leaks and failures. The theater then went into foreclosure before the East Tennessee Foundation purchased it in 2016.
“We wanted to enhance the focus to say it’s an event center rather than just a movie house because movie houses, unless you’ve got a blockbuster movie, you’re not going to be able to make it,” Huber said.
Restoration efforts have largely been funded through grants through agencies like the Appalachian Regional Commission and programs like the Downtown Improvement Grant Program.
“What we’re doing on the outside will make it probably better than it’s been since the 50s,” said construction manager Charles Laporte. “What they’re going to do on the inside will make it I would say better than a decade or two after it was first opened.”
The outside facade and exit doors will be restored first.
“We have to get the proper doors in and the proper hardware and we have to meet fire codes and building codes while we’re also trying to meet historical expectations too,” Laporte said.
Then, attention will turn to the auditorium itself.
“It will be cleaned up and instead of curtains, there will be carpet panels on the wall, our original light fixtures which we have from the theatre back when it was built will go back up on the columns and the ceiling will be repainted and redecorated to its original grandeur,” Huber said.
However, more funds will be needed to achieve long-term goals like pushing the stage back, adding more seats, and overhauling the dressing rooms.
“Thousands of people have memories of here so they’re always interested when they come to the theatre and oftentimes they will give us a donation,” Treadway said.
But in the meantime, the Bonnie Kate will continue to host plays, musicians, and events.
“The community is able to use it and see the value of it and then that value just becomes larger and larger as we’re able to repair it and have more and varied and larger events,” Laporte said.
To learn about how you can help the effort to restore the historic theater, visit BonnieKate.org.